Sep. 24, 2009 - Developing Online Communities: Step Four
No matter what format you select for building an online community—your association site, Twitter, Facebook, Ning, or any number of others—you’ll need a content strategy. Again, remember, this strategy will be instrumental in developing the strength of your community. Without meaningful content you’ll have no chance at a community.
So ask the question, “what do THEY want?” Note that this is different from “What do WE want them to want?”
I have a client with an association website that nobody ever visits. I went there to find out why that was so, and the answer was immediately clear. There were some nice stock photos of beaches and boats and suburban houses. There were some consumer articles titled “Why Use a Realtor?” And there was a “Benefits of Membership” electronic brochure. Period. All static content. Why would anyone visit this site again?
The same with your online community effort. If all your tweets are only to remind people of meetings or to advertise listings, your audience will soon lose interest and decide that your communication is just a nuisance. They’ll shut you off, and they certainly won’t initiate a visit to your site, much less to your association functions. So it’s going to be up to you to figure out what will be enticing conversation topics. Of course, sometimes these topics will erupt from the participants, but just like any cocktail party conversation, sometimes you’ll have to fuel the fire.
You may also have to ask for participation. Find people who are specialists in selling vacation homes or commercial properties and ask them to participate in an online conversation on the association website. Suggest to regular committees that they might consider an online component to their committee activities—for instance, a group of members who might be underserved because of location or specialty area. The committee work may be stronger and more comprehensive because of the additional participation.
Also, make it easy for members to hear the conversations. If you have a Facebook site, encourage members to get emails. Use RSS so members can sign up for blog entries. Promote hash tags if you’re using Twitter (hint: advertise the hashtag in all your mailings so members can join the conversation). Use plenty of repurposed material as well—from other blogs, conversations, and websites. Let your community know that it is in touch with the world at large.
And finally, promote your online community in all your traditional communications. Tell the non-participants what’s going on in the online community by summarizing the conversations, recognizing new people who have joined, and highlighting new groups which might be forming (“Did you know that there’s a group of Realtors against the new property tax proposal? Join them on Twitter!”) Let members know they may be missing out on some interesting and useful association activities that are happening on line.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Developing Online Communities: Step Four : Off Stage