Best Practices for Building Online Communities placeholder
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Best Practices for Building Online Communities

By Prasad Navase

Spot.IM is now known as OpenWeb.

Imagine being a rockstar. You have millions of fans hanging on your every word, flocking your concerts, and ready to rock out to your next big hit. Most importantly, you have an accessible podium to speak your mind that actually has the power to make an impression. While rockstars and celebrities may not always use their influence to promote thoughts and information, you as a brand have a similar opportunity to get your message across through the use of online communities.

Building online communities is just like being a rockstar–at least in some ways.  By having an online community, you have fans ready to discuss your thoughts, ideas, information, and brand. You become a thought leader, someone of influence–and you can use all of this to help your brand go viral. The hype surrounding online communities is undeniable–and for good reason. Unlike many other trends, this one has seen proof of effectiveness time and time again.

Before you proceed in building your online community, consider these tips in order to make it sensational:

1. Encourage Engagement

Encourage Engagement

As we know, the importance of online communities cannot be stressed enough. Through its strategic use, your brand develops champions, greater advertising potential, and the ability to rise above the competition. By far the most essential part of building an online community is encouraging engagement. Think about it: all of the hottest musicians had to start somewhere. Originally, they created a following by performing in small time, local concerts. Eventually, small groups of people became their active supporters, not only because they loved their music, but also because they were engaged and empowered by the band.

Likewise, with an online community, you need to start small and encourage engagement. Engagement is born by making your content interactive and conversational through comments, videos, and shareable content. If your users are not commenting on their own, encourage them to do so by creating content which asks questions, provokes thoughts, and even sometimes sparks a bit of controversy (if relevant). However, when doing this, you also must be prepared to monitor. Ensure the comments remain for the purpose of learning and discussing without becoming insulting or offensive. Additionally, you must also be prepared to answer questions thoughtfully and avoid getting into a situation where your user’s questions go unanswered for too long.

Another great interactive site feature is showcasing similar content near a post that is currently being read. By guiding the user to read more content that sparks their specific interests, they begin to feel your site is in-tune with their needs, qualifying it as the ultimate resource for their endeavors.

2. Hire a Community Manager

Hire a Community Manager
Just as every band would be nowhere without their manager, your community cannot grow effectively without one as well. Since your online community is such an essential part of your success, you need someone to take charge, create connections, and nurture your followers.

The community manager is in a sense the voice of your online community. He or she finds influencers and dedicates their time to cultivating a relationship with them through conversation, empowerment, and staying in tuned with their needs. Though it may be tempting to slack off in this area and give some of these assignments to say the marketing associate, if that person gets overwhelmed with other projects, your community management efforts may fall through the cracks.

Given how vital online communities are to your company’s growth, you simply cannot afford to let this come second to other projects. So instead, go the extra mile by hiring a community manager, and watch your online community flourish.

3. Create Shareable Content

Create Shareable Content
As was previously mentioned, sharing content is of prime importance to your users. Unlike yesteryear, people today have relationships span across continents. In this global environment, people share to stay in touch with old friends and define themselves as individuals.

Therefore, you need to produce content that will matter to your users. Do so by

creating visual content such as infographics and videos . Such content is made for sharing since they are both interactive and fun, which appeals to people’s desire to entertain one another. While humor and entertainment value are key elements that entice people to share, knowledge and information are also of high importance. As such, it’s a great idea to survey your users and run analytics to see which pieces of information they are searching for. This way, you always provide them with valuable insights, a key element of building conversations.

Don’t forget to add social sharing options to each piece of content. Without these, you lessen the chances of people engaging in your community since it makes it difficult for your users to send your fantastic content to their friends, family, and acquaintances.

4. Measure Engagement metrics

Measure Engagement metrics
It’s difficult to know what you are doing right or pinpoint areas of improvement if you do not measure your results. Though you can get a decent idea of your engagement rate by seeing how many community members you have, how often they comment, and how often your content is shared, getting more official numbers will give you better insights than you could ever imagine.

Of course, Google Analytics is a great basic choice for measuring which features drive people to your site and which pages are most popular. To get a better idea of your social media community engagement, try giving Socialbakers run. This product measures the effectiveness of your social media campaigns in order to help you better understand your social media users across a variety of channels. Finally, we are also huge fans of heatmaps such as Crazyegg as they reveal precisely where people click and which topics, blog posts, and videos are most interesting to your audience.

With these smart tools, you can get the data necessary to help you provide better content, and encourage involvement.

5. Schedule your Blog Posts

Schedule your Blog Posts
Think of your favorite television series. Every Thursday at approximately 7:30 PM, it delivers you some good laughs, entertainment, and something to talk about the next day at work. You look forward to watching. So much so, that it might even be ingrained in your schedule. Your content can be the same.

If your content truly resonates with your users, people will look forward to reading it, discussing it, and sharing it with friends. On the other hand, if your posts are irregular, your users have nothing to anticipate or draw them into your community. After all, you wouldn’t necessarily turn the TV on to a specific channel if you have no reason to expect a good show.

For this reason, regular blog posts are a fantastic way of grabbing your users’ attention and converting them into loyal followers. In fact, according to Hubspot, sites that published 16 or more posts per month, had more than triple the visitors of those who published only 0-4.

6. Help your Community Members Interact and Give them the Spotlight

Help your Community Members Interact and Give them the Spotlight
While it may seem enough that people are commenting on posts, sharing your content, and watching your videos, a real community is not just dialogue between you and your users, but it is also centered around conversations between the community members themselves. There’s no better advocate for your thoughts, ideas, and products than a loyal fan. Since you as the brand may be a bit biased, someone with nothing to gain may appear to be a bit more legitimate.

By finding loyal users and getting them to discuss your brand amongst themselves, not only are you creating a situation where there’s less work for you, but you are also helping your community to thrive and become more effective.

To take it to the next level, find key influencers amongst your community and encourage them to converse with others. Be sure to reward them for their loyalty and watch your fanbase grow.

Any famous rockstar can tell you that a tremendous amount of work goes into creating a loyal following. You have to start small, carefully plan a strategy, put forth a ton of hard work, and be extremely patient in order to watch your efforts pay off. However, after putting forth the necessary effort, your blood, sweat, and tears will yield tremendous rewards–ultimately resulting in loyal followers and prominence within your specific category. So remember to be patient and keep these tips in mind to watch your online community soar.

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