thoughtlabs

3 Roadblocks to Building An Online Community & How to Overcome Them

Written by Zachary Chastain  ()
on March 22, 2013 ·

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Google+ Hangout about online collaboration. It seems that everyone in attendance was grappling with some type of issue where they were trying to implement an enterprise social tool to help their organizations collaborate, but they had trouble with getting members of the organization to adopt and use the tools. This got me thinking about what sort of issues we have faced in building online communities on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The result is a blog post just for you, detailing 3 roadblocks to building your online community, and how to get around them!

 

One of the issues mentioned during the Google+ Hangout was the hit and miss effectiveness of setting up huge, organization wide tools and hoping that if you build it, the organization will just adopt and use it. Just as the other members in the Hangout acknowledged that this is no winning strategy...

"If We Build It, They Will Come" Doesn't Work with Online Communities

The Antivirus company Avira is a great example of this. Avira created a Facebook page several years ago, but after a very short stretch of sparsely posting some very not-engaging marketing copy, that page died. For almost two years Avira never posted a single thing. They built it, but their audience didn't come. Then, about a year ago, Avira came back with a bang! They had a huge ad campaign centered around their "Spin it To Win it" sweepstakes. They promoted it heavily, gathering hundreds of thousands of fans over the course of just a few weeks, and driving their PTAT through the roof! After the dust settled, all eyes were on Avira. Everyone waited for the next big thing... but it never came.

Avira spent tons of time, effort, and money to revive their Facebook community, but what they didn't understand was that community isn't built in a day. You don't just throw a bunch of money at a launch and then disappear. Yet, for a while Avira posted very little, with posts mostly focusing on niche consumer electronic products (but maybe not the right niches for their audience) and physical security gadgets. Nobody cared. While their latest efforts do show some small improvements, there are a couple of reasons that Avira has failed to build a thriving Facebook community thus far:

  • They don't understand their community. They built it, and then they re-built it, but years later it's still not thriving because they don't understand what really interests their community. Until you understand what excites your community and what members want to get out of being a part of it, you won't get that community to engage with your content or with each other.
  • This is really more a symptom of the first issue, but it's still key. The community has grown and matured quite a bit, but there are no community advocates. Without recognizable figures within the community being active and involved, the community will never grow into anything more than just a one-way communication channel.
  • You have to understand your community, what interests them, what excites them, and most importantly, what they expect from you and what they want to get out of being a part of your community. You also need to proactively reach out to your prospective advocates and work with them to build true advocacy within your community. Without these figureheads of the community, the rest of the community may never grow. Just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come. You have to give them a reason to care.

 

An organizer of the Google+ Hangout is working to get doctors who specialize in life-saving research to collaborate on their work using social media. One of the biggest roadblocks she's found is that these doctors are not typically heavy users of social media in their personal time. They have very high stress careers where they work long hours, after that they have families to come home to, they don't have the time or energy to use social media very often in their personal lives, so using social tools to collaborate at work doesn't feel like a logical next step to them. It's something foreign, and possibly even intimidating. For the same reasons, when building an online community, you want to make sure that you...

Go Where Your Audience Is, or You Will Fight An Uphill Battle

Obviously if your goal is to shake-up the way research doctors collaborate by improving their communication through social media, this doesn't apply, but if you're trying to create an online community for your brand, it's best to go with the flow, figure out where your audience is, where they're most active, and how they like to interact with other brands. Once you have this information, it will be easy to figure out which social platform you should use to establish your online community.

We saw this with a client once. I'll be intentionally vague here, but essentially they wanted a separate community for a particular segment of their audience, but for various reasons their platform choice wasn't ideal. There just wasn't enough support for this niche community, and the platform didn't work because this niche audience was very active on a different platform than the one that was proposed. Eventually this project was canned and the community was moved to where the audience was, but it's a great example of why you want to understand your audience and make sure you utilize that knowledge to make informed decisions.

  • If you want to build a true community, you need people to actively participate and return to do so again; day, after day, after day. You're not going to get that by creating a community on a platform where they're not very active, or where they don't even have an account. You want to make becoming an active member of your community as easy as possible for the core audience that is going to care about you, your community, and your content.
  • To do this, you must first understand who your audience is. Unless you're a very small operation, thanks to previous marketing efforts you probably already have a good idea of what segments and demographics are most likely to be interested in your products. You may have some aspirations for reaching out to a wider audience somewhere in the future, and that's great, but right now focus on finding your most rabid fans and supporters. You need people early on who will get involved with your community, and to establish that community, you should first play to your strengths.
  • Now that you know who you want to attract to your community, it's time to figure out not only where those people are (many people have loads of social profiles with varying levels of use and disuse), but where they spend the most time and effort. Remember, even though Facebook is the biggest social network it doesn't mean that it's where the people you care about are most active. Do some research, find the most active, outspoken, and influential members of the audience you're interested in attracting. What platforms are they active on? Do they just post a stream of content there, or do they get involved in conversations, share ideas, and help others? Those are the sort of activities that will build and maintain a thriving community, so wherever that is already taking place is where you want to setup shop and give everyone a central place to come together, share their ideas, have discussions, and get help when they need it!

 

Another issue faced by a member of this group is trying to get staff involved in using an enterprise social media solution. The software is meant to help them collaborate on work and special projects across their entire organization, rather than just with the same few people they know and interact with usually. While getting this fresh perspective could be a huge asset for these teams, he first must get them to actually buy into using the platform. Without that buy in from the organization, all of his efforts will be for nothing. The same is true with social media. When you're forming an online community for your brand, you need buy in from your organization, and that means more than just the go ahead to build a community or hire a community manager...

You Need Buy In Across Your Organization

If you want to build an online community that stands the test of time, you don't only have to worry about building your community, you also have to worry about continually proving the value of this effort (and why you should keep getting paid) to upper management and the rest of the organization. That part should come as no surprise, but even beyond that, you don't just want to prove the value of what you're doing with your online community, you also want to get the rest of your organization involved in your efforts! Not only will this help further cement the need for an online community to the rest of your organization, it will also improve the experience for your community!

This example again comes from one of our own clients. They have done a great job of working to prove the value of what we have accomplished together to upper management, reaching out to other silos within the organization to see what we can help them with, and what they could help us with, and getting buy in across the organization. So, what can this accomplish for you and how do you do it?

  • Imagine if rather than having to refer customers who have reached to you through social media to your standard support channels, a support representative would reach out right there on their post, either proactively or through your team escalating the issue, and you could solve that community member's issue right there on the spot. No hassles, no "Here's a phone number" or "You need to reach out to such and such." That makes for an amazing experience that is sure to keep people coming back to your community! You can have that too if your community has buy in from upper management and the customer support team.
  • Engagement on your content is really important, but the rest of your organization may not understand that right from the start, or they will at least start to expect more results from your team over time. Don't be perceived as "playing around on Facebook all day." Help other teams within your organization meet their goals, support product launches with successful campaigns in collaboration with PR and product teams, promote your company's spokespeople as experts to your community! Engagement is important, but they don't understand engagement. Give everyone some real, hard business results that they understand how to measure! If you're providing obvious value and helping people across your organization reach their goals, no one will question the value of your community or your efforts!
  • It's easy to get started with this. Reach out to others within your organization and ask them how you can help them. Sit down, talk about their goals, and brainstorm ways that you can work together to help them achieve those objectives. The customer support team is a logical first step. As your community grows people will come to you for help. Your social team may or may not have the skills to deal with these requests on their own. Getting support involved in your community is mutually beneficial, it takes some of that workload off you, so you can focus on building and maintaining your community, and having instant access to customer support without having to wait around on a phone is invaluable to the people who would rather get complete support through social media. Don't stop there though, reach out to anyone and everyone! Even if there's nothing you can do for them currently, other teams will appreciate the offer, and as your community grows or their needs change, they may someday take you up on your offer.

 

Once you find your away around these three roadblocks, you too can build a successful, thriving community for your organization, with support from teams across your organization!

 

Topics: Community Management

Sign up for our Fresh Thoughts Newsletter

Follow us:

Get Articles via Email

Enjoy this article? Don't forget to share.