Online communities and content marketing go hand in hand. Without one, the other often fails. You need content to feed an online community, and you need an online community to consume that content. They fuel one another.
Companies are beginning to invest in building their own online communities more rapidly than ever before because of the value they create.
While many great resources exist on how to plan, build and maintain a thriving community, I’ve often found the strategy is more “ready, fire, aim!” In other words, communities are created either in a reactionary fashion (“our competitor has a community like this so we need one too!”) or with other incorrect assumptions about the “what, why, and how” an online community should exist in the first place.
Creating a community is not an “if you build it they will come” exercise. Now, maybe you’re reading this saying, “Yeah. Thanks. We know that now…”
Fear not, Andrew J. Coate, Community & Content Manager Extraordinaire, is here to give you a few tips on reviving your dead and dying community*
*nobody calls me that.
Look at Your Audience...Again
This is one of those “should have done this from the get go” things. But just in case you didn’t have a clear idea of your ideal community members and their needs, wants and concerns, well…figure all that out now.
There’s an important caveat here so I’m going to make this nifty graphic to call it out:
The point here is that if you don’t have research from a variety of sources that truly identifies what your ideal community member is like, you can’t actually offer real value. Don’t guess. Determine who you want in your community, then ask those people what they’re lacking and fill the gaps in for them.
Cut the Fat
Okay, so you re-evaluated your intended audience and audited your current one. But there’s a new problem now. Your current audience isn’t your ideal audience. You have too many people who don’t provide you current or future value.
What to do? Be bold. Curate your community.
Update your mission statement or bio(s) to be clear about what the community is for and who it is for. Then (with appropriate notice where due) set out to remove members who do not belong. This could be making your LinkedIn group private and reviewing new requestors, use ManageFlitter to remove inactive Twitter followers and unfollow inactive accounts, and so on. If you built your own platform, look into how you can remove members who don’t fit any longer.
This sounds scary, I know. “This jerk is telling me to remove people!" You might fear the decrease in numbers. You might fear ticking people off. Both are valid fears, but in this case, quality is better than quantity. You have to focus on investing time and energy into members who are going to help you meet your goals. Also, it will be easier to get your ideal personas to join once they see your online community is clearly for them.
Look Again at Your Content
Far too often, a community is built around the assumption that people will flock to hear what you have to say.
Most of the time, the result is, well…not that. Sure, you want to build a community to share your thoughts and expertise with, but that should be done with sharing others’ thoughts and expertise as well. “Others” could include strategic partners, industry influencers, and even your community members. Putting emphasis on customers and prospects is a much better way to gain more of that than putting emphasis on “Hey, we’re awesome! Buy our stuff!”
* = Sometimes Things Are Better Off Dead
Look. It’s hard to come to terms with the idea that something you spent time and money on didn’t work. I know. I’ve been there. But let's face it: things die. And that's ok. Focus your energy on planning, building, and maintaining “version 2.0” the right way. And don’t be afraid to pull the plug and start over if it's not working.
If a community isn't delivering, then strap some C4 to it, and count down from 10. There will be wreckage and rubble to clean up, sure. But there’s also the opportunity to build something more structurally sound this time around.
The best way to ensure a thriving community is to give it the same planning and production attention you would a product or service offering, and to dedicate time, resources and staff toward it. However, in this fast-paced world, we often don’t have that luxury. These tips should help you figure out what to focus on in your online community revival efforts.