I’ve recently been asked a lot about the best ways to build an engaged online community. Some of the businesses I speak to are considering putting their energy into more niche platforms like Ning, they're looking at content-focused communities like Medium, or they're moving to double-down on platform-based groups on Facebook and/or LinkedIn.
Which one will deliver the best results, and what can you do to maximize your efforts?
I've seen a varying array of results from all of these platforms, utilizing a range of different tactics, and based on this, I've been able to determine that how much, or how little they'll end up benefiting an organization is largely dependent on four key factors.
Below are a series of questions to consider if you’re looking to cultivate an engaged online community, which will help provide you with more perspective as to how to can ensure your efforts see optimal success.
1. Are you willing to foster a community?
There’s a difference between posting content and cultivating a community. Regardless of the platform you use, if you only post your content then sign-off, you’re wasting your time.
As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Over a hundred years later, this realization still rings true. Growing a community requires putting effort into building that community.
That means showing that you care about what others are saying, and taking the time to engage with their content with thoughtful commentary.
It takes time, but the investment in building is worth it in the long-term.
2. Will you offer value?
What’s worse than posting content without engaging your community? Posting salesy, self-promotional updates without engaging with your community, that's what.
No one wants to hear a sales pitch, so save it. Focus your energy on serving the needs of your community by offering value-based content and suggestions. This will strengthen your relationship with your audience.
3. Are you forcing them into your community or allowing them to opt-in?
Next - what’s worse than posting salesy content without engaging your community? Forcing your connections into said community.
With Facebook making a bigger push on group engagement, some marketers are advising organizations to form Facebook groups in order to move in line with that trend. However, people are notorious for adding connections to these group without their permission - for example, I’m regularly placed in groups of skincare distributors and local retailers who post about their products incessantly. It’s annoying, and it sabotages trust.
It's the opposite of Nike here: "Just don't do it".
4. Are you meeting people where they’re at or are you asking them to defer to the channel of your liking?
In a recent post by Mark Schaefer, Shaefer explains why breaking up Big Tech companies like Facebook and Amazon won't work. Shaefer's key point:
"When it comes to something like a social network, we don’t want all that choice. We like all our stuff simple and in one place."
That's exactly why Facebook groups won't disappear anytime soon. People are already on the platform every day, and there 's little need for them to go anywhere else. Establishing another place for people to go creates more work, and ultimately, we want what’s convenient.
Keep this in mind when considering where you look to build your community.
The Bottom Line
Like anything, you get out of groups what you put into them. Building an engaged online community requires you to put the community first, establishing and nurturing relationships over time by sharing helpful content, and serving your community needs.
In that sense, perhaps the most important question of all here is 'are you willing to do the work?'