Companies who sponsor or create an online community are the hosts of a potentially global, 24X7 salon of ideas. Yet, too often, community members are thought of as marketing "targets" or "constituents" and not valued for the contributions they make to the community. Ironically, the more senior the professional, the more "targeted" they often are - which is exactly the wrong approach with relationship building. This was reinforced by the New Symbiosis For Professional Networks research that Don Bulmer and I recently completed where professionals reported that the most important thing a professional network can offer them is access to information they couldn't get elsewhere, where the primary goal of many companies is to market to members!
Community members - especially those within professional networks - need to be properly valued and thanked for keeping the community alive. A great social infrastructure without members is an empty place. There are many ways that a company or community host can show appreciation for their community members. When developing community operations, Member Retention programs are essential and should become a visible part.
1) Select key community leaders or newcomers to the community and feature them - showcase their knowledge in order to validate their efforts
2) Issue them "knowledge-gifts" - information or content from your organization that they couldn't get elsewhere that could make their jobs easier. A product roadmap, an article or something of intellectual value
3) Provide them access to a thought-leader - If a community member holds a key IT role within their organization, for example, they may benefit from being virtually introduced to an esteemed peer or someone within your company who can help them do their job better
4) Send a thank you note to key contributors to let them know you value their efforts. Heck, paper and pen still work and can be an unanticipated treat!
5) In-person events are always appreciated - host a reception at an industry event and invite members to attend a private event. This allows you to meet them in person and it is always fun to be invited somewhere.
6) Be accessible and supportive when key contributors participation drops off. Typically, when an active member of a professional community wanes in participation, chances are they have undue work burdens or a problem they are dealing with. Reach out to them and offer to be of assistance. Perhaps they need some information or content from the community to support their work challenge but don't have time to gather it. Such assistance can get them through a tough time.
While these efforts can seem daunting with larger online communities with many members, it is important to keep in mind that they can be applied selectively and over time as part of a Member Retention Program. In this age of digital scale, we are programmed to think and service customers and clients with batch processes. However, at the end of the day, each and every community member matters. The sum is greater than the parts.
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