Establishing an Online Community

online community

So you’re on social media as an individual. Maybe you already manage some social media business pages. Maybe you already participate in some groups and now maybe you’re thinking of establishing your own group. Or, maybe you already have a group, but have no real idea on what you are doing, and could really do with a few pointers. If so, this section of this blog post is for you.

 

1. What’s your ‘why’?

 

Whatever your current situation, the first thing to consider if you are thinking about establishing an online community is why you are starting an online community. What are you setting out to achieve?

Here are some common reasons for staring an online community (and how an online community can be beneficial to achieve these objectives).

• Add value – Perhaps you offer a membership or service and feel you could add some value to your members or clients by granting access to an exclusive LinkedIn or Facebook group as part of the package offer. For instance when people participate in our sister company’s online programs, they gain access to a private Facebook group which adds value to the program – participants then have a direct line to the mentors, trainers, other members and past members of their programs.

• Encourage networking – Online communities are a great place to network because if created and facilitated well, the people who belong to a group should have a common interest or interests. Of course networking online takes out the barriers of geography, accessibility, childcare and a whole lot more and if done well, can be very powerful. Perhaps you run a regular networking event offline, and want to create a way for people to keep in touch between in person events. Perhaps offering an online community for people to network on a common interest.

• Foster culture – In today’s global market, it’s not uncommon to have team members who work from home or in different locations around the world. Whilst they may work for the same company, or be a part of the same group, a group of people is nothing without a healthy culture. Have you ever considered setting up an online community to bring your virtual team together? As a company we do and we find it extremely valuable and we often refer to it as our ‘virtual water cooler’. Our team use the online community to get to know one another over a period of time, let off some steam (perhaps share some memes, cartoons or jokes), ask questions, share successes and issues and gain support from one another.

• Provide support – Perhaps your company offers IT or other technical support? Perhaps you could start an online community for your clients to help your support guys spend less time on the phone? Perhaps you want to start a pure support group for people who share the same problem, perhaps a medical issue, or who are on a quest to get fit or lose weight. By creating a group you can help people to connect to others who are going through the same thing, and have someone to turn to when things are difficult.

• Share common interests – Perhaps you played for a particular sports club many years ago? Or are interested in art deco architecture, a type of programming language, or vintage cars? A group can be a great place for people with similar interests to connect and share their knowledge, and enjoy mixing with others who share the same passions, whether it is for personal or professional reasons.

• Create a Community Around an Event – Going to an event is a great way to meet people, but what if you could start networking with the people BEFORE you even arrive at the event, so you can work out who the best people to meet at the event will be? And wouldn’t it be great to keep in touch with people who attended the event afterwards? Creating a community around an event is also a way online groups can be used.

• Get real-time & valuable feedback – In the process of developing a new product, service, event or program? Not sure what the market wants? Don’t just guess, ask people! You could do this in established groups, or you could create your own solely for the purposes of asking people for their honest feedback. They may be honoured to be asked and feel like they are contributing to your new development.

 

2. Who will you seek to join your group?



In considering creating an online community, you also need to consider whom you will ask to join your community. Are you going for big numbers or a more exclusive and select group? As outlined in lesson 1, develop a persona around them. Get to know your semi-fictional audience members and keep them in mind as you put select which type of group you will create, how you will encourage conversations and so on.

 

3. What problems will your group solve?



What problems does your audience have? What keeps them up at night? Think about their pain points and then make sure you are clear on this too as you design the group.

 

4. What they will find value in?



You need to consider how you will get people to first join your group and then keep coming back. What content will you share to achieve this?

Consider what else is already out there

There’s not a lot of point establishing an online community if one already exists that is very similar to what you are proposing. So a key thing to do before you start the group is search for similar groups.

Request to join them, observe their terms of reference, if any, observe the group dynamics returning at different intervals to see how active they are, who are the key influencers, what sorts of conversations take place.

Consider the group’s strengths and weaknesses and use this to form your own strategy for the online community you are establishing.

How to search for existing Facebook Groups

If you aren’t sure where to find groups, start with Facebook Graph Search. For those of you waiting to get graph search, set your language to English US first then follow www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch. If it doesnt self install straightaway keep trying once or twice a day over the next few days. Most people get it from 2-5 days some quicker some a bit longer. Using Facebook Graph Search, you can easily identify groups using these three searches:

1. Search for groups that have members who like a specific Facebook page. For example, search for “groups joined by people who like the TV show ‘The Block’.”

2. Search for “groups joined by my friends”.

3. Search for groups joined by people who are members of a specific Facebook group. For example, search for “groups of members of PROBLOGGER EVENTS”.

You can also simply ask your friends and peers what groups they enjoy being part of. Some groups are more promotional in nature, while others have strict promotional guidelines and focus on a specific topic.

Take the time to find groups that are in line with what you are planning and understand what they offer and consider how you will make it different. For example, if you’re looking for a group about quilting, you could search for “groups about quilting” in Graph Search and find a variety of groups to choose from.

How to search for existing LinkedIn Groups

Search for the name of a group you wish to find by ensuring the dropdown on the search button is set to ‘groups’ and for example typing in ‘manufacturing’ and pressing the search button. Once you find them, click on them and see what they are like, and if you like to look of them, click the ‘join’ button.

You may also like to search for groups by your location i.e. type into the search bar once in the groups area ‘Ipswich’, your gender i.e. search ‘business women’, industry names & more.

How to search for existing Google+ communities

You can find several rankings on CircleCount.com, e.g. the most followed and following persons or the most popular persons at Google+.

 

WHAT TYPE OF ONLINE COMMUNITY WILL YOU CREATE?



In a wider sense, an online community could involve several elements including your website, blog, emarketing, social networks and more.

You could also look at enterprise online community systems such as Yammer, Jive, Socialcast, Convo, Kaltura or others (see http://mashable.com/2013/06/14/enterprise-social-networks/) if you have a particularly large organization and would prefer to benefit from systems which may integrate with other enterprise software your company uses (for instance Yammer is owned by Microsoft, and also links to zendesk, Microsoft Dynamics, Github and Klout just to name a few).

But for the purposes of this lesson, we’ll focus on the establishment and running of an online community in terms of running your own Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ Community as this is what many startups, small business and individuals wanting to create an online community would generally use.

First, let’s take a look at these types of groups, and the different types of groups available in each of the networks so you can decide which type of group you might establish…

This blog post is an excerpt from the lesson ‘Establishing, growing & managing an online community’ from our sister company’s exciting new online program called Accelerate.

The Accelerate program is a 12 week online program offered by The Training Collective further extending students who have already completed our 12 week Get Up To Speed program or whom are already at an advanced level of digital skills. The outcome is to know how to mobilise a digital marketing campaign. Lessons covered in the 12 week program include Reviewing & maintaining websites, Writing for Digital, Producing digital images, Producing videos, Preparing an email communication in Mailchimp, running a competition or promotion on Facebook, Facebook advertising campaigns, Setting up your own Adwords campaign, Social media tools the pros use and Advanced Google Analytics.

They’ve got 4 kick arse digital marketing trainers (some of the best in the industry) and you’ll get access to all of us to ask your digital marketing questions via webinars and in a private Facebook group. Find out more about Accelerate at www.thetrainingcollective.com.au/accelerate-program.

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