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How to Get the Most Out of Your Online Community

by | May 15, 2011 | Industry News & Trends

The use of social networking tools and the development of online communities are now a vital component of an organization’s marketing mix. Online communities have opened up a new way to engage an audience at their level. It is a way to have a conversation with your constituents in a place that they choose. It is also a way to listen to your community and learn about how others view your business. So how do you get started? The first step to creating your online community is choosing membership management software that fits the needs of your company. There are a multitude of companies that specialize in creating online communities and it is important to find the company that fits your business needs at the right price with the right technology.

Once you’ve chosen the right software for your business, what’s next? Managing an online community takes active participation. The job does not end once membership management software is implemented. It is only the beginning. Here are a few tips for how to get the most out of your online community.

Membership must be cultivated. Remember, your online community is not a silo. Think of your online community as a garden. Once the seeds are planted there is much more work to be done. The seeds must be watered and tended to with care. The same goes for social networking. In order to grow your membership, you must actively participate in the growth of your community by tending to its messaging and actively nurturing the site. When you focus on the messaging of your site, it increases your visibility and influences growth.

Social networking is about the exchange of ideas. The use of social media has eliminated the one-way dissemination of information. It is about having a conversation. An online community should encourage the use of many voices, not just the corporate voice. Cultivating a robust membership means encouraging dialogue with your audience and allowing them to talk to one another. It is the job of a membership manager to feed any and all public information into the site for public discussion. After all, aren’t we most interested in what our users have to say about our product?

Lead the discussion, but remember to listen carefully. Social networking is ultimately a tool to engage customers and find out more about how we can connect with them. That means listening, really listening, to what your community has to say. By listening, you can manage content better by tailoring your messaging to the needs of your audience. You can also learn about how your business is perceived and develop initiatives that tackle those issues. When you listen to your social network, you are tending your garden and weeding out potential problems.

Remain vigilant and your garden will grow. Maintaining an active role in your online community is the surest way to grow and retain new members. Staying engaged with your community allows you to really learn about your constituents, their likes and dislikes. Many software programs allow you to monitor your site through reporting features and surveys. This allows you to gain valuable feedback and put it to good use in your garden. Vigilance means identifying problems early and proactively implementing solutions. In many instances, a representative is appointed to manage the site and coordinate responses. Proper vigilance gives way to proper reactions and that can make all the difference for member retention and growth.

Get the most out your social network. It is so important to take an active role in your online community. These tools are meant to help new online communities manage successfully. In order to do that, you cannot sit back and expect a community to grow by itself. As a business, you must clearly define your goals and then take action by sharing information, encouraging discussion and most importantly, listening to your users. The key is to stay engaged and tend to your business. If you do that, you may have the privilege of watching your network grow into something great.


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