Decades ago, hosts and hostesses of cocktail and dinner parties gave thought to their event in ways that seem almost phony to today’s party goers. They worried about group dynamics and invitee seating arrangements. They planned menus and party games and anticipated how each party-goer would respond. They thought about what each person would bring to the occasion, as far as conversation and experiences.
Smart community organizers give thought to a member engagement plan. While extensive planning may not suit the modern party guest, it does aid in the creation of online member communities. If you are launching a community, you’ll want to give thought to the intricacies of your members’ online experiences. For instance, establish who will engage your members (at least initially until they start engaging one another). Decide how (in what ways) you want them sharing such as blogs, multimedia capabilities, forums, etc. Choose a moderator(s). Decide on forum topics or groupings. Determine whether your forum will be comprised solely of industry-related topics or contain a mixture of both industry and non-industry fodder for your constituents. For instance, HSN (formerly known as the Home Shopping Network) hosts a forum in which shoppers can connect. You can exchange ideas on everything from hosts to pets. They even have a miscellaneous forum for discussion of things outside of HSN. Does this type of format fit your organization? Only you can say for sure.
Member engagement planning should be part of your social media strategy. The purpose behind creating an online community is to engage your members and help them make connections with your organization as well as with one another. You’ve devoted a considerable amount of time on your social media strategy and how best to brand yourself online. Now it’s time to consider what type of experience you want to share with your community. The decisions you make and the membership management software you choose to provide directly affect your community’s ability to connect and their overall experience of your organization. Member engagement planning also:
1. Ensures a healthy community and lots of activity. The more thought you give to the planning of your community, the greater the chances for success.
2. Focuses on cultivating power users, getting them in place, involved and excited about your site. From there your marketing will begin to take care of itself through your member marketers.
3. Provides you with direction when making decisions. If you know your members it will be easier to make decisions on their behalf. If you don’t know your members you can always resort to polls and quizzes to help you gain insight.
4. Is an ongoing project. Member engagement planning is the structure with which you make decisions but it is a fluid structure that should change as your members’ needs and wants do. Set aside time to revisit it periodically and make sure that it is still in line with your community.
A little planning will help maximize your ability to stay connected with your members and create an energized and invigorated online community that’s buzzing with activity.