Below is a guest post from David Sieg, Vice President of Strategic Marketing for YourMembership.com. The content was based on a recent presentation he did at the Drake Invitational Forum hosted by Drake & Company.
Let’s take it from the top! Before building an official online community for your members, there’s one – all-important decision to be made… what’s your goal?
I’m not talking our hopes or desires for the community itself, but what’s the goal for our entire organization? From this very first moment/question, the future of your online community will take shape (or not!) depending on your answer.
So, what’s the overall goal for your association? There can be only one. Period. And it has to be set in stone over a specified period of time in order to be quantifiable. You have to be able to measure your success to determine if you accomplished your overall goal… here’s an example:
“To increase XX by XX percent by this XX date.”
So, once you and your team have defined your top-level, ultimate goal, now you have to determine how your official online community supports the goal. Hint: if you’re a member-centric organization, you need an online community for your members! You need to give your members a safe, secure online environment where they can gather, mingle and enhance their personal and professional growth and development – all in an online community that’s built and branded to your association’s unique mission, vision and principles.
There are three distinct phases for building an active online community: Pre-launch, Grand Opening, Post-launch (milestones). Pre-launch is where the heavy lifting takes place. There’s a lot of work to be done here, from organizing and updating your member database to developing your complete launch marketing plan. Needless to say, you can no longer just “build it and they will come.” You have to market your online community constantly and effectively! Other pre-launch tasks include writing/populating content (lots of it) within the community, scheduling events and activities for your members, establishing member-referral programs, etc.
Next, the grand opening phase is the largest, most important marketing event that you’ll ever have for your online community. So, take this opportunity to set an official grand opening date. This makes it easier to market and puts emphasis and a sense of urgency into the minds of your members. Use existing (free) open social sites to promote your grand opening and encourage your members to follow the trail to your new, private online community.
Following the grand opening, how do you keep members engaged? Here are quick tips and techniques that we can all enact:
- First and foremost, communicate with your members and prospective members continually.
- Start a communications pattern that includes one monthly email and two monthly messages – you can increase or decrease these communiqués accordingly over time.
- Again, use free open social networking sites to funnel members to your official online community.
- Encourage memberships via contests, i.e. the first 500 to register are entered into a drawing for a free iPad!
- Post to your blog regularly.
- Announce your association’s news items.
- Welcome new members publicly.
- Recognize your top contributors publicly within your online community – maybe in your e-newsletter or by ‘awarding’ your top content contributor for the month with a ‘blue ribbon’ for his/her member profile photo.
Achieving ROI from your online community depends on success at the pre-launch, grand opening and post-launch phases. As a member-based organization, it’s imperative that you provide an online outlet/location for your members to gather, because if you’re not doing it for them – they are finding their own methods that may not directly include your organization!
The true ROI of an online community comes when you tie your community into your member database. When your member profiles, profile updates, social networking activities and transaction histories are being captured and passed from your online community directly into your member database, that’s when you’re achieving optimum ROI… this is “Social Networking with a Purpose!”
A private online community thats supports your organization’s mission and is integrated with your member database will deliver more value to your members and increased ROI to your organization: because active, engaged and happy members lead to more renewals and referrals!