Archive for month: March, 2008
If you are anything like me, you’ve probably had this experience:
You hear about a new online community. Sounds cool, so you sign-up. You get a nice welcome email and then never hear from them again.
What’s going on here? Where’s the relationship? The warm fuzzy??
One recent example of this is the new build out of the FastCompany.com community, which launched a few weeks ago. (If you haven’t heard, Fast Company literally replaced its entire website with an online community. In other words, they decided to lead with community. I love communities, but I’m troubled by this strategy. I’m even more troubled by the confusing user interface. However, I am confident that the folks at Fast Company will make some tweaks and navigate their way toward an acceptable solution in the near future. Are you guys listening?)
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. So it is several weeks later and I haven’t heard from Fast Company since signing up. It’s kind of off my radar at this point. I haven’t posted, friended anyone, nor have I been encouraged to do so. I haven’t really even thought about it. I could use…an email reminder! Something, anything to get the site back on my radar. I’m still waiting.
The point is that online communities need nurturing. It’s not enough to simply set one up and assume that the members will take care of the rest, including remembering on their own to login regularly.
What online communities need is a contact strategy. This is a relationship, so treat it like one. I’m not suggesting spam — but, how about a little lifecycle management?
Here are 4 basic things you can do to nurture your online community:
- Setting expectations upfront
- Reminding to stimulate new behavior
- Reinforcing with calls to action
- Personalizing to make it authentic
1. Setting expectations upfront and providing guidance on how to get the most out of the community
Make sure you have a structured process for onboarding new members. They need training and encouragement at the early stages to help them establish a pattern of participation. A surprising number of communities leave users to fend for themselves after signing up. Let’s help them out. I’m talking about FAQ’s, video, slideshows and other methods to communicate the following:
What can I do on this site? Why is it beneficial? WIIFM – What’s in it for me? How do I use it?
2. Reminding new (and old) members to log in — stimulate the behavior change you want
People are busy. Very busy. So, our time is limited, and our brainspace is so fragmented that it’s quite possible to sign-up for something one day and completely forget about it. That’s why it’s necessary to have a program to remind members to participate. This can be as simple as an email reminder.
For example: Dear member, we haven’t seen you since you signed up! We’re having a great discussion on xyz topic and we’d love you to join in. Also, don’t forget that we’ve got…Is there something that we can do to help you get started at xyz community? Please let us know…
3. Reinforcing behavior through regularly scheduled communications that include calls to action
Let’s face it – competing interests can impact even the most avid users. Standard intervals for updates work well. If you’re doing it right and providing value, members will start to look forward to the emails. Personally, I’m in favor of weekly updates, but many companies can successfully engage members at less frequent intervals. Look at the user base, community purpose, and figure out what the best frequency should be.
For example: Hey everyone. Our community is really taking off and we’d like to thank you for participating. We’re deep into several compelling discussions about x, y and z. If you haven’t contributed, we’d really like to hear from you. Plus, we’ve just implemented some exciting new features that we think you’ll really dig. Check them out here. Lastly, we’re running an exciting video contest where you could have the chance to win a brand new [blender, iPod, car, etc.]. Click here to login in and find out more.
4. Personalizing communications to make it authentic
Please don’t just send a faceless, nameless update. That’s regular email marketing. This is community. This is where the community manager needs to step up and be “the face.” Put a picture, a name, anything that shows that the site is managed and monitored by real people who care.
Lastly, as the community grows, you should consider segmenting your membership and tailoring communications to the various segments.
It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? If that’s the case, then why aren’t more companies doing it, including companies that appear to do well at regular email marketing? Is it a function of the community software? No built in email communications platform? I’d love to hear some thoughts…