5 Features of Successful Online Communities
Social media is an important part of any marketing mix in order to reach a target audience. Why? Because social networks and the online communities that form on them are where people gather, communicate, organize, research, shop, and so much more.
Treat your social media accounts as gateways to your business. Also understand that because communities can form organically on social networks, monitoring and moderating your pages and posts is mission critical.
Whether you have a Facebook Page, LinkedIn Page, or are posting content on Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, or online community platforms like Reddit or Quora, how users of those networks interact and what they say publicly about your company can affect your brand image.
So how do you build and manage your social media-powered online communities to benefit your company? Here are some basic elements of successful online communities.
1. Purpose. Whether you are intentionally building an online community using platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn Groups or whether your online community is building organically in the comments sections of your social media accounts, determine the purpose of the. Why should this online community exist? Some common reasons to cultivate a community includes:
With a vibrant and engaged online community, you could incorporate any or all of these things, however, keep in mind that each one requires specific work to maintain.
2. Focus. When you have a clear purpose for your online community, zeroing in on the topics of conversation for the forum is the next step. If you’ve decided to emphasize customer support for your online community, clearly state that. This can be done in a description of a group or by repeating a post periodically that outlines the purpose and focus of the group. On some platforms, you can also pin the post to the top of the page.
Next, seed the forum with helpful tips about your products or services as part of customer education and support. Be on hand regularly to answer questions they might have. Ask questions of your community members to find out how you can better assist them.
3. Guidelines or Rules. In addition to a purpose and focus, online communities need clear guidelines or rules to help maintain a safe space. There are many examples of online community guidelines on the web that you can modify to fit your company’s brand as well as to cover some potential liability issues that could be part of hosting or managing an online community.
Check in with your legal counsel to make sure you’ve anticipated any potential legal liability issues that could come up. For example, if someone in the community suggests using a product your company produces in a way that could be dangerous and someone is harmed, they could try to hold your company responsible since they obtained the information on your social media account.
Add any necessary legal disclaimers and disclosures to your community guidelines. This information can be part of a pinned post, or you can add it to your website and include a link to the guidelines prominently on each of your social media accounts where a community might form.
4. Monitoring. Paying attention to what is being said in your online community is essential for developing a community that serves both your company and its members. Most social networks and online community platforms have settings to accept notifications when people post so you can monitor activity.
You can also use tools such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social but not all online community platforms are covered by all monitoring tools or social media dashboards.
5. Moderation. Moderating an online community includes seeding and weeding, that is, starting and adding to conversations as well as weeding out people who actively violate your community guidelines.
Some social networks, like Facebook, allow you to hide posts or ban users who are overtly inappropriate or abusive. Others, like X, allow you to report users, but their comments may or may not be removed. Keeping the conversation going and keeping it useful and appropriate for members helps your community grow and thrive.
As you can see, managing an online community-or several-can be time consuming and requires strategy and planning. Leaving an online community without direction or oversight could potentially lead to discord and could affect your company’s image or reputation. Think through how you’ll take care of your online communities and incorporate the management of those forums into your regular social media marketing activities.Read other social media blogs by Aliza Sherman