The good news: there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s Cup. The bad news: there are at least a few wrong ways for an association to approach online community building. And by wrong, I mean misguided – you may not recognize that you’re making these mistakes, so how would you know to resolve them?
In the spirit of reflection, strategy, and righting our wrongs in the new year, I invite you to take a step back and ask yourself: Am I making any of these online community building mistakes? If so, how committed am I to building a strong and sustainable community in 2019 and beyond?
Regardless of what kind of community you’re building, one thing is certain: demonstrating real value to your members should be your ultimate resolution.
1: Failing to Demonstrate Online Community Value
There is no overnight success potion or one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to building a sustainable online community, which can vastly improve the value of association membership. This is a scenario in which it pays to start small, collect data, and evolve with your growing community. No matter where or how you start, the value of what your community is offering should never be something your members or prospects have to question.
It’s your job as an online community builder to demonstrate value from day one, especially if you expect people to pay dues and renew. What can your members look forward to? What do they stand to truly gain? Is it educational growth? Mentorship? Do they have opportunities to connect? If so, do they know how to access those opportunities with ease? You might think you’re already clear on this, but you might also be maintaining the assumption that people inherently “get it,” just because you do.
The hard truth is: most people, whether they’re your leadership team or your potential members, don’t automatically understand what an online community is, much less why they should be willing to spend money on it. So, make time to understand it, and explain it. Clearly, and often.
Bonus: there are several marketing tools out there that can be integrated with online community software to help you achieve business objectives like increasing membership value, streamlining communications, and making a positive impact on your people and your bottom line. These tools can help you offer the right resources to the right people at the right time, which makes all the difference when it comes to engaging members and keeping them.
2: Overselling & Underestimating the Power of Engagement
Associations make the world go ‘round, but no one likes a pushy salesperson. Modern-day community building is all about mastering the engagement economy and forging meaningful connections with your members along the way, not begging for money without following through.
Think about it: have you ever had a person who hasn’t talked to you in a year pop out of the woodwork requesting your time or money? The ol’ “Hey, how are you? [But more importantly] I could really use $ome help right now…” If said person had reached out even just once during those twelve months to genuinely ask how you were doing, without the follow-up, wouldn’t you be more inclined to help if you could? I would. Otherwise, I might roll my eyes and ignore it.
The point is: regardless of whether you’re selling an association membership or a commercial product, it won’t serve you to constantly bombard your people with cost-related calls to action – that’s not community building. They’ll lose interest quickly, especially if you aren’t simultaneously engaging them. But how to engage? How to track that data?
The upside is that you can use marketing automation and community tools to both boost and measure engagement so that when you do market to your potential members or customers, your communication is welcomed and received (without an accompanying eye roll). It’s about finding that balance and harnessing it for the future.
3: Failure to Listen to Your Members & Grow Alongside Them
As your members grow and change, so will their needs, and so should yours. A community builder’s job is never done, so if you want to stay relevant in your members’ lives, it pays to keep your ear to the ground in terms of their feedback and life changes.
Do you know what are your members’ resolutions are for the year? What they’re striving for in their personal or professional lives? When was the last time you checked in to say hello and ask about their satisfaction? Do they have access to a community discussion board to communicate potential grievances or locate valuable support threads with ease? Are you actually listening?
Don’t make the mistake of holding your members back by failing to understand what they need. Give them access to an easy-to-use platform where they can facilitate meaningful conversations about what’s working for them and what’s isn’t, and then adapt accordingly to drive success.