It feels like we might have too many online communities. There’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat… the list goes on and on.
In addition to those big-name social media platforms, there are thousands of message boards and forums out there that cover everything from survival skills to video games to needlepoint embroidery. Whatever you can think of, there’s a decent chance someone has already created an online community for it. Do we really need more of these communities?
The Case Against Starting An Online Community
According to Gartner, over 70% of online communities fail.
That shouldn’t be too surprising. People have so many options for online entertainment and engagement these days. No one is able to use it all.
Given that everyone is actively ignoring dozens of established and popular online communities, why would they waste their time on a community that’s new and barely active? If you don’t have something special to offer, starting an online community won’t be worth the trouble.
Make no mistake – starting an online community is a lot of trouble. It takes a huge amount of time and energy. Are you prepared to make that investment into something that probably won’t pan out?
The Case For Starting An Online Community
Do we need another Facebook that’s designed to appeal to everyone? No, probably not.
Yes, absolutely. There are endless niches of interest in this world, and if you happen to have a passion for something that isn’t already the focus of a community, you should go ahead and start that community. You’ll likely find others that share your interest and want to talk about it.
Also, an online community is worth starting if you want to promote your business’s products and services. It’s a great way to attract new customers and increase customer loyalty.
Every company website should have an online community that allows staff, customers, and potential customers to interact with each other. Enabling these discussions to take place will give people a reason to form a relationship with your company rather than one of your competitors.
When people communicate with each other, bonds are formed. An online community makes potential customers more likely to become paying customers and current customers more likely to keep coming back. A personal connection is all that it takes.
Another benefit to maintaining an online community on your company website is that it provides you with tons of helpful feedback. Community members will naturally voice any compliments or complaints they have about your business. Without the expense or hassle of conducting a customer survey, you’ll get a good idea of what you’re doing right and what you could improve.
How To Start An Online Community
If you want to start your own community, you should know that this is no easy task.
It’s easier, though, when you know what you’re doing. I’d recommend you check out some guides to the subject, such as Mandy Richard’s “A Step-by-Step Guide To Starting An Online Community” and Miles Jennings’s “7 Strategies for Achieving Phenomenal Online Community Growth”.
Pretty much every online community expert agrees that the first step to starting an online community is realizing that you can’t do it alone. If you’re not a designer, you’ll need some design help. An interface that’s ugly or confusing will drive potential members away and make your new community dead on arrival.
And no matter what your community looks like, you’ll need some help moderating the content as well. Weeding out spam messages is certainly a time-intensive task, and you’ll need to review non-spam messages to confirm that they follow your community guidelines. A part-time moderator or two should be able to do that job for you.
So, you should spend money on people, and you should also spend money on advertising. Eventually, your community will grow to the point where word of mouth alone is able to attract new members. But it won’t start out that way. Pay for some banner ads to help you get the ball rolling.
Another fine article to review is Sidd Pagidipati’s “Top 10 Tips For Managing An Online Community”. Pagidipati offers great advice on how to make your community more fun and your members more active.
His main point is that, while discussion is the most important activity in an online community, you should spice things up with activities that directly engage your members. For example, you could have a weekly poll that measures how your members feel about a certain subject. Your members will love getting the chance to share their opinions. It makes them feel valued.
Another idea is to regularly hold contents in your community, where members can compete for a gift card or some other prize. Even if the prize is as meaningless as bragging rights, it’s sure to catch people’s attention.