A branded community can be a powerful tool to connect with customers or provide better support. At the same time a community is not something you can just "build" and hope people will come. It takes work and planning. Below are some tips to give yourself the best chances for your community to succeed.
1. Create a proper plan and get ready to promote. Make sure you are choosing the right solution by planning out exactly what you need, for example, the topic or niche you wish to serve. Choose something people will be able to connect with or engage with. You should plan on how and who will promote your community? Who will staff the community as admin and moderators? What are your goals for success or what does success look like? You cannot create a successful community without spending some time thinking about these things. Just setting up a community and hoping people show up is a recipe for failure.
2. Before you launch, recruit enthusiasts to test. Every company has fans or people who appreciate their products. You should identify these customers and invite them to help you before you launch. Use the incentives of gamification, such as giving them a beta tester badge, but more importantly listen to their feedback. It will help solidify ideas or provide suggestions on how you move forward. Involving strong advocates early will also make them feel part of the process and when the community goes live, these individuals will have a stake in it.
3. Define who owns success for the community. Identify who the person on your team (or company) "owns" the success for your community and will lead your community. They should take the lead role on promoting or planning, recruiting new users and assuring you have the proper resources to manage the community. They should be the one also reporting on the status of your goals and objectives towards success (however you identified them).
4. Be an active listener to your community for ideas. As time goes on you will get lots of feedback from the community. It's important to listen. Sometimes the feedback might be just a post in the forum and not an email to you. Sometimes feedback is not helpful and you cannot necessarily act on their recommendations. Nevertheless you should always try to acknowledge the feedback and try to take care of annoyances or things that become irritating to your community. For example, maybe some users complain about the colour of links in your forum. In this case you can make a CSS tweak to make them more visible.
5. A community should evolve and iterate. A community is not "set and forget". Sometimes you need to add new categories or maybe a new feature to your software. To keep things lively and fun for your community, it's important to evolve with them. Maybe you add new levels or badges, or specific categories for more senior members. Maybe you promote trusted users to a role of authority.
Using the above recipe should put you and your company on the path for success. Do you have any other tips for success? Share them in the comments.
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