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Roughly 50% of organizations have a branded online community forum—that's a lot of communities! But not all these communities are great. Somehow, we can always tell a good community from a bad one, or even an excellent community from a good one. 

It can be hard to pinpoint what it is that sets an amazing community apart from one that simply does the job. So what exactly are the qualities of a great community? What is it that gives a community a strategic advantage? What is it that makes a community superior to another? 

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5 min

Sarah Robinson-Yu
Victoria Burt

Does Your Community Stand Out From Your Competitors?

6 minute read

May 12, 2020

Roughly 50% of organizations have a branded online community forum—that's a lot of communities! But not all these communities are great. Somehow, we can always tell a good community from a bad one, or even an excellent community from a good one. 

It can be hard to pinpoint what it is that sets an amazing community apart from one that simply does the job. So what exactly are the qualities of a great community? What is it that gives a community a strategic advantage? What is it that makes a community superior to another? 

After doing a ton of research and surveying many different types of communities, it's apparent that great communities have at least three things in common:

  1. They have strong UI and UX design

  2. They understand their community members and the segments within them

  3. They compel members to participate and engage 

If you're able to master these three things, you'll be on your way to creating a community that stands out. A community that's seen by your customers as a huge bonus for being with you rather than a competitor—and one that will keep them around.

1. Strong UI and UX Design

You know how they say to never judge a book by it's cover? Well, unfortunately, people do—and your community is no different. Design can really make or break your community. To have a community that stands out, it needs to be visually appealing since this is what will draw people in. Nobody will want to participate in your community if it looks awful, and your brand will also be seen as less professional if your community is poorly designed. 

In fact, here are some statistics that illustrate the importance of design:

  • 52% of people say the main reason why they won’t return to a website is aesthetics.

  • 75% of people admit to making judgements on a company’s credibility based on the company’s website design.

  • 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout are unattractive.

Strong UI and UX will help you "talk-the-talk," as in, make your community actually look like it's an amazing community. People will be intrigued to see what such a pleasantly design community can offer. This will give you the opportunity to "walk-the-walk." You've captured their attention and they're in your community. Now you have the opportunity to shine and show them why your community is just as great as it looks. 

Once you have strong design downpact, you need to focus on gaining a better understanding of what your members want and how to compel them to keep coming back for more.

2. Understand Your Community

Whether or not your community is seen as a great community is really up to your community members. You might think your community is awesome, but if your members aren't a fan, then your efforts are for nothing. To make your community stand out, you need to give your members what they want. 

What do your members actually want from your community? 

The answer to this question requires careful research, however it's really much more simple than you might think—just ask. By asking your members, you'll be able to capture valuable information about what they’re looking for and what they actually want from your community. 

Here are some questions that you should ask:

  • How many times do you visit the community per month? 

  • Which of the following best defines your interests (list several community topics)?

  • Which of the following best describes your purpose in the community (provide list)?

  • When you do use the community, do you ever post, or do you just browse? 

  • Do you find the content useful/ helpful?

  • How likely would you be to recommend this community to others?

Your community isn't made up of just one homogeneous group of people—you're sure to find that your community actually has multiple segments. 

Make sure you've acknowledged these segments and work to gain a good understanding of what each segment wants and what appeals to them. Doing so will help you create relevant content that appeals to everyone, giving them a community that matters. 

If you need help identifying the types of content you should create for the segments in your community, you can ask yourself three key questions that'll help you narrow it down:  

  1. Why would this person join this community?

  2. What kinds of things do they care about?

  3. How can we provide the best value for them?

Once you understand your community and the segments within your community, you can create content that resonates with everyone. This, in turn, will help you create a community that stands out from your competitors because your members will get everything they need.

3. Compel Participation and Engagement 

All communities that stand out are ones that are active—there are always members who are online and work to generate new content and encourage others to participate. Great communities are ones that are able to get one-time posters to come back and participate time and time again. 

Garnering engagement, however, is the most difficult task for a community and community managers. In fact, studies show that engagement is the biggest challenge that communities, and organizations as whole, face. 

That's because there are so many factors that play a role in engagement levels that it can be very difficult to get them all just right. Communities that stand out, however, are the ones that have this down to a tee. These communities have effective moderators, strong super fan programs, engaging content, strategic gamification and of course, powerful onboarding practices from the minute that a member registers. 

Ultimately, communities that have a high level of engagement have worked to craft an engagement plan that suits the needs of their members. Be sure to download our eBook, Driving Adoption and Increasing Engagement In Your Online Community Forum to learn how the best organizations make their communities stand out. 

Concluding Thought

First things first—make your community look great. Not all community platforms are equipped with the customization features necessary to express your brand personality and make your community vision a reality, so make sure you evaluate and assess your options carefully. If your community doesn't look the part, you'll never be able to stand out. That being said, it's never too late to switch platforms if you're currently unable to execute your community vision. In fact, there's a ton of companies who've swapped platforms specifically because they weren't able to customize it to suit their needs. King is an excellent example of this, and I'd encourage you to take a look to learn more about how their switch was actually super easy and paid off big time. 

Once your community looks amazing, you need to then focus your efforts on understanding your community and identifying your community segments. Only then will you be able to craft an engagement plan that effectively compels members to participate and return time and time again.

ebook-driving adoption increasing engagement-

Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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