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What Makes A Great Community? Your Members Have The Answers!

6 minute read

April 21, 2020

Communities are important. But it's not everyday that you run across a great community. And with so many communities out there, you might find that it's actually a lot easier to spot a community that's not-so-great as opposed to ones that are amazing. I mean, you're sure to have run across dozens of communities over the years where you take one look at it and then nope out, just based on how it's designed. Maybe you've gotten so far as the search function, only to realize that it doesn't work well.

In a nutshell, you can immediately tell when a community isn't good. But when you find an amazing community, it can be hard to put your finger on what exactly makes them so amazing. They look good and feel easy to use—but what else is it that makes them stand out so much?

Well, the fact is, all great communities have at least one thing in common—they talk to their members, ask for their opinions, listen to what they have to say, and take action

As Jono Bacon says, "All of the answers to your questions about how to build a great community live in your audience's minds."

As we all know, every community is different, meaning that every solution that leads to a great community will also be different. And the solution is always there in plain sight—it just needs to be captured.

But sometimes, capturing member voices is easier said than done. Luckily, this is something that Jono covers in his Q&A session, which followed his webinar, How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand and Teams. 

If you haven't had the chance to check out his webinar, or his Q&A session, I'd recommend giving them a quick watch. Jono is a leading community speaker and consultant who previously served as the director of community at GitHub, Canonical, XPRIZE, and OpenAdvantage. He is also the author of People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, And Teams and The Art of Community. Suffice it to say, Jono is quite the community expert who can offer invaluable advice.

And he did just this in his response to our viewers' questions regarding creating a strong community that can supercharge businesses and brands. To this, Jono offers a ton of advice on how to create a great community and how to actually capture your audience's opinions and sentiments. 

Let's take a closer look at what he had to say.

Prove Immediate Community Value

First and foremost, to capture what's on the mind of your audience, you need to actually have an audience. You need to have people who care about the brand and are aware of what the community can offer them. Once you have people in your community, then it'll be a lot easier to collect feedback to improve. That being said, it's important to provide your community members immediate value when they first enter the community—that way, they're more likely to stick around.

"At the heart of [providing immediate value] is great marketing—you need to be able to say in one sentence why your community is exciting and how it can provide your members with value," says Jono. He then adds that to do this successfully, "You need to be, a) clear on your audience and know who you're targeting, and b) very clear on what value is being delivered when members come into the community."

When you can deliver immediate value to your community members, and show them why your community is so important, you'll be sure to keep them coming back for more.

Building a Many-To-Many Relationship

One thing that Jono argues is key to a strong and successful community is ensuring that organizational participation extends beyond the community manager—especially when it comes to startups and venture firms. 

Staff participation is key, and too often, organizations make the mistake of hiring a community manager and then backing off. While having a community manager is extremely important, and can help improve performance by up to 12%, it's still important for the organization as a whole to be connected and committed to community participation. As Jono says, your members don't just want to connect with the community manager, they want to connect with your staff from various ends of the organization: 

"Your community members don't just want to talk to your community manager, they want to talk to your staff, they want to talk to the rest of the company—it's about building a many-to-many relationship. This relationship consists of many staff talking to many community members. That's what it's all about. [And to do this] requires executives acknowledging the importance of community and making a commitment to be involved."

This always leads back to the question: how do you get your executive team onboard with being involved in the community? This extends beyond simply giving the green-light for the community—it truly involves the executive team recognizing the various benefits that community can have and how it can impact each and every department in the organization. To learn more about how to get executive buy-in for your community, be sure to check out my recent blog, How To Secure Executive Buy-In.

Provide Comfortable Opportunities for Feedback

Getting feedback from community members is an incredibly important aspect of ensuring that your community is as strong as possible. Collecting and analyzing feedback is important as it helps shape the strategic direction taken when managing an online community, and implementing the best ideas from this feedback is the most effective way to make the community a place where your members actually want to be. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, all successful communities work to collect feedback since, as Jono mentions, "the answers to your questions about how to build a great community live in your audience's minds."

That being said, the best way to provide your members with an opportunity to provide feedback is to ask them. Don't wait for them to approach you; work to provide comfortable opportunities for them to give opinions and advice. While you may have some members approach you and share ideas, according to Jono, "some of the best ideas I've heard come from shy members of the community, and so you want to provide them with a way to give feedback in a way that makes them feel comfortable—ask them for their opinion."

This can include creating discussions, sending out surveys or even starting a forum poll. It's even better when feedback questions generate long-form discussions. As Jono mentions, the purpose isn't to crowd-source ideas—you're looking for community feedback, meaning that these ideas are meant to be bounced around and discussed by those who care about the community. Oftentimes, this means that the best ideas get even better as members collectively work to improve and perfect them.

Concluding Thought

Great communities are built around your members and their ideas, interests and desires. And to garner these member ideas, and always have them to rely on, you need to remember one thing: always validate and recognize those who participate. Recognizing those who contribute to making the community a better place not only encourages members to continue speaking their mind and pushing others to participate, but it is also, as said by Jono, "a great way to build that kind of repeat business [that community aims for]." 

So back to our original question: what makes a great community? 

Great communities are ones that ask, recognize, and improve.

Check out the full Jono Q&A session below!



Community

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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