Over time, I found that there were trends in how companies view community.
Having a community sounds really nice. You can see it now… all your adoring fans will come together online and off to celebrate how amazing your brand is and eagerly break out to tell the rest of the world.
Pretty picture. And the cool part is, it’s not impossible. But it is very difficult, and it will take up a good deal of your time and resources. That’s why, before setting out to build any community, you should be asking these two questions:
1. Why do you need a community?
I urge you to really give this some thought. Don’t just say “engagement” or “to improve user experience”. What specifically are you looking to accomplish? It’s really important to understand this, because it will determine what kind of community you build (yes there are many different community models)
Here are some examples of good answers to this question:
– We want to reduce the amount of time it takes for customers to get answers to their questions, so we’d like to build a support community where users can help each other
– We’d like to increase user retention. We believe by building a community, users will spend more time interacting on our platform and that will increase the amount of actions/user on our platform by 50%.
– We have a really passionate audience. We believe that if we build a power user community for our top users, we can improve user referrals to our website by 25%.
– We’re really early in our product development but have a loyal early adopter following. We’d like to build an early adopter community in order to listen closely to our customers and gather feedback from the group as we continue to iterate.
Know why you’re building the community and what you expect to get out of it.
Great, now that that’s out of the way…
2. Why do your customers need a community?
Turns out it doesn’t matter how much you want a community, it won’t work if your customers don’t want a community.
That doesn’t mean they have to be asking for it (they probably won’t). I always recommend to think about your community as it’s own product. You’re asking people to spend time participating in your community, which means they need to get some sort of value in order for it to be worth their time.
Do they really want to give you feedback and check out your early prototypes?
Do they need a place to ask questions and get advice?
Do they want to feel like they’re a part of something awesome, and so they’re willing to join a power user community?
Those are all natural rewards that people could seek. They have a need or desire, and you’re providing for that need.
If you can’t provide value in a natural way, you can try prizes, swag, gamification etc. But those aren’t going to last and sustain a healthy community in the long run.
How can you find out what their needs are? I recommend using ye ol’ telephone. It works better than you remember.
Ask why. Why do you need a community? Why do they? Only when you really understand the answers to these questions should you start to invest into building a community.