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Five Tips for Building an Online Community

by Cynthia Francis  |  
November 24, 2009

Businesses have embraced online communities as a means of communicating with their customers—and for good reason. An online community offers unmatched opportunities for customers, prospects, advocates, and fans to support and engage in conversation about their favorite brands in a brand-safe environment.

Yet building a successful online community isn't as easy as it might seem. A thriving community requires defined goals and a clear strategy if it is to consistently attract and engage participants. Below are five tips to help you build an online community.

1. Determine your goal

Determining your goal seems obvious, right? But, in fact, many companies think about their goals for an online community in very broad terms when they should, instead, have in mind more specific objectives.

Here are a few questions to consider before committing to an online community:

  • What are your current and future business goals?
  • How does an online community meet those needs, and what purpose does it serve?
  • How will you integrate an online community into your broader marketing plan?
  • Who are you looking to attract to your online community, and is it the right forum for engaging with them?
  • Are you looking to monitor conversations about your brand or actively participate in them?
  • Do you want to monetize your community and content? What monetization model is appropriate and relevant to your business and your customers?
  • Do you plan to develop multimedia or to host user-generated videos?
  • What communication tools are appropriate for your audience? Will users be more comfortable with text or media-based communication?

Answering those questions will help guide your campaign and help you determine which tools to use, what you'll consider a success, and how you'll measure return on investment (ROI).

2. Identify metrics

By what metrics will you measure success and ROI? That is another often-overlooked element of social-media campaigns. If you haven't defined success metrics for your community, how will you know if it's working?

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Cynthia Francis is CEO of Reality Digital (, where she leads the vision and development of engaging social-media and digital-media properties for today's leading brands.

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  • by Angela Connor Tue Nov 24, 2009 via web

    These are great tips. I can attest to that as a community manager. But one of the most crucial aspects of growing a community is hiring the right person to serve as the voice, facilitator, relationship-builder and advocate for the community: the Community manager. The human factor is huge here. You need someone who internalizes all that is mentioned here and can work to make it all matter by the way they engage, connect and foster community. This is not an easy task and requires an enormous amount of work and commitment. the infrastructure, goals, marketing plan and objectives are major. But without the community manager, none of it will matter.
    Angela Connor
    Author, "18 Rules of Community Engagement."

  • by Chris Lucas Sat Dec 26, 2009 via web

    Thanks Cynthia the tips are great and I agree with Angela completely.

    I run a women in business network and have just create a online membership and am as Angela puts it the "Community Manager" and I have to say it is so well worth the effort and it is a pleasure to do the hard work as it doesn't seem that hard especially when you love it.

    Thanks both Cynthia and Angela I enjoyed the read and got a lot out of it.
    Looking forward to reading and learning more from you both.

    Chris Lucas

  • by Angela Connor Mon Dec 28, 2009 via web

    Hi Chris: I'd love to know more about your new community. Perhaps you can find me and share the link. I will be sure to check out your website. I'm @communitygirl on twitter.

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