Creating Online Communities

I assist some clients with their social media activities, including the managing of online groups–some are more successful than others. As I’ve managed and monitored their groups, dabbled with my own, and evaluated other groups I’ve noted a number of factors that seem to impact their success. At the outset, before you even establish a group, and just as with any communication effort you need to do two fundamental things:

1) Identify your specific, measurable objectives

2) Define, in excruciating detail, your target audience

Those starting points form the basis for selecting specific communication tools and creating key messages that will resonate with the chosen audience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re creating content for traditional media, for social media — or for a job interview. The process is the same and those that follow that process, thoughtfully (and based on solid data), will achieve better results than those who don’t.

Creating connections with online communities is no different. One of the big “mis-steps” I see people making is assuming that their audience is 1) online and 2) engaged in the venues they choose to communicate their messages. That is not always the case. Recently, for instance, I conducted research for a client hoping to connect with CEOs in the health care industry via LinkedIn.

But, guess what? These CEOs they were hoping to connect with were not on LinkedIn. That’s a problem. It would be a bigger problem if we hadn’t taken the time to do the research because not only would we have misspent the time and effort to attempt to connect with this audience, but we would also have missed opportunities to connect in more meaningful ways.

Identifying whether your audience is “out there” is the first step in terms of creating a community. The next step is determining what value you can provide (based on what they value, not simply on what you wish to communicate). What will cause them to choose to engage with you in a meaningful way? Again, doing this, really depends on being ultra-specific about your target audience and learning as much as you possibly can about them.

Two of my clients’ groups are particularly popular with both multiple new posts and multiple new requests to join every week. With both of these I’ve noticed some important commonalities:

  • The audience is well defined, and well maintained: only members who share certain attributes and interests are allowed to join the group. That helps to ensure that conversations will be on topic and relevant.
  • Posts are monitored to ensure a focus on useful information, rather than promotional items. Promotional items are promptly removed (and those who continue to post them are removed as well).
  • My clients don’t monopolize the site, but chime in every now and then to engage the audience in conversations, pose a provocative question or provide support, encouragement and feedback to others. Regular participation is critical.
  • Information conveyed is meaningful and important to participants–it’s information they need to know to succeed in their work; that makes all the difference in the world!

Recommended Reading:

LinkedIn for Dummies – John Elad

The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success – Wayne Breitbarth

Related Blog Posts:

If You’re Trying to Connect With CEOs on Social Media, You May be Wasting Your Time

What Social Media Tool Should You Use? No Easy Answers.

Boosting the Power of Social Media: Taking Risks Without Getting Burned



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