Community Management is About Strategy

networksThis week’s blog post on online community management is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec,  founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: www.eventgarde.com.

Although still relatively new, online communities are quickly becoming popular platforms for engagement, discussion and membership.

But there’s still some confusion about best practices and culture, according to a new report by The Community Roundtable and Higher Logic.

“In the current environment, it’s easy to question or second guess ourselves, but one thing I feel strongly about is this: A community approach can help navigate these issues in a way that brings along customers, prospects and employees,” said Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder, The Community Roundtable. “It is the best way, and maybe the only way, to keep our organizations in sync with themselves and with their markets.”

Happe said communities are the most effective way to deliver learning and change – much better than social media platforms, which are inundated with advertisements.

The Higher Logic report contains data from 339 community programs from a range of industries. The first takeaway: strategy. Strategy is based upon a shared understanding of value. In other words, communities must define value to their organization and to their community to foster engagement. In addition, the report found those who could measure that value to determine ROI performed best.

Next: operations. Giving members a voice is key to community success. Communities that provide a formal feedback system, multi-tiered advocacy program and member-led community programs far outperformed their peers.

And then, tactics: Most communities measure basic activity and membership, but going beyond that, including regularly tracking activity, behavior change and outcomes, reaps big rewards.

Some recommendations from Higher Logic:

STRATEGY: Create strong, defined value statements for your organization and members, highlighting the shared value of the community. Tip: Boil it down: What’s the value that the organization and members get from being a part of the community – and where do those value statements intersect?

OPERATIONS: Engage and empower members, through feedback programs, member- and internal expert-led programs and by prioritizing getting organizational buy-in and understanding of community. Giving the community a say in its operation can help increase engagement and community contributions. Tip: Tap into the expertise in your membership – communities that include member-led programming demonstrate higher engagement and maturity than their peers.

TACTICS: Focus metrics and measurement on the behaviors you want to see, not just the ones you can easily measure. Everyone measures something, but the best-in-class communities are digging into the metrics that demonstrate the impact of the community. Tip: Use frameworks to better connect behavior changes to metrics so that you can more readily explain the value of the community to members and the organization.

“As community professionals, we need to keep our focus on the fundamentals and continue to reinforce value and success,” Happe said. “Don’t lose sight of the basics; continue the dialog with those that can benefit from your community; and develop an ROI model to define the specific business value that is generated from the community.”

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