Writing exclusively for YHP, Brian Hughes, CEO of KILTR, shares the secrets of successfully growing an online community...
Know your niche – It may seem obvious, but it’s important that you know exactly the community of users that you’re looking to attract – and how to reach them. Take the time to identify key online influencers (e.g. bloggers and niche media channels) among your target community and try to get them onside at the earliest opportunity. This will ensure that your initial marketing activity is focused and cost-effective in driving up membership.
Take it from the top – In the age of LinkedIn and Facebook, you need to convince potential community members that it’s worth their while to sign-up to yet another social network. Be sure that you can explain your proposition clearly and succinctly.
When you are at the coalface of an organisation, it can become difficult to offer a precise description of the business without over-loading the summary with confusing details and sidenotes. If you can’t come up with a one-sentence summary of what your community is and what it does, get help from a communications professional.
It’s all about Content – Online networks devour content at an incredible rate so, where possible, find ways to attract external content producers to your community. Every day thousands of media outlets, industry commentators, bloggers and freelance producers are distributing content that your community would be interested in. Convince as many as possible that your community is a good place for them to share their content and promote their own offerings.
Respond, respond, respond – If you successfully attract members, it’s vital that you respond to any queries or comments about the community quickly and professionally. If you look after your members, they will spread the word and the community will grow. If you take too long to respond to your community, however, they will abandon you, never to return and, what’s more, they will share their negative experience of your community among their contacts.
Keep it coming – It’s important for all online communities to continuously evolve in line with the needs and wishes of their membership. Keep members coming back for more by providing new content, new features, new functionality on a continuous basis.
Roll with it – Having established an online community, the way that community members then choose to use the platform will sometimes surprise you and, perhaps, lead you in a direction you hadn’t considered before. Keep an eye on trends within user behaviour and adjust your strategy and/or offering accordingly.
The Human Factor – Don’t forget that an online community, however large it may become, is simply a collection of individual human beings who, having joined your community, will react in a human, emotional way to any changes that you choose to make. Try to imagine how an individual member of your community – rather than the community as a whole – will respond to the introduction of new functionality or changes to your existing set-up. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Would I like this?” rather than “Would the community like this?” and be brave enough to trust your own instincts.
Speak up - Raising awareness of your new online community is vital. Get comfortable with the idea of being a spokesperson for your community. This means actively networking as well as embracing other nerve-wracking activities such as making presentations and speaking to journalists – if you want your online community to grow, it’s part of the deal whether you’re shy or not!
Brian Hughes is the CEO of KILTR, a professional social network for everyone with an interest in Scotland.