Building an Online Community - Part 2

Building a successful community requires a lot of preparation before it's actual launch. Before starting Starbucks, Howard Schultz went to Italy and studied more than 500 Coffee shops at different times of the day to learn and understand how they operated, how they interacted with their customers, why customers bought coffee, where did their customers come from, etc. He even taped some of the sessions so he could continue learning from them after coming home. Launching a community of your own is no different. Entrepreneurs who do their homework and prepare for expected growth, have a much greater chance of success than those who don't.

Last Friday, I talked about the three parts of an online community and listed a bunch of questions that should be answered while building a plan for your community. Today, let's take a in-depth look at those questions for better understanding.

What is your purpose? Why do you want to build a community?

Having a purpose will provide you a direction in which you want to take your community towards. It also helps when you are formulating a strategy for success. There are many different reasons why people build online communities.
  • You are starting a new business and looking for new clients.
  • You want to widen your potential client base for an already successful offline business.
  • You have a new product and want to introduce it.
  • You want to build your own brand on the Internet.
  • You want to make money online.
  • You want to entertain people by posting funny stuff.

Whatever your reason, identify a purpose. Without it, your efforts will be in vain.

How do you want people to remember your community?

People will remember your community when it becomes synonmous with something. For example,

Soft drink - Coke or Pepsi
Shaving razors - Gillette
Crime show - CSI
Funny cartoon - Family Guy or The Simpsons
Funny indian guy - Russell Peters

You get the message. What is the first thing you want people to think of when they think of your community? Once you figure it out, make sure all your content reflects that.

A word of caution: Don't come up with too many things you want people to think of upon the mention of your community. Most successful brands are known for 1 or 2 things, no more.

Who are you creating the content for? What does your target audience look like?

If you have new product that companies can use to increase efficiency, don't blast your friends and family on Facebook with marketing messages. They are the wrong audience for that kind of product. Your target audience in this case is probably C-level executives. Your LinkedIn community might be a better choice. But, if you want to create funny stuff to entertain people, your Facebook community might be a better choice.

Figure out the demographics of people who will find the most value in your message and then select an appropriate channel to communicate with them.

Where is your target audience coming from?

I use Google Analytics to do this and I was very surprised by some of the results I found.

I spent the first half of my life in India and my second half in US. My wife is from England. So naturally, I figured people reading my blog posts will primarily be from one of these three countries. Boy, was I wrong in my assumption? I have people from 12 countries reading this blog. And most surprising was the country with second highest readership - Russia. I don't know anybody in Russia, but I have twice as many readers in Russia, then I do in India. How cool is that?

Track your audience. It will help you craft better messages and get some unexpected surprises.

What form will your content be in?

This depends on your personal choice and the type of tools and resources you have available at your disposal. Text, pictures, videos, podcasts and webcasts are some popular choices of content.

What is your content schedule?

Set a schedule of when you will post new content. It builds positive expectations within the community. If your schedule is once a week, pick a day. If it's few times a week, pick certain days. If it is every day, make sure you do that without fail. The easy part of scheduling is creating it. The difficult part is sticking to it. Once you have a schedule, stick to it. Abandoned schedules result into abandoned communities.

My content schedule? Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

How can your audience become a part of the community?

There are multiple ways to do this. Listed below are just a handful.
  • Encourage them to comment on your content.
  • Ask them to share it, if they like it.
  • Invite them to be part of special groups and events.
  • Connect them with each other.
  • Ask them for their advice and suggestions on improving your community.
  • Provide them with incentives for sharing the core message of your community.

How will you measure your community's growth?

If your goal is to have new followers, keep track of new followers every month. Are they increasing or decreasing?

If your goal is to build a list of potential clients, provide them with a way through which they can send their email address or phone number. Then compare the number of people who visited your site to the number of people who sent you their contact information.

If the goal is to generate sales, compare the number of clients who purchased vs. clients who browser shopped.

At what level will you call your community a success?

Identify some milestones that you want to reach while growing your community base. Now, turn them into specific targets that you can shoot for. For example, 10,000 new subscribers, $1,000,000 of sales generation, etc.

When you reach them, you are a success.

Do you have any other questions that you think would fit within this list?  Please write them in the comments below. Next Friday, we'll talk about the launching day.

Thank you for reading.

Like they say in Punjabi,
Sat Sri Akal

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