Do your in-person customer or member events rock? Do you have live music and mixed drinks intermingled with your educational and product sessions? At a recent workshop on online communities, a young man asked, “Our live networking events are amazing…really amazing, but our online community is boring. How can we expect our customers to use our private social network when our in-person events are so good?”
The Truth About Professional Online Communities
The reality is that your online community will never be as much fun as your live events. It shouldn’t be. They are designed to meet different goals for your organization and meet different parts of your customers’ or members’ needs.
Facebook will never be as much fun as getting together with your college girlfriends when they are in town. LinkedIn will never be as much fun as happy hour after work. And your private online community will never be much fun as your live meetings, conferences, and events. However, I love how this video demonstrates that there is hope for even the most academic online community.
Making B2B and Professional Online Communities More Fun
Though B2B online customer and member communities are explicitly geared toward stripping away extraneous elements, there are things you can do so that your online community is not so dry.
#1) Multimedia Mix
Use both amateur and professional photos that represent your organization, audio clips of important content, and informative and fun video to get and keep your audience’s attention. Tip: Experiement with a range of different text-based formats too - from helpful "how to" articles and list posts to short tips and impactful opinion pieces.
#2) Be Human
Treat people like people. In B2B customer communities and nonprofit communities of practice, people are looking for relevant and helpful information. As you receive questions and plan your responses, keep in mind that your customers or members came to your community for a reason – most likely looking for specific information.
#3) Compelling Headlines and Email Subjects
It does not take a lot of time and resources to be appropriately light, optimistic, and casual in your communication and community announcements. Tip: Scan headlines from magazine covers for formats and structures that you can repurpose.
Your target audience may be engaged by contests, badges, and leaderboards. Tip: Gear the rewards toward activity that is meaningful to your organization and leads to more engagement. To get started with gamification, check out Tom Humbarger’s recent article on the topic.
This is a good illustration of game mechanics matched to the human
desire each fulfills from gamification company, Bunchball’s white paper.
Online Community Takeaway
Your customers or members are busy. Communities of professionals fail when they put too much emphasis on making the community a social place.
Overloaded customers and members usually want to find and interact with the information, people, and answers they need quickly to enable them to get back to their jobs or home to their families. However, it is important to remember that you are dealing with people just like you, who are looking for helpful information and easy-to-grasp answers to help them with their jobs and businesses….just like you.