Most guidance on the lifecycles of online communities is written from the perspective of a community manager. They cover how communities come together and mature over time. While these online community lifecycle models are vital to understanding what to expect and how to nurturing and grow your community, they don’t address early phases of the online community planning process that are of importance to executives and decision makers.
What Do Marketing Strategists and Membership Executives Need To Know About the Online Community Planning Lifecycle
The online community planning lifecycle begins well before the community is live. Since online communities for consumer brands, B2B businesses and membership organizations are an extension of their product strategy, online community planning usually begins with looking for ways to solve problems – problems of your customers and problems facing your organization.
Online Community Planning Framework
You organization can use the following online community planning model to ensure that your community is delivering consistent value to your target audience and your organization.
1) Problem Identification
Through research using interviews, surveys, and observation, identify the most critical problems that your target internal and external stakeholders (executives, customers, members, partners, employees, etc.) are willing to change their behavior to solve (i.e. participate in a community).
Map out which problems your online community is going to solve and when these solutions will be available. This includes defining your audiences and the community roadmap which lays out which solutions are going to be available at launch and which ones are going to be rolled out over time.
3) Business Model
Draw up a business plan for your online community including the success metrics and indirect financial benefit to the organization. If your online community will generate direct revenue, piece together the revenue model and projections, as well as the expenses (including the online community software platform you will use).
4) Community Planning
Put together engagement requirements and feature selection for your online community software. Identity the community managers who are responsible for the success of your online community. Then, develop scenarios with different member and staff personas to ensure you are solving your target audiences’ problems in the way they want them solved. This will include developing an on-boarding process for new members of the community.
Test your online community with each user type that will participate in the community. Develop your online community launch plan and promotional strategy to manage the initial buzz and questions about your online community.
6) Community Management Programs
Lay out an online community content plan that spreads content creation, a critical element of your online community’s success, across your organization. This may include extending some of the responsibility to leaders among your customer base or membership.
What Happens After an Online Community is Launched?
So, you have put in the time to create an online community that is going to set your organization apart and keep members engaged. Your launch has seen initial success. However, there are still mornings when you feel like a first-time father holding his newborn infant, afraid to do anything for fear of breaking this wonderful creation.
Well, the marketing, customer care, and membership executives among us are in luck. Socious offers a webinar-on-demand featuring two online community superstars, Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable and Victor Bohnert of SmithBucklin (the world's largest association management company). They discuss the most critical moments in the online community lifecycle and provide guidance on growing a thriving and sustainable online community.
I hope takeaway a lot from this insightful discussion.