As you may know, Socious serves businesses, associations, and technology user groups. This means that we were in the thick of it last week, when one of the major groups in the nonprofit membership world held their annual conference in Atlanta.
While it was great to see friends, customers, and partners, it was the new voices in the area of online community that caught my attention. Based on our conversations with the larger-than-expected number of online community managers at the event, it seems as though the conversation in the association space has shifted from, "Why do I need a community?" to "How can I make my community work?"
While there is still a lot of misinformation and confusion around private online member communities, many of the myths of 2-3 years ago seem to have evaporated. Association executives are beginning to ask the right questions, dig into what is working, and seek data-driven results.
I believe that industries can learn a lot from other industries. So, regardless of whether you work for an association, I think you'll find these tweets worth clicking.
Value is the Underpinning of Successful Online Communities
Associations that solely focus on networking inside their private online community find themselves with a half-baked online community strategy. These groups often struggle to get members to use their community. Before the networking begins, you have to give busy members a reasons to visit your online community.
At their core, online communities (and associations in general) help members in their jobs and careers. Networking is just one of the ways that this can happen. Online communities enable members to discuss exclusive educational content, ask questions of industry experts, and mobilize around legislation.
Value is often defined differently across organizations and diverse member segments. Your association's online community software is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a flexible platform that supports an array of member engagement, retention, and revenue strategies.
Your association's online community can be configured hundreds of ways depending on how you provide value to your members and solve their problems. This approach ensures that your online member community aligns with your organizational goals and value proposition to members.
Do Lurkers in Private Online Communities Have Value?
This is a very interesting debate started by our friend, Ben Martin, on whether or not lurker hold ANY value. Lurkers are people who access an online community, but do not participate (comment, posts, etc.). We covered this hot topic in our webinar-on-demand on calculating the ROI of online customer communities.
Yes. Lurkers hold value. After that, there are two points to understand when you are debating the value of lurkers.
Whose value are you talking about? Lurkers hold little value to other members, who basically don't know that they are there. If they have a completed profile, other members can still search them out to connect and get questions answers. However, this holds minimal value for the health of the community.
On the flip side, lurkers hold immense value to the organization providing the community. If your "membership product" is defined by the value your members receive through your exclusive content, discussions, and access to experts, then lurkers get significant value from your community. They, in turn, remain members and provide explicit value to the association.
There is an engagement funnel that converts lurkers to contributors. If a company said that every lead that downloaded their new ebook was worthless because they have not yet made a purchase, they would be making a big mistake.
Lurkers don't always have to be lurkers. The data in your online community software can tell you where each member is in their engagement lifecycle. Some members will jump right in and contribute right away. However, a large number of others will wait, test the waters, and eventually dive in.
Lurkers have value since they are on an engagement journey on their way to becoming participating members of the community. It is up to your strategy and community management processes to move lurkers down the engagement funnel.
What Can a Community Manager Do For You?
For many years, association executives dismissed the need for community managers. This was partly due to not seeing the value of online communities, so fitting an online community manager into the budget never became a high priority.
However, in the past year, interest and executive backing for creating successful online communities has come into focus. This is evidenced by the article tweeted from Associations Now, ASAE's online magazine/blog.
This article covers some of the important points of The Community Roundtable's State of Community Management report. Backed by data, it highlights the importance of having online community managers for associations.
The piece also leaves you with good questions for association executives to think about.
"At an association, on the other hand, community doesn’t merely support the core product; community in many ways is the core product. So, I wonder if the role of community management at an association must be more dispersed. Shouldn’t every staff member in membership and volunteer relations be a skilled online community manager?"
Many of the association community managers that I spoke with at the 2013 ASAE Annual conference were trying to grow their community on their own. Along with monitoring and adjusting community management processes, they were responsible for customer service, content production, and revenue generation.
It is possible for online communities to thrive under these conditions. However, it is rarely sustainable and community managers don't often get to the job of managing the community when they are responsible for non-community management priorities.
When everyone in the organization trusts that the association's online community strategy will benefit both the membership and the organization, people across the organization have a mandate to support the community in their role. Community management is not relegated to one person or team. The burden of creating a thriving and sustainable community is spread across the organization - from content writers to event professionals to member services to executives.