Do you remember that time you bought a new product or membership, liked it, but then never purchased it again? For me, it was a gym membership. It was one of my more misguided New Year’s resolutions where I went several times, had a decent experience, then forgot all about it.
What’s worse is that the gym made no attempt to get me to stay. They didn’t send me emails saying they missed me, they didn’t give me weekly workout tips, or suggest I connect with other members for a fitness class. They made no attempt to engage me or show me their value, so I forgot about them and they lost me.
Fortunately, this is a mistake that many businesses and membership organizations are working to fix. They’re creating better email campaigns, engaging members over social media, and building online communities to foster stronger relationships. 85% of organizations see online communities, in particular, as increasing trust and positively impacting operations.
Successful Communities vs. Ghost Towns
So if you are planning to launch an online community to increase engagement with your customers or members, you’re not alone. Organizations of all types and sizes are creating thriving online communities to effectively engage people from around the world and providing them with more value every time they visit. But you’ve also heard stories of communities turning into ghost towns. You don’t want this to happen to you, which means your community needs to hit the ground running.
Highlighting Your Community’s Value
Unfortunately, getting a thriving community started and keeping up the momentum can be a challenge. People are busy. How do you compete with all of other digital destinations that demanding their time and attention? How do you get members to see the value in your online community and compel them to visit and participate?
What can you include in your online community that truly sets it apart from all the other offers and sites out there?
The answer is in the way your members feel about your community and how they can use the information it provides. You can better position your community as dependable when you create content and programs that are useful for your community members and provide them with a great experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Your goal is to get the member to walk away from every visit both feeling like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and with helpful information that deals with the problems they’re facing. That’s what will make your online community a must-visit destination.
Principles that Make Your Community a Must-Visit Site
Making members feel special and providing helpful information is a broad idea, so let’s break it down further. Here are three of the top techniques to ensure your community meets its members’ needs.
Principle #1) Solve a Problem
This will work for any audience, from millennials and baby boomers to hardworking, stay-at-home moms. Everyone has a problem or something they want to overcome and if you help them do so, they’ll keep returning for answers to their questions and more information to make their lives easier.
Professional associations often solve problems by providing industry news, training, and other content that helps members with their jobs. If you’re a business, provide products that align with your audience’s biggest needs along with best practices for product use.
Principle #2) Appeal to a Passion
Not everyone will be passionate about your association, business, product or service, but many people will. Other people will be passionate about what they can do with your information. Turn that passion into participation by focusing your online community on topics your members are most interested in. Encourage members to share their own thoughts and ideas when interacting with your organization.
If they love what you’re talking about and offering, people will return to your community over and over again, making their visits a habit.
Principle #3) Build Exclusivity
Exclusivity is the root of the member experience. It’s what will make your members feel like they have access to content, conversation, and expertise that they can’t get anywhere else. This is how you set your online community apart from the other digital activities competing for your customers’ attention. Build your community’s exclusivity by creating members-only content and benefits that people must log in to access.
For example, not just anyone can attend your webinar on the innovative ideas that are transforming your industry, only members can.
The Role of Content in Consistently Driving Members to Your Online Community
Since 80% of consumers say authentic content influences which organization they follow, you can achieve all three of the principles above using content. The right content for your online community will be the vehicle for helping your members overcome challenges, indulge their favorite passions in life, and make them feel part of something special.
However, if you try to meet your members’ needs with just one type of content, your online community will start to feel stale quickly.
To hold members’ attention, you need to think outside the box and include diverse, engaging, and high quality content in different formats. Use these content ideas to get started.
Great for continuing education, webinars are tools that help members interact with experts, partners, and your organization’s staff. Live webinars are a great way to encourage engagement in real-time, and they can be recorded so community members have the ability to view them later, on demand.
Short for “ask me anything”, this content drives participation by giving your members access to experts and the ability to interact with them. Answering questions from your members also directly solves the problems they’re facing now and builds a conversation around your members’ interests.
Once a week, go into your online community and answer questions from forums or emails using video. By changing up the format and using video, not text, to answer questions you provide more diverse, dynamic content into your online community. According to HubSpot, video is also incredibly popular, with up to 1/3 of all time online is spent watching videos. That makes video an ideal way to command your members’ attention.
Use gamification to create contests that promote activities like answering forum questions, posting blogs, and referring friends. Your contests give members an incentive to participate and a specific goal to strive for. Offer prizes or award badges in the community to showcase winners.
As an added bonus, as members participate and compete with their peers, they will create valuable content that helps grow your online community.
Research that gives insight into your industry, technology, consumer preferences and other subjects that influence your members can be turned into a community benefit. Benchmarking studies, for example, are a trademark of many associations and are often used by businesses as well. Your research can even be lucrative if you turn it into a product that can be purchased from your online store.
If there’s new industry technology or tips and tricks that your members could use with your products and services, create short demo videos to teach your members best practices. Your demos don’t have to be long, they could be short tips on how to do one task or a shortcut in your field’s software.
Demos are a great type of content to include because they’re not only helpful, they’re also another way to diversify your content types, usually by adding more video. If you don’t want to use video, consider using slides with screenshots or photos to illustrate your advice instead.
Industry and Company News Updates
Ideally, industry and company news will be released first in your online community, so members feel as though they have a head start on the competition. If you can consistently release news first, your community will become the must-visit place members go to for updates. Consider using blogs, bulletins, and even email newsletters as ways to highlight news in your industry.
Help members network with one another and build a relationship with your organization through the more personal interaction of virtual events. Members will be able to connect with you and their peers in real time to learn and share their thoughts on news, technology, products, and other relevant concerns.
A major benefit of virtual events is that members from different locations – including those who couldn’t ordinarily make it to your live events due to location, schedule, or financial concerns – can connect with one another.
Another method for diversifying your content, podcasts are easy for members to listen to while they’re working on other tasks, driving to work, or are otherwise occupied. In your podcasts, you can include helpful information such as news updates and best practices for using products or association benefits. Discussions on important topics in your field can also be popular.
For organizations that are teaching members a skill, provide templates to help with the learning process and reduce work time. For professional organizations, templates might include resume and cover letter templates, while companies selling marketing software might offer email templates. Any template that helps your members save time or make a task easier is something that will provide value.
Making Your Online Community a Must-Visit Site Takeaway
When members leave your community with the information they need and feel like they’re getting ahead of the competition, then visiting your online community will become a habit. To solidify that habit, you should build your members’ personal connection with your community by fostering stronger relationships with peers and your organization.
This entire process can be started with one simple idea: providing value in your online community for your members. Their problems, their passions, and their experience is what matters, so provide content fits into each of these areas. And, as you learn what your community members like and engage with, create more of that content. Continue adding new, diverse, and helpful types of content to your community to keep members interested.