Building a community online is like building a business. You have to take all the right steps if you want to succeed long term. Community building also shouldn’t be thought of as a marketing campaign, which implies a beginning and an end. Communities are much longer term.
I believe it’s presumptuous to think we can build a community from scratch. Most successful communities get their start around a very specific need (like the Apple user community) or exist already as a group that has common interests (like a peer group of CFOs).
Having said that, if you can find a way to tap into an existing community, or a subset of it, you will surely have a winning community on your hands.
Ok, if that’s the case, all that’s left is to build a community and take the right steps. Here are my 5 steps to creating a community:
1) Start with potential members – who are they, what do they want, what can we offer.
2) Lay the foundation by starting offline, developing a small member council, selecting an independent chair, and planning a regular meeting of the council.
3) Develop the community by providing value to the council – best practices in other communities, online facilities for collaboration, tools for promoting the community.
4) Create an anchor event for face-to-face interaction and recruitment. Build relationships between members of the council and community members. Generate great content for potential members of the community.
5) Provide the best online meeting place possible, where members can post their own content, interact with others, and ask other experts.
Community is a long-term investment that centers on people, not technology. You can have the best technology in place, and yet no one will show up. A well-run community can be your most important channel to your customers and prospects.