I am a member of almost 100+ social communities – not only the general social networking websites like Facebook, but specialized communities – communities of a particular brand, genre, business type, lifestyle etc. The more I visit the sites, the more I see a pattern of why some brands have been able to create successful communities, have people flocking to them and maintain their ranks amidst the myriad forms of so called "social websites".
If you have a social community for your brand/organization, here are essential characteristics of a successful online social community and tips on how you can take it to the next level.
1. Make it familiar – Take a hard look at your community. Do you identify with a certain lifestyle choice of your customers/users? A philosophy that people adhere to? Your community can be as vast as the North America joggers club or as localized as the village farmland recipes.
2. Family safe – Create a community that fans won't be embarrassed to show to friends and family. Keep a check on personal attacks or profanity. Its okay for community members to be critical, but they need to be respectful of one another. If you create an environment where people are allowed to attack one another and be vicious, then no one would want to hang out there. Make your members feel safe. If someone is getting picked on, moderate. If someone is taking advantage of the turf you've created, moderate at the right time. Being the "warden" isn't fun, but it's absolutely necessary to create a safe community.
3. Let your members shine – Make them look cool in the community – hosting a platform does not make up a community. Your members make it complete. Talk about their accomplishments and give them the floor to be a star. Create an environment where they can get in, share and show everyone how smart they are. You're just hosting the conversation. If you take a look at the thriving communities in your niche, it's very likely they've already adopted this stance. Ask them questions. Ask for their help in running things. Get feedback. Find out what they're doing. The more stars rise up out of your community, the better for your brand buzz!
4. Stay true to the community spirit – Don't go astray – so people come to your community for a reason, they are interested in what the community stands for… If the members are straying away from the topic in hand, gently guide them back. Do not discourage free speech. Your moderation is important. This also shows your members that you care about the spirit of the community.
5. Be social always. Period. – It is called a social community for a reason. Get to know all the members… well if you have millions, strive to create groups of communities and then engage them individually. Pique their interest by asking them interesting questions, something that reflects their accomplishments in their own life. It is like you meeting up with friends and their families. The connection can be made only when you get social.
6. Make it easy for them – The harder you make it for people to join your community, the less likely it is that they will. Stop throwing unnecessary barriers in their path. If you want people to leave blog comments, don't force registration upon them. If you want them to sign up for your newsletter, don't create a 20 step sign up procedure. If you want them to tweet your blog posts, then put a button right in the post to do it in one click. Whatever it is you want them to do, make it easy for them to do so. People do not want to do that extra work for your sake. There are plenty of communities willing to cater to that. You won't go to a party if you have to slay 2 dragons, pick the lock of the safe and get the key to go inside the house (only if it is a Halloween party).
7. Invest in leaders – Highlight the users who are most vocal and active on your community. These people ARE your community. The more invested you can make them in what you're doing, the more they're going to want to help you promote it and support you. Give back to them by creating a forum that shows off their contributions, give them a chance to guest post, moderate comments, get a sneak peak at new products/services or make them part of a special "ambassador group" that can get them into new areas of the community. Find ways to thank them for being supportive and helping to build a thriving community. Respect the fact that the top contributors on your site will hold a tremendous amount of power. Value them.
Having an active community can help you build brand awareness, increase sales, and serve as a great tool for timely feedback from customers who matter. Does your community exhibit these characteristics? How do you engage your customers on your community? Leave your community comments here.?