What Is Most Important In Online Community Building?

by Jason Falls |

There’s a lot of theoretical chatter online these days about building online communities. The people that are actually doing it are few and far between it seems. This week, I kick off the strategic and technical planning for an online community, so I’m moving from philosopher to doer in this space. It certainly feels good to have the opportunity to put the practice behind the preaching, but it is also an intimidating task.

From a tactical standpoint, I wanted to get some third party input on what the most important user features of an online community should be. What better third party to ask than my social media friends. On Wednesday, I Twittered:

My twitter about online communities

And got a ton of great responses.

The Twitterati ReactThe consensus seems to be what you would guess: connectivity. It’s pretty simple. Without connections, there is no community.

But more specifically, what types? Is it just allowing them to post wall messages or does there need to be an element of internal private messaging/email? Is a forum/message board the right approach or a community chat/microblogging approach?

The analyst approach would be to refer back to the business goals of the community-building effort in the first place to discover the answer. Jeremiah Owyang‘s recent Forrester report on Online Community Best Practices begins with determining your objectives and even says you should decide which interactions your customers are ready for. My question in response is, “How do I know?” Sure, research and focus groups can give me the answer, but what if I don’t have the time or the budget for such insight?

My thought is to start the community building on the absolute right foot: by asking for input from the community you already have. Never mind how small it might be in comparison to your vision, ask them, “Would you like an online community to connect to us and each other and if so, what functionality would be most important or attractive to you there?” You’re certain to get answers and, yes, they may vary as much or more than those of my Twitter friends. But you will at least have a sampling of input from your intended audience as to what is most important to them.

The only question left then is whether or not your anecdotal evidence is enough?

This is why Owyang also advises companies to prepare to be flexible. You can build a place for the community, but you can’t build walls around it. Your brand enthusiasts will surely give you a list of likes and dislikes from day one. So you plan for adjustments, for tweaks and for changes. Your responsiveness will be rewarded with increased loyalty and community satisfaction.

So as we put pen to paper this week and plot our course, I am going to recommend that we take pause and ask our brand enthusiasts the question I posed to my Twitter friends. What functionality is most important to you in an online community?

Their opinion counts the most for the project in question. Yours counts the most in helping shape my approach. Please, tell me: In joining an online community of brand enthusiasts or a loyalty or affinity group, what would be your most important need.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Feedback On The Online Community Best Practices Report
  2. Do Social Networks Follow The Traditional Business Cycle?
  3. Forrester: Online Community Best Practices
  4. A Community Of What?
  5. How To Build A Community Of Brand Enthusiasts
[tags]online communities, building online communities, social networks, niche social networks, brand enthusiasts[/tags]

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).