When it comes to your online professional community, “if you build it, they will come” may not be the best mantra.
In today’s environment, professionals are seeking more than just a platform that gives them space to gather. While technology is an essential component of online community-building, the most successful associations layer in elements that enable ongoing member engagement, encourage their voices, and empower their contributions.
How do you foster a community that thrives in these ways? The answer is different for each association as they strive to understand and address the unique needs of their members, but there are common pitfalls to community-building that all organizations should avoid.
Lack of commitment. A passively built community that relies on users (or your members) to “make the most of it” isn’t likely to thrive—building a community that grows and flourishes requires constant commitment and ongoing nurturing. When your staff and other stakeholders like the board of directors understand your community strategy and see its value, you’re in the best position to see the community grow, flourish, and deliver a return on investment.
Lack of leadership. Yes, it takes a village to raise an online community, but the villagers who are tasked with community-building need clear direction, motivation, and inspiration—and that has to start at the top. Association leaders are always the most effective champions of change, and bringing your community strategy to life is no different. Help your team understand why your online community is important, how community-building is central to your mission, and what type of impact it can have on advancing your strategy.
Lack of time. Staff and community members alike struggle with competing priorities as they attempt to balance work, home life, the pursuit of education and development, and other obligations. That’s why your community doesn’t shut its doors at 5:00 p.m. The most successful communities rely on always-on content strategies that make tools and resources available to members when it’s most convenient for them. Strategize flexible ways for your members to connect, engage, and contribute, and you’ll begin to see your community take on a life of its own.
Fragmentation. Both online and in real life, fostering a sense of security and belonging is critical to successful community-building. Siloed, fragmented groups may be one of the biggest barriers to creating space where people feel encouraged and inspired to contribute. Focus on inclusive engagement that creates a welcoming environment, breaks down barriers, and gives everyone an opportunity to participate. You can find more ideas on how to increase inclusivity in this article.
How to Overcome the Obstacles
Consider any community you’ve joined and your participation in those groups. What inspired you to join? What keeps you or dissuades you from coming back? The communities you’re most engaged in are likely those that have let community members’ wants, needs, challenges, opportunities, goals, and objectives shape the space and experience they’ve built.
How did they do it? First, by adopting the right mindset, and second, by leveraging that mindset to truly understand their community members.
A community is only as strong as the organization that built it, and that’s perhaps one of the strongest cases for making member experience a movement in your association.
When your board, your staff, and your partners are aligned with a member-first mindset, you’re positioned to create more meaningful connections, deliver more valuable resources, and inspire ongoing engagement. And that increases the likelihood that members will view your community as essential to their personal and professional development.
The Forj MX Maturity Model can help association leaders understand where they lie on the spectrum of member experience and provide inspiration for adopting the right mindset to shape a successful strategy.
Know Your Members
Adopting an MX mindset is one thing, but arming yourself and your staff with a deep understanding of your members—their needs, preferences, and challenges—is what really enables effective community-building.
Association leaders know that members’ reasons for joining have shifted in recent years. Their expectations have evolved, their consumption habits have changed, their needs have grown. Going virtual has only amplified the changes in members’ behaviors. When it comes to understanding what motivates engagement today, these trends may help you begin to shape a successful community-building strategy.
It’s likely that your members:
- Want to make an impact. And mission-driven organizations that crowdsource knowledge and solutions resonate more than ever.
- Enjoy hands-on, immersive experiences. And reaching them with one-way communication no longer cuts it.
- Place development at the top of their priority lists. And there’s a new understanding that learning occurs in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
- Need more flexible choices for better balance. And an always-on strategy is the best way to meet them where they are and let them participate on their terms.
- Continue to view networking as essential. And connections—even virtually—need to feel personal and authentic.
- Are looking for personalized content and solutions. And curating and delivering relevant resources creates a flywheel effect of engagement.
Building a thriving online professional community that responds to your members’ needs and delivers on their expectations is incredibly rewarding, and you can achieve success by building with the right mindset and overcoming the common pitfalls.