Online Communities: What They Do and How to Get Them Working for You

The greatest value of online communities is increasing word of mouth (35%), increasing brand awareness (28%), bringing new ideas into the organization faster (24%) and increasing customer loyalty (24%), according to a survey of organizations using online communities conducted by Beeline Labs, Deloitte, and the Society for New Communications Research. This survey has great data and advice for any organization that is considering an online community or looking to get more from an existing community.

Further, the survey shows the greatest value of these communities is people giving and getting help.

The survey also identified eight emerging best practices:

1. Start with the end in mind: “Start with a business strategy, defining carefully what you want to accomplish through the community.” “Invest most in the area that services your key business objective.” “Be clear about the purpose of the community.”

2. Focus on the value to the members: “Make sure you deliver real, special, unique, obvious value to the core group you’re hoping to attract.” “Build the community around existing passion groups.” “The core of the community needs to be of high value or interest to people, a focus worth contributing to.” “Get insight into what motivates members to join the community; we found a different motivation than we hypothesized.”

3. Don’t start with the technology: “Too often people get drunk with Web 2.0 tool excitement and then try to push their business and customer goals into the wrong tool.”

4. Keep it simple and intuitive: “Focus on the least common denominator first. Keep it easy to navigate with simple tools to use.” “People are busy; they need information in brief, easy-to-scan bits they can quickly choose what is interesting to them and go right to it.”

5. Keep it fresh and active: “Keep activity levels up, constantly add new content.” “Think of how to create ‘events’ – what can you do to excite people and get them to share in the community.” “Update regularly, find topics for discussion.” “Content is king.”

6. Have dynamic community leaders: “Make sure you devote enough time to managing the community; letting it fester is worse than not having it in the first place.” “Participate but do not try to control. The community belongs to the people, not you.”

7. Think through who to involve – or not. “ Get commitment from top management and communicate, communicate, communicate.” “Get Legal and PR to buy-in and help on design, but keep them out of active management.”

8. Get a passionate core of participants active before launching: “Make sure you have a committed core of passionate users before you launch.” “You must have a critical number of high-quality participants to get the momentum going.” “Beta test and seed before launch.”