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10 Keys to Building Successful Communities According to 700+ Community Builders

Posted by Alwi Suleiman

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Since 2017, CMX has been conducting research to better understand how the community industry is evolving, and how businesses are building online communities. Their 2022 survey was the largest ever conducted in the community industry, with 778 community professionals participating.

One of the most important and beneficial aspects of the 2022 Community Industry Report is the best practices shared by successful community builders. In this article, we present a brief summary of the 10 keys for building successful communities that 778 successful community owners shared in the report.

In this article we discuss

1- Dedicate Full-time Community Manager(s)

Community managers play an essential role in achieving community and business goals. The role of the community manager must, therefore, not be underestimated. One of the most prevalent mistakes when building a community is not assigning a full-time community manager and having community management and engagement tasks added as a side-job to someone from the marketing team, for example. It takes full-time to build a successful community, so make sure you hire someone full-time to get the job done.

2- Provide a Variety of Paths for Community Members to Contribute

Wherever you have people coming together as a community – in the real world or online – you will have people with different talents, skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Make sure you create as many opportunities for everyone in your community to contribute and play to their strengths. It is easy to think that there are uniform metrics for measuring member engagement throughout a community. Perhaps the rate of user-generated content, likes, mentions, and comments. But to measure engagement across your organization, it’s essential to consider that different types of members engage on different levels – often depending on their stage in an overall member journey. The paths you create must be relevant to your community and organizational goals.

3- Proactively Reward Your Community Members for Contributing

Rewards can be a powerful way to nurture your community as it thrives; however, not all rewards are created equal for those building communities. There are two types of rewards you must keep in mind. The first is intrinsic rewards. Rather than sending a physical product, this system validates your members’ efforts without sending anything physical. This can take the form of thank you emails, access to VIP content, public mentions, etc. This type of reward system is less prone to members contributing for the sake of getting rewarded. The second is extrinsic rewards. In this case, you send your community members physical goods such as swag and other merchandise. With this type of reward system, there is always a chance that a culture of contributing for the sake of rewards can develop among some of your members.

Source: Millington, R. (2021). Build Your Community: Turn Your Connections Into a Powerful Online Community. Pearson Education, Limited.

4- Develop Customer Advocacy Programs and Customer Advisory Boards

Community managers working for a product or service-based entity must entrust the most outspoken members of the community to study the needs of its customers and work with the firm to meet those needs in a timely and cost-effective manner. The 2022 Community Industry Report mentions  “Customer Advocacy and Marketing” titles that show what part of the community someone is responsible for. This reflects how important this aspect has become for community owners.

5- Host Events to Energize Your Community

In-person events remain the primary driver for the community. The level of trust, serendipitous encounters and effective collaboration of in-person events is hard to reenact online. Large events should be part of the community efforts to make it stronger and get members more involved while building stronger bonds with one another. 

Online Community Evangelist and Senior Strategy Consultant Mathijs Vleeming rightfully reminds us that events should not be the bread and butter of a community in his book The  Association Community Compendium. In an online community-led engagement model, organizations are offering 365-Day opportunities for connections with other community members, collaboration- & knowledge sharing and on-demand content. Events are morphing into important peaks in year-round “community engagement experiences”. They maintain to be the annual celebration of the community, but they are only one of many other drivers of engagement.

6- Scale Your Events with a Mix of Community-led and In-house Staff

Staying on the topic of events, next to the ones your staff organizes, community-based events are a highly effective way to drive business results, add value to members, expand the reach of your brand, and increase customer and community engagement. Such events are often led by a small group of community members who also host the event. This is in line with the second key in this list: “Provide a Variety of Paths for Community Members to Contribute”. Some may even look at this as an intrinsic reward and a validation to the community members organizing and hosting the event.

7- Build out a Community Operations Function in Your Team

Managing, measuring, and analyzing the data regarding your overall business impact is the job of a community operations manager. From the perspective of both the community member and the community team, community operations professionals should constantly be looking for ways to improve processes, tech stacks, and platforms. In marketing or dev terms, one could say that a community manager works in the front-end of the community: creating content, moderating, etc. Meanwhile, the community operations expert works in the back-end: data quality, integrity, consistency, metrics,  tech stack, platforms, and making sure they all click independently and with one another.

8- Set Specific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)-related Goals

The worst thing you can do in your online community is ostracize some of your community members. We have all seen how powerful the negative impacts are in real-life communities and the larger society. The problem is that it is not enough to be aware of the issue. You need to have measurable goals to encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community. An example of this is a “30% increase in the number of women in leadership positions over the next five years”.

9- Send a Regular Community Health Survey

A community health survey will help you gather data on member satisfaction, issues they may be facing, and even operational and technical glitches that you may not have been aware of. You may also want to adopt the Sense of Community Index framework to understand better the perception that your members have of your community. Measuring the health of your community is vital to its success and longevity. So, create a plan and data points that you want to measure and an annual report comparing your YoY progress on the community aspects that matter to you the most.

10- Make Community a Dedicated Department in Your Company

If you are still a start-up, it may not make sense to have an entire department running your online community. However, when you scale up, so should your community efforts, adding more members to the community team with specific skill sets and job functions. In this article, we mentioned community managers, customer advocacy experts, and community operations managers, but there are more functions for running a successful community to keep in mind.

Bonus: 11- Hire a Community Strategy Consultant Before Starting Anything

There is no worse feeling than buying an expensive community engagement software only to realize that it neither aligns nor can support your community objectives. This is just one of the many costly mistakes you can make if you do not have a proper strategy and plan in place when building a community. So if you don’t have an in-house community strategist, hire a consultant.

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