The pandemic that has unfolded over the last year and a half has flipped the world upside down. Michelin star restaurants are doing premium takeaways, local grocery stores are relying on delivery apps to keep business going and retailers have joined forces to start their very own digital-first initiatives. It seems even the art market has become digital-first with the boom of the NFT digital art scene!
A lot of organizational communities, such as NGOs or associations, have also been affected by this drastic change that was forced upon us. Community managers are realizing the importance of continuous engagement with and between community members as it becomes increasingly difficult to facilitate real connections between larger communities that simply don’t see each other as much anymore.
Adapting to the so-called ‘new normal’ is not an easy job. Part of making that shift is starting to think in terms of a digital-first strategy for online communities.
What are the key focus points when you want to get started with a digital-first strategy?
A digital-first strategy is centered around enhancing and improving offline community activities using digital technologies. But importantly, the technology should not be your main concern! You should think of digital tools only as a way to realize your underlying goals.
Hence, you should not fixate on one particular platform or software but look at the bigger picture of what you want to achieve when it comes to building a digital-first community. The five steps below can help you do just that:
1. Define your community goals
As mentioned already, don’t start with the technology – start with the goals you want to achieve. Think ‘Why?’ and ‘What?’ before you think ‘How?’.
When you define your community goals you’re trying to identify main metrics. In other words: what does success mean for your community and your organization? From there you can start identifying primary and secondary goals.
For example: Is your main metric the number of people joining volunteering campaigns? Then your goals might be:
- Increase volunteer campaign sign-ups
- Grow community membership
- Increase member engagement with the organization’s mission
- Increase campaign public awareness
2. Evaluate your community’s current state & needs
A good audit of your community’s current state will help you identify what is missing to reach your goals. What is missing, where are the holes in your current strategy and what opportunities are you not taking advantage of?
When you have these things clearly identified, you can find the tools and technologies that will help you fill the gaps and take advantage of opportunities. Moreover, you won’t be seduced by flashy platforms that have a lot of features that won’t actually help you in the end!
3. Do research on platforms
Once upon a time, it might have been enough just to have an active Facebook page and social media presence. But for the most part, engagement levels across social media have been dropping rapidly in recent years (especially on Facebook!).
You need a tailored tool that perfectly fits your needs, use case and organizational goals. For an online community, there is an overwhelming diversity of platforms available! So how do you decide? By knowing what you need – and finding the platform that fits those needs the best.
To help organizations with the selection process, we’ve created a useful Community Platform Buying Guide that takes you through the steps of picking the perfect platform for your community.
Requesting a platform demonstration is also a great way to see if the platform provides what you need. You’ve already seen the flashy marketing videos, now you need to see what the tool actually looks like. Open Social offers a free public demo session every month exactly for these purposes.
You can sign up for free here if you want to see Open Social in action.
4. Set up, test and launch
Silicon Valley tech start-up culture is known for the ‘move fast & break things’ way of working. But if you are working with a community – you need to be more considerate and careful when deploying new technologies.
Some organizations make the wise choice of doing a beta-test first. When Holmesglen Institute chose Open Social as its online community platform, they set up a small beta-community before launching. Doing this allowed Holmesglen Institute to:
- Test their online community ideas with a controlled group of students
- Ensure that the community reflects the needs of students
- Refine their community engagement strategy for an online space
- Collect valuable feedback from their beta-community members
- Populate the community with content before its launch
- Create on-campus buzz about the community before its launch
As a result of this test, Holmesglen Institute was able to launch an online community that perfectly matched their existing on-campus sense of community.
5. Put a forward-looking plan in place
Most online communities flounder in the first year. This is because the digital tools or platforms were introduced without a forward-looking engagement plan in place.
You have to sketch out a long-term plan for how you will introduce, use and improve your new digital tools in your community. One crucial step is creating a comprehensive onboarding process for your members. You do not only need to make members comfortable with using the digital tools – you also have to make them excited about it too!
If you want to learn more about creating a forward-looking community plan, you can take a look at another free Open Social eBook: 10 Steps for the First Year of Community Building
We hope you found the above 5 steps useful. If you want more in-depth knowledge about a particular facet of creating a digital-first strategy, simply write to us in the comments below and we include it in a future blog post.