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10 Things We’ve Learned About Online Community Building for Businesses


A lot has happened since we started CMNTY back in 2007 when building online communities for business purposes was still rare. In this in-depth article we want to share our key findings to ultimately help you kickstart your community project.

1. Find a Balance Between Tool, Audience & Team

We found that there are 3 elements you’ll need to juggle when building an online community; the platform, the audience and the community management team. Let’s take a closer look.

The Right Online Community Building Tool

Building a community without a proper community platform is like trying to hammer a nail in a concrete wall with a fork. It’s much more painful and the end result is far from desirable. Here are some tips about choosing the right community software.

What to look for:

What to avoid:

Related Post: CMNTY Is A Powerful Alternative To Lithium Community Software. Here’s Why.

Connect The Right Audience

A powerful community is one where members of the community have developed relationships with each other both inside and outside of your community platform. So it’s essential that you invite the right people into your community from the get-go.

It’s equally important to have your community management team follow best practices to increase the value that members get once they have joined the community. That way they’ll not only participate and stick around longer. But they’ll also become advocates for what you’re co-creating.

Consider Each Role of Community Management

Community managers should fulfill 5 management roles in order to maximize efficiency. The Host role makes sure people feel welcome in the event and serves to foster the ambiance of hospitality. From the tone of voice to the projected feeling of good intentions, they create and maintain a welcoming space.

It is vital that your people know that they are still on the right track. That’s why the Announcer is responsible for updating people on everything from progress to major and minor updates and tweaks. A real must have when building an online community.

The Shepherd is present to guide people in the right direction whenever they stumble upon an issue and have questions. The Researcher‘s role is to figure out potential concerns so that counter-measures can be fed back into the business and kickstarted into action if the need be. Finally, the Agent makes sure people are not spamming. I.e. promoting their own services or whatever you find inappropriate in your communities.

2. 10% Participation = Success!

Worried about your participation levels? You’re certainly not alone as many of our clients are concerned with that too. However, what we’ve come to learn over the years is that if 10% of your users are engaging with your community then you’ve done really well. You should bear in mind that, not disregarding the rest of the community, you should focus your efforts on the core 10% of your community’s membership.

The Core Group

The statistics show. The most successful brands have 10% of their community engaged as a core group. What do we mean by this, the core group? The core group is comprised of users who are responding and engaging in content and activities on a daily basis. If you rack up the number of such users to 10% of the whole community – bingo. You’ve achieved a massive success!

Here’s what this might look like. Say you invite your entire customer base or a subset to your new community initiative:

This communities of practice visualization by Wegner-Trayner displays this trend rather well.

(Nielson Norman Group)

People will naturally participate in groups in different ways. This is normal for a healthy community. Other independent research supports this notion of the 10% core users. “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.” the report says.

Related Post: 4 Effective Ways to Keep Members Engaged and Inspired

3. Having a “Hot” Topic Helps

If we were to ask you to name a “sexy subject” that people would talk about all day long what might you say? Food, TV shows, families, holiday destinations, or dating perhaps? Certainly, you’d be right if you thought of any of those topics.

One of the first community platforms we built was for Pickwick. Pickwick is a Dutch tea brand that was looking for new ways of making and drinking tea.

The fact that the community was built around a food product helped make it successful. Who doesn’t have some suggestion about how to improve their eating and drinking experience, right? We had far less success with engaging people in online communities projects that were about less “sexy” topics such as financial services, like insurance, loans, and pension plans. Still, we learned that making those platforms look great and putting extra care to promoting new content, helped with engagement.

Here are two examples that go to great lengths to engage their members. The platforms look great and see a high involvement of the community management team.

Example 1: The We ❤️ Video Community

RTL community

The we ❤️ Video community connects RTL viewers with their research department to get direct feedback from young people on videos, programs and platforms for the network. After a successful pilot with their youth market, the platform is open to everyone aged 18 to 54 to provide feedback on their potential programming.

Example 2: Reima Lab Community

Reima Lab is a community of consumers and parents for the children’s clothing brand to influence the future of kids’ clothing. Members provide feedback on exciting new products and services to test their viability on the market.

Related Post: 5 Superb Examples of How to Use Consumer Insights

4. Money Isn’t Always The Best Motivator For Participation

Career analyst Dan Pink shared in his TED talk something fascinating when it comes to solving the motivation puzzle: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think.

In Pink’s words: “The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive– the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.

Watch what Pink has to say here.

So how do we apply this to building online communities? Here are some tips:

Related Post: Why You Should Take Advantage of a Community Platform Based on Customer Feedback

5. Add Value By Making It Exclusive

Over the past decade, we’ve seen Private Social Networks and Paid Membership Communities really gain traction. We’ve also seen our clients monetize their platforms by providing a couple of great benefits to their members. I.w. exclusive content and time savings.

If someone offered to save you a whole bunch of time by gathering valuable content that helps you solve your challenges quicker. And they offered it to you through exclusive member access, wouldn’t you feel it’s fair to pay for it? Of course!

It’s not all about paid memberships. Many community managers use our user grouping system to create “VIP” sections that allow them to curate community content to target specific segments of users and personalize what is being shared. It creates a unique and engaging experience for select members.

6. It’s All About The Integrations

Many community managers dream of having one tool that can do everything when it comes to online community building. How great would that be? Actually, such a tool is more of a disadvantage rather than an advantage.

Back in 2007, the RedesignMe platform (the predecessor to CMNTY Platform) was only one out of 3 tools worldwide for creating customer communities. Now there are multiple community platforms available and 1,000+ support tools that can be used to extend a community platform capability. For years, our approach has been on building a community platform that is as flexible and user-friendly as possible.

We also wanted to make sure that our platform is ready for integration with tools from other vendors. Rather than trying to be a mammoth platform that does everything. It’s all about doing what’s best for community managers and creating something that can combine with different tools to offer our clients the best available solution imaginable.

With a recent rewrite, improvement of the CMNTY API and integration with Zapier, CMNTY Platform is well equipped to help our clients navigate the evolving landscape that is online community-building. 

For more insight into trends and best practices for building engaged online communities, we recommend you read Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities.

7. Embrace Online Communities As The Current Reality

When CMNTY started in 2007 it was one of the first idea crowdsourcing platforms in the world. At the time, online communities were still an experiment for most businesses and they were serving a small subset of people that were seen as “innovators” and “lead users”. Fast forward to now and we’re already in the golden age of online communities. We’ve certainly played a part in helping 25,000+ communities being built online.

Mobile Communities

It is forecasted that by 2020, there will be 3.6 billion smartphone users, close to half of the world’s population.

Active Smartphone Users Globally (Image source: newzoo.com)

The rise of social media and mobile technology has only served to increase the popularity of online communities. Just think about. How many online communities are you a member of right now? A social network? A Facebook or Linkedin group? A dedicated support forum for your company or volunteer organization perhaps? Furthermore, how are you accessing those communities? On your smartphone or desktop? Today we do everything through communities, from life to work to leisure.

8. Build Analytics Around People, Not Content Or Transactions

“Everyone wants engagement, but few know how to measure it.” – Rachel Happe, So Much Community Data, So Little Insight.

Most community platforms and social networking tools have reporting capability that can reveal usage data and other numbers. There’s only one major issue. Running reports and presenting findings at team meetings has its place, but let’s not forget the key element of any community – the people in it.

The role of the community manager should be to focus on facilitating a positive member experience. Reporting functionality is often designed to focus on content or transactions, rather than people. That means community managers and their organizations are often caught up in measuring the wrong things. Center everything around people. It produces the best results for everyone involved, including a much better ROI.

9. Connect Community Programs To Business ROI

Communities are showing an ROI on average of over 2,000%, despite imperfect business practices. So imagine what’s possible when a company has well-developed online community building strategies and programs in place.

The following infographic breaks down the opportunity available for organizations to realize transformational value from building online communities.

Communities Generate Transformation Value

(Source: Community Roundtable State of Community Management 2018 report)

Are you investing in effective online community building programs that are tied to your business goals? If not, now is the time to do so.

Related Post: How Solarplaza Leveraged a Partner Community to Increase B2B Sales

10. Invest In A World-Class Community Management Team

We discussed the importance of having a community management team in place earlier on, so now let’s look at the key challenges of building a team that’s effective.

One of the main issues of today’s community management is the lack of training and overall improvement of community managers. The result is that most often people just get handed the list of the most important customers, some basic guidelines, and voila, do your job magnificently! Of course, the results are sloppy work at best and disastrous, pointless ghost-towns at worst.

What you should do is benchmark your managers to determine capability and skills for the crucially important operations that they are to conduct. Focus on strategy skills, engagement skills, content creation, tech-savviness, and sense of business. Need some help on how to do that?

Related Post: How to Benchmark Your Community Managers.


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