3 Absolute Must-Haves for Launching an Online Member Community

CRM Software Development
CRM Strategy
Marketing Automation

Many membership organisations are seeing the real value and insight gained from online community. According to the latest Digital Excellence report from MemberWise, 41% of membership organisations now have one.

Community launch is vital to initial and sustained engagement. While not overly time-consuming, best practices to getting this right will make all the difference.

Here are our top-three critical must-haves for launching an online member community successfully.


1. Content Seeding & Sprouting

The primary driver of community value is content. Your new community members need to see valuable, engaging content on their first visit, otherwise they’re less likely to return for a second one. The value of content is amplified by the community members who offer it, and reinforced by the conversations surrounding the content.

There are loads of relevant content for your members across multiple online sources – whether that’s your member magazine, main website, or newspapers – which will be interesting and worthy of conversation in your community. These are often effective seeds, with an initial discussion sprouted from seed content that confirms value and extends the opportunity to engage.

When content is created by highly respected members or senior staff from your organisation, it’s more likely to be considered as high-quality. Help these respected voices post with a bit of support and offers to help – be the social secretary befitting busy executives. Online community platforms, including Discourse, offer the opportunity to attribute these content contributions to any platform user. These tools allow community managers to seed and sprout the community with the backing of influential members who have given their permission to act on their behalf. Just don’t forget to actually get those permissions!
 

2. Content & Feature Modelling

Community platforms offer plenty of rich features that allow for more nuanced interactions, including emojis, @mentions, images, likes, Q&A’s, videos, and wiki articles (to name just a few). These are available to help your members communicate effectively, and generally make the whole community experience more engaging and personalised. These features should be on display within the seeded and sprouted content at launch.

Similarly, admin-managed content and engagement features such as polls should be in place for your launch to ensure low-risk initial interactions with the platform.

It’s important to note that many users are only willing to post after exploring and understanding a platform; once they know they can truly trust it. Writing a post or sharing an opinion reflects trust in the community, as well as trust in the platform itself.

A new community member will do more as their trust grows, with activity scaling such as:

  • Login and browse,
  • Offer a response to a poll,
  • Like a post,
  • Complete a profile bio,
  • Upload profile photo,
  • Share a file or external piece of content,
  • Post an answer to a binary question in an existing topic/thread,
  • Post a reply reflecting personal experiences,
  • Ask a question,
  • Post about an opinion, emotion, etc.


Exhibiting posts that demonstrate the latter-stage trust actions will reinforce safety and accelerate engagement. While content is definitely King, do model the social side. At launch, an ‘introduce yourself’ thread is generally successful in advancing personal sharing between your members. 
 


3. Content-centred Marketing

Ensuring your members know the community is available, helpful, and actually being used by other members is vital to initial engagement. Fortunately, enterprise-level community platforms take care of all this for you via email and activity notification features.

Ideally, content should be personalised, highlighting the community content of value to the individual members. Community platform integrations against CRM-stored data as to member type, interests, and regions can make this automatic. Reflecting this, try to stick to content that helps members address specific professional challenges that may differ from person to person. More general calls-to-action like ‘come and check out the community and connect with peers’ tend to be much less effective.

First-time visitors are most likely to come to a private, members-only community via email than any other source. When your community is private (as most members-only online communities are), SEO and the like won’t be the driving force for bringing your members to the community.

That being said, while email is a great driver of community engagement, don’t forget about other marketing channels too.

  • Summarise the trending topics and community contributors in monthly member newsletters and magazines you already circulate,
  • Add a programmatically updated summary of community content added to a website homepage – many community platforms (including Discourse) offer JavaScript embeds making this easy to achieve,
  • Utilise social media posts to highlight specific content pieces only available to members in the community.

 

 

The best results in these channels will be achieved by highlighting any content that is genuinely helpful or eases your members’ professional duties. Your members will come for the content, but return for the conversations.

In the UK membership sector, online community is making a massive difference for many organisations. Although there is no ‘community switch’ to flip on to see the benefits in engagement and knowledge sharing, there is a ‘tried and true’ best practices playbook for community launch that allows for iteration against a membership body’s culture and personality. Getting this right is more important than the platform choice.

And we have that playbook! Let’s talk about how your organisation can harvest the engagement that online community delivers today.