Tools Don’t Build Online Communities – People Do

Online strategies aren’t just about setting up accounts on the right platforms – your strategy needs to involve true engagement. Engaging and driving online communities requires planning, risk management, and a cohesive objective that is clearly stated to all of your key staff members.

1. Word-Of-Mouth Only Goes So Far

You need a plan. Simply signing up for an account on any given social platform does not mean your organization has fulfilled its obligation. Social connections via your chosen networks are not obligations but opportunities to engage directly with your members, prospects, fans, or clients.

As your message spreads and your community grows, how will you feed the appetite for more? Will you be equipped as an organization to create and disseminate your message?

This direct connection requires a clear plan with regard to infrastructure, integration, and, most importantly, a set of rules and policies for disseminating your message. There is nothing more important than a planned and coordinated process for responding to inquiries, comments, and requests.

2. Identify Your Advocates and Feed Them

The key to any community is the full engagement of its members. Early on in your campaign you will discover those advocates who are willing to share your message and push that message to their respective networks. With every Facebook post, tweet, or blog post your advocates wait to share what your campaign is providing. Gaining the trust of your online advocates and providing them with a continued stream of shareable content provides ever expanding reach; in turn pulling in more campaign advocates from their respective networks.

Reward their efforts. Recognize and identify your advocates publicly. Thank them whenever, wherever, and however you can. These individuals are the backbone of your campaign’s success.

3. Trust Your Community

Astute observers of successful online campaigns understand the nuances of online communication. Well planned, effectively executed online campaigns have assessed the risks at hand and understand how to mitigate those risks when required.

Just as your community trusts and advocates your campaign, you in turn must trust your community when negative comments or posts arise. Well-fed advocates who have been provided with the right tools will assist in regulating your community – most times without direct intervention.

Ask yourself before you begin: Do you understand how to mitigate risk? Can you identify those in your community who are your advocates? Can you identify those in your community that are Influencers?

4. Rules Of Engagement – Rules / Fears / Clarity Over Control

The rule of online engagement has shifted, placing the power of the message in the hands of the viewer, consumer, or visitor. The intention of a Rules Of Engagement policy is not to handcuff those posting and engaging online. The intention is to provide a set of guidelines for disseminating content, insuring all messaging is on brand, on target, and true to the core message. Direct brand connections create deep inherent value and keep visitors and advocates coming back.

Engaging in social media requires a shift in the way organizations view themselves and their relationship with the public. The shift is happening on a cultural, organizational, and individual level. Before committing resources to a social media program, organizations need to know how to mitigate the risks while maximizing the rewards.

The first step is to create a safe space for staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders through clear, effective social media policies. Clarity over control.

When everyone involved knows the purpose of the organization’s social media initiatives—if each individual is clear about his or her role in achieving that purpose and the parameters in which they can participate—those social media initiatives will be that much more successful from the start.

Do you understand the nuances of your community? Have you provided your key internal staff and your community manager with a clear objective?

5. Tools Don’t Build Communities – People Do

Many times online social engagement continues to fall back on the tools an organization commandeers to share their brand message. However, those tools don’t drive themselves. It’s the people that organize and implement the campaign who are the key to a successful campaign.

Your community manager, the advocates, and the influencers will make or break the success of your online initiatives. Can you identify those in your community who are your advocates? Can you identify those in your community that are Influencers? Have you empowered your key internal staff with the tools they require to create a successful online campaign?

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