Saying "Yes" to better community
Deciding to move forward with an online community at your association is an exciting leap towards a brighter, more engaged future. But there are sure to be some big questions looming over this new initiative - Which platform to choose? What is a reasonable amount to spend? When will you see a significant ROI? How will you know which software structure is the best for your members?
Tackling these questions and selecting a platform with clear insight and realistic goals can be a challenge. As exciting as the selection phase can be, associations often underestimate the amount of upfront time required to get the process in motion. That, coupled with the fact that an online community is a long-term strategic investment, calls for forming a multidisciplinary selection team to work together through this decision process.
Assembling and motivating a selection team
The smartest thing to do when approaching the online community selection process? Involve all of the right stakeholders starting from the very beginning.
It's tempting to think of this as Membership's weight to bear, but they should only be one part of the equation. You will benefit greatly from involving leaders from Marketing, IT, Management, Communications, and anyone else with insight into an essential branch of your association. Perhaps even more important than bringing the right people to the table is being clear about how important their roles are and motivating them to approach this with a strategic, process-focused mindset. Having access to a well-rounded team of leaders starting from Day 1 helps keep your online community planning on a realistic trajectory moving forward.
More perspectives = more strategic depth
Your association wouldn't be able to function without expertise from all of its different departments, and as a vital part of your identity and engagement, your community won't be able to function without everyone's cooperation and buy-in either. This is why bringing a diverse set of knowledge to the selection process is key. It paints a clear picture of objectives and goals for your online community while keeping your concrete technical and operational limitations in check.
Associations should also set clear roles and responsibilities for each selection team member. For example, outline who will be responsible for:
- Coordinating meetings
- Confirming technical requirements
- Conducting primary research
- Presenting and analyzing research
- Approving goals and functions of the online community
- Ensuring alignment with overall core values and goals
- Owning relationships with sales personell at potential software companies
- Demoing software and giving feedback to the team
- Analyzing pros and cons in relation to the association member engagement process
Lining up these responsibilities and establishing a road map will help everyone maintain focus and reinforce the fact that they are part of an important and well-organized change for the better.
It can be easy to get caught up in the specifics of community management and worrying about launch requirements. While these details are important to iron out, you have to remember put your member needs and experience first throughout this entire process. Ask the important questions:
What will make them want to log in to your online community every day?
How will you communicate the function and value of your online community to them?
How can you continue to add value to their community experience with this platform?
What behaviors do they engage in that you can enhance with an online community experience?
These questions will undoubtedly produce different answers from someone in IT vs. someone in Marketing or Communications. Every team member will come with their own motives, process ideas, and biases, so being able to give a voice to and measure all of those perspectives is imperative. Also important to note is that this "full association" approach does not start and end with a one-day kick off meeting. You should encourage this type multidisciplinary input from planning all the way throughout the research, comparison, demo and launch phases so you can maintain a well-balanced and nuanced view of your budding community.
Ultimately, your online community will evolve and shift over time as new initiatives and members are added to the equation. The best way to ensure that it grows in sustainable ways that support your association model is to keep your members' behaviors at the center of your efforts and encourage ongoing internal insight from all of your association's sectors.