There's a ton of content floating around about how to choose, prop up and manage online communities.
But when a coworker asks you, "How's the whole online community thing panning out?" a couple weeks after starting the project, you might not have as clear-headed an answer as you'd like.
It's so easy in the beginning of the process to list off all the benefits and latch onto the optimism about some new, kick-ass digital community. But then you actually have to talk specifics about technology, architecture, member access, and figure out exactly what you're really trying to specifically accomplish with this new community.
The ample rewards of online community can seduce any association professional into pitching it to their leadership. But being prepared to answer their expected follow up questions about community goals and how to measure them is just as important as understanding the upfront benefits.
Your online community goals should revolve around your:
Try to remember John Lydgate's famous advice; "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."
Sometimes, we try too hard to please everyone. We've all been guilty of this before, but now is not the time to be appeasing people that aren't at the center of your efforts for the launch of your actual community.
Who is this for? Association members only? Members as well as subscribers to a certain service or website? The internet at large? Clearly define your user personas and how each could benefit from participating. Build your community goals around reaching and appealing to this targeted group of people. They're the ones who have the most to gain and will be most likely to engage in the community on a regular basis.
It's helpful to write a purpose statement for your online community that details not only who it’s for, but how it improves their lives and what types of content, products, services and benefits it can deliver more efficiently. Getting to the core of your purpose helps you build your goals.
The very benefits you pitched to your association leadership are another great starting point for goal development. If you want to increase member visits to your website or blog, that should be a primary KPI. If you want the community to drive more discussion around your original content, number of comments and shares should be additional metrics.
How do you want members to hear about, sign up for and stay active in the community? How will this fit into your engagement model?
Create a diagram of how you want members to interact with content and each other in the community. This includes the discovery and sign-up process, the user interface for each content piece and post, and how interactions within the community could tie back into your membership engagement model to help you learn more about your association community.
Even more importantly....
Remember that you can and should use this community as a conductor for your existing core goals.
These aren't goals you should be pulling out of thin air or borrowing from another community because they have a nice ring to them. Revisit your core goals for your association and think about how your community goals can not only run parallel to those goals but also supplement those goals.
Your online community should not be planned in isolation. It should be a powerful piece of the puzzle in your overall strategic direction of your association.
For more tools and guidelines, download our Goal Planning Worksheet, part of our Online Community Selection eBook. It will help drive your discussion on what a strong, active community platform should include and help you align your goals with your required functionalities.