Growing an online community
November 15, 2011 8:12 AM   Subscribe

How do you grow an online community for a small trade association's 2000-something members?

This isn't as much of a "forum" like metafilter or a hobby/lifestyle message board - more of a professional "Blackboard"-style setting. The actual community has already been implemented and is live - now it just needs activity.

The organization wants it to be a vibrant and bustling online community for discussions and networking between it's members - what steps do they need to take to get to that point?

I've read about the "1% rule" - that only 1% of visitors are going to be really active, and this sort of scares me because with only 2000 or so members (and you must be a member to access, the content is also password protected.), were talking about only 20 active members - if we can even draw that many. These association members are likely not power users.

What is the strategic course of action here? My initial thoughts/research leads me to believe that we need to require all internal/association staff to start posting relevant content and hot topics extremely frequently over a few weeks/months, THEN start promoting it to members ("launching it" ) so they see how active it is and are drawn in...but it can't be that easy. Right? I'm so worried this thing is doomed.

What else do we need to look out for here? Also, any links/resources are appreciated. It's tough sifting through all the "social media guru solutions" bullshit. I already read Matt Haughey's article on growing an online community and it's great, but it's also a decade old and I want to know what else is out there. Would also love to hear about anyone's personal experience getting a community up and running - especially more professional ones.
posted by windbox to Computers & Internet (2 answers total)
The association needs to dedicate resources (ie time and money) to adding content, recruiting members, stimulating discussion, etc.
posted by COD at 9:20 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a professional association online community manager. We have about 18k members, but still struggle to maintain a decent amount of activity on our self-hosted online community. We do better on Facebook and LinkedIn in terms of activity, to be honest.

You may need to recognize that many busy professionals do not want to come home from a long day at work and then get online and talk more about work. Others do, but many, probably most don't. If it's not a tech-y industry, there may also be some basic technological and lifestyle hurdles to overcome as well. Not everyone comes home from work and turns on the computer like we do, or spends their lunch hour surfing the internet.

And yes, you need to post interesting content that is relevant to their profession and helps them do their jobs better/faster/easier/etc. What is your content strategy? Where is the content going to come from? Whose job is to post it, and how often?

Then you need to personally recruit ringers. Why was this community created? Was it to fill a need expressed by your members? Find the members that were expressing that need and email or even better call them personally. Tell them it's ready, tell them what the vision is, and ask them to help achieve it. Ask them to tell their colleagues and fellow members about it.

Consider some sort of incentives to participate. If it's possible, allow people to earn points/status for activity. Maybe do some giveaways for the top points earners, at least at first to get some activity going.

I am just now launching some new "shared interest communities" for my organization, and it's really hard to get people to participate. Even people that said this is exactly what they wanted -- everyone's just so busy these days. Good luck!
posted by misskaz at 10:06 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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