Back in the mid-1990s (so, in Internet time, 500 years ago), I was a member of a thriving online community on the Runner’s World website. We shared training regimens, asked each other questions, told race stories, got injury and gear advice, told stupid jokes, gave each other a lot of shit, got into arguments and then made up, and generally had a ball.
“Wait!” you say. “That was, like, 10 years before Facebook or LinkedIn or MySpace or Friendster or any of that stuff. Were you using carrier pigeons to communicate? How did that work?”
The technology was neither intuitive nor sophisticated. I remember how excited we all got when the discussions started being threaded instead of appearing in a Hunter Thompson-esque stream-of-consciousness. There were no community managers, no training videos. No one created a community strategy or marketing and communications plan. It shouldn’t have worked.
But it did.
Why? What makes community?
This question came up a few weeks ago during #assnchat. Many associations have launched private communities of one sort of another at this point, or are at least considering it.
Unsurprisingly, “results vary.”
The question is why.
It’s not like there’s some BIG secret around how to make online communities work.
- You need organizational buy-in at all levels, but particularly among executives and volunteer leaders.
- You need dedicated community manager(s) to shepherd process and nurture the community.
- You need community champions from among your audiences to keep the conversation going.
- You need a platform that works (from a tech perspective) and is relatively intuitive to use.
- You need to educate your audiences (ALL your audiences) in how to use that platform, and do it in bite-sized chunks and in a variety of formats.
- You need to give people a reason to show up and participate, and to keep coming back.
- You need to remember the 90-9-1 rule and learn to love your lurkers.
- You need to communicate what’s going on in the community with your audiences on an ongoing basis.
But even with all that, your community can still fall flat.
Passion, or to be more precise, lack thereof.
People have to care, about each other, about the topics being discussed, about sharing knowledge, about learning from each other, about projects they’re working on together.
Or, as Jamie Notter would say: “It’s all about love.”
If you have it, there’s a good chance your online community will make it, even in the absence of a manager or a strategy or a communications plan or even adequate technology. Without it, you could have the best strategy and marketing and staffing and platform and support in the world, and it will probably flop anyway.
What is your association doing to discover and support your audiences’ passion?