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  • Dr. Tammara Combs

Fostering Online Communities

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Over 10 years ago, I worked with colleagues, Danyel Fisher and Marc A Smith, at Microsoft on a paper outlining how to foster online communities that was published on SemanticScholar. Although the platforms have changed–hello Instagram and Snapchat, these principles still ring true. Whether you are looking at general social channels, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or internal private forums, these principles can help.


Today companies still are working to crack the code of fostering online communities to create and sustain a strong customer base. The focus still is on delivering services and support in ways to improve constraints of time, distance and costs while improving customer feedback, new design, and products. Overall building closer relationships with the company and brand loyalty.


Our paper summarized 8 points that can be used as a guide when you are evaluating your online communities, particularly within a corporate context.


Understand your social channels


1. Know the channel's purpose


Now, more than ever, you need to know the purpose of each social channel and how it functions for you. Find out where your customers are and focus on those channels. This may not be in accordance with the latest social channel unless you are targeting Millennials or Generation Z. More importantly, understand your purpose and message you want on the channel.


2. Build on existing community and monitor social activity


It is easier to build on the channels you already have traction on. Pay attention to what your customers and prospects are saying as well as what your competition is doing. Create programs that engage your followers and reward them for their engagement.


3. Know what the channel is doing


Some channels make sense for certain content. So ensure you understand the context and how people interact with a channel. Today, more than when we wrote this in 2008, there are social listening software programs that can help you understand what the community is doing.


4. Embrace leaders, respect lurkers


Keep your leaders engaged on your social channels by providing information they need and want as well as listening to their feedback. Lurkers may not want to voice their opinions, but they are still vital to your channel.


5. Reward users individually


Providing polls, information and gathering opinions while rewarding those people who do interact is a great way to keep up your social channel's momentum.


6. Use Positive Reputation


This is an area that I think over the past few years has increased in intensity. What do you do when you have an "internet troll" that wants to bad mouth your service or you? There is always the sage advice to ignore them. One instance, I would engage is if it is a customer. If you can solve their problem, then do it rather than have them angrily post online. If it is not someone that you know or have control over, I stand by the advice to let them say their peace and hope they move on. Certainly some people can be blocked from channels if needed, but as stated in our article, this will just make them change their name and try again. For more information on types of online social authors read our blog post here.


7. Encourage critical mass


Especially with forums, we saw a examples of forums set up and then there wasn't a mechanism to keep engagement. Post questions, show most read posts, and have an active member monitor the group to keep momentum.


8. Exert gentle control


It is easy to be lulled into thinking you own your forum or your social channel, but the reality is that your followers share that ownership and encouraging that can help you create a forum or channel that is successful and helpful to you as a business owner as well as the participants.


Don't be afraid to pivot, change course to make sure you are reaching your audience.


Read the full article here: Space Planning for Online Communities


Want to identify the types of online social authors and how to spot them? Read our blog post here.

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