Online communities have become a cornerstone of member engagement for organizations of all sizes. They provide a space for like-minded individuals to connect, share insights and foster a sense of belonging. However, building a successful online community requires careful planning, the right software and a few best practices to ensure a successful launch and member adoption. In this article, we'll delve deeper into best practices and strategies for creating and nurturing a thriving online community from launch to maturity.. As you’re reading, consider trusted tools for community management. CommUnity by Personify is a robust online community platform that can be used by itself or alongside each MemberClicks AMS fully–integrated with single sign-on. Learn more about CommUnity here. 12 ideas and best practices to kickstart your organization’s online community Online, dedicated communities are an effective way to encourage member engagement and connection. However, community health and engagement is not a linear line from launch to maturity and success. Once a community space is live, you need to encourage your members to join, adopt and actually use them. If the latter seems like a bit of a struggle, check out these easy ways to kickstart your organization’s online community: Clearly define your community's purpose A clear and well-defined purpose will attract members who share common interests and goals. Ensure that your community's mission is prominently communicated to potential members. Community moderation and etiquette If appropriate, establish community guidelines and appoint moderators to monitor them. Encourage respectful and constructive discussions while discouraging spam and inappropriate behavior. Create opportunities for feedback Create a mechanism for members to provide feedback and suggestions. This helps in making improvements and tailoring the community to meet the evolving needs of your members. Consider surveys and polls as a starting point. You can also use those same tools to garner additional data from your members in the community by asking questions like, ‘How was the annual conference?’ Appoint community/forum admins Members need to know there is value in proposing a question to your community. Value is not only determined by quality, it is determined by timeliness! Ever have an important question that you need the answer to now – not next week? To ensure no question goes unanswered and that feedback is beneficial, appoint a few key people as community admins that monitor and respond to all requests/questions. Additionally, utilize notification settings to provide dicussion alerts, helping you to more quickly manage responses. Not sure you have internal staff to manage an online community? Have no fear, check out this informative guide that demonstrates how to manage a community sucessfully without a dedicated Community Manger! Download the Guide: ‘No Community Manager? No Problem.’ Select engagement ambassadors In order to get your community up and running, consider selecting a few people from within your organization to act as engagement ambassadors. These individuals should post several times per week within your community and seed various questions to get members talking. Using engagement ambassadors to populate your community will create a lively and welcoming vibe to entice hesitant members. Share new content on a regular basis Regularly share valuable content such as articles, webinars or resources that are relevant to your community's interests. This keeps members engaged and provides them with reasons to keep coming back for more. Offer exclusive content One of the best ways to attract people to your organization’s community is by sharing content that can’t be accessed anywhere else. This could include in-depth eBooks, recorded webinars or even a few short videos. Whatever it is though, make sure it’s valuable and reinforces your community’s overall purpose. Position your community as part of the member experience This is an important step that many associations overlook. Your community should be an extension of your organization’s overall value proposition. When a new member joins your organization, make it a point to introduce your community as part of the new member onboarding process. The more emphasis you place on it, the more likely members are to join and engage. Create bios for all your members Statistics show that the strongest member participation comes from members that have bios and profile photos. Unfortunately, members are not always inclined to set these up. But who actually does the legwork to set up the biographies does not actually matter. If you’ve got bio info or at least profile photos of your members, set them up yourself so that when the member logs in, they feel right at home. Create areas for your members to go Don’t make your members work for something you want! You invited them here, not the other way around. Welcome them to your community with areas that focus on content they will be excited to see. Whether these are special interest groups, dedicated forums, private committee sections or other focused content areas, make sure you offer them something of value. Start the conversation Ever been in a meeting or on a conference call when a question is proposed to a large group and no one responds? It’s not because they don’t have answers – it is because no one wants to go first! Get the party started by roping in other staff through tagging or a few carefully chosen members to discuss topics, ask questions and populate your community with content from the get-go. Reward members for contributions Getting members to talk to each other is a real win. So, when one of your member contributes to your organization’s online community, especially for the first time, it’s important to reward them. Now this could be something as simple as a “Thanks for joining in!” or it could mean sending them a free t-shirt. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge your engaged members. Craving more information to get your online community off the ground? Great! We have an eBook focused on success in the first 90 days. Download the eBook: How to Grow an Online Community in the First 90 Days After Launch Choosing the right online community software Selecting the appropriate software platform is the foundation of a successful online community. Here are a few considerations when you’re shopping for the right software: Integration: Does the online community software you’re evaluating integrate (or sync) with your association management software (AMS)? Single login and the ability to push date from one to the other makes your life easier and creates a better member experience. Forums or Groups: Your online community is a playground for members! Forums and groups give them places to network with like-minded members. They can also be used for Board collaboration, working groups, committees and more. Storage: Saving meeting minutes, documents in progress, reports and more in the community is an easy way for members to reference work in a secure member-only location. Ease-of-use: Whatever software you choose should be easy for you to manage and for your member to use. Looking for an amazing online community software? CommUnity by Personify can be used by itself or alongside MemberClicks AMS fully-integrated with single sign-on. Learn more about CommUnity here. Interested in hearing a success story? Check out this case study (including video) from Abby Swett at the Association for Women in Science. They wished they launched CommUnity from the beginning! Measuring success of your online community To gauge the success of your online community, track key metrics such as engagement levels, active members and the quality of discussions. Use analytics tools provided by your chosen software or integrate third-party solutions to gain insights into member behavior. Tracking behavior will help identify what kind of content does well in the community – do more of that! And less of what isn’t gaining interest or engagement. Time to get started! Building and nurturing a thriving online community is a dynamic process that requires ongoing attention and adaptation. With the right software, a clear sense of purpose, and a commitment to best practices, your organization can create an online space that fosters meaningful connections and enhances member engagement. Remember that an online community is an extension of your organization's value proposition. By investing time and effort into creating a vibrant and welcoming community, you can strengthen your relationship with members and provide them with additional value beyond your core offerings. Incorporate these best practices into your online community strategy and watch as it becomes a hub of engagement and collaboration for your organization's members.