Following up on my post about Amazee’s decision to close its doors and the importance of online networking platforms by and for civil society organizations, I want to turn my attention to Joshua Paul, who has written an extraordinary laundry list of reasons why most online communities fail, broken into four categories:
I like the attention Joshua pays to failure, which I agree is a useful approach for avoiding the mistakes of others and a shortcut to identifying potentially fatal issues with any project. I think it’s important to celebrate failure and to recognize it when you see it, learn the appropriate lessons, and then move on.
As a low budget, volunteer-run platform, Kabissa suffers from many of the problems Joshua outlines. Below are seven points he makes that jump out at me as particular priority areas that the Kabissa team needs to work on urgently, especially now that we are working on improving our volunteering infrastructure and planning the launch of a major site upgrade this fall.
#12) Not Having Measurable Goals
Anything related to social media seems to get the lion’s share of the buzz at conferences, online, and inside organizations. It is true that is it very exciting to put a significant amount of time into planning and launching an online community, but how can you measure its success after 3, 6 or 12 months? Be sure to have measures of success going into the planning process and metrics by which you can measure your private online community’s performance against tangible goals on an ongoing basis.
#16) The Organization Did Not Get Enough Help with Implementation, Training, or Launch
A private online community is not a simple social network, especially in the B2B world. Consumer online products, like Twitter, Mint, or YouTube, are designed not to require any help or training. However, private online communities for businesses or industry groups combine the needs of customers who expect a return on their investment, the complexity of your products and services, and the online engagement requirements of your marketing, support, and product teams.
Online communities for business are not a “flip a switch” type of social application. The platform needs to be configured to your unique goals and organization. Systems, like your CRM or membership database, need to pass specific information to and from your online community platform. Staff must be trained. And most importantly, though most online community platforms are well designed and usable, customers or members still need guidance to ensure that they are getting the most out of your online community and products. Often times, associations even hold live or online training for their members to ensure they get the most value from the organization’s private online community.
#19) There is Not Enough Content in the Online Community
In the same way content keeps you coming back to CNN.com or MSNBC.com daily, content will keep your customers or members returning to your private online community. Though discussions and being able to reach out to others for answers to questions about your job, business, or industry is important in your private online community, insightful and helpful content is the glue that keeps community members coming back.
Adding exclusive content to your online community will keep enough members coming back to your community so that there are people in your community to see and participate in discussions forums. Here is a great resource for creating an online community content plan that allocated content topics across multiple areas of interest to your audience and spreads the burden of content creation across your organization.
#20) You Don’t Have Enough Staff to Handle Content Production, Posting Content, Engaging Community Members, Monitoring, and Reporting
Since all of the roles and responsibilities of managing a professional network have been rolled into the nice neat title of community manager, it is easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to manage a successful private online community. Not only is it the amount of time that matters, but it is the type of time.
Managing a community takes more than responding to email and browsing discussions for inappropriate content. It takes strategic planning, analysis, precision execution and content creation, and working across your organization to make sure your online community is as valuable to your target audience as possible.
Tip: If you don’t have the resources to hire or appoint a dedicated community manager, be sure that someone in your organization owns your online customer or member community. Assign someone already in your organization whose job it is to wake up each morning and make sure that your private online community is successful. Check out The Online Community Launch Guide for tips on setting up your community manager for success.
#22) You Are Not Preparing Users and Providing Ongoing Training
Though most online community platforms are mature enough to have developed into usably social platforms, this enterprise software must combine the complexity of your products, the needs of customers, and the customer engagement requirements of your marketing, support, and product teams.
In the same way that you provide an online customer community to help your customers get the most out of their relationship with your organization, you must provide upfront, as well as ongoing training, to members on your private online community to help them get the most out of the community. Webinars, content posts in the community, and live training all help your members or customers stay active in your online community and become more successful with your products and services.
#24) You and Your Team Don’t Have Time to Fully Manage and Engage a Community
Engaging customers or members in an online community takes time. Assume that the planning, in-the-trenches decision making, and tactical execution to launch and manage an active private online community successfully take more time than your think it does. This is a big problem with smaller organizations where the staff and budget are already stretched thin.
The best advice in avoiding this pitfall is to seriously think about whether you should launch an online community for your customers or members now, or wait until your budget and resources have more flexibility to give you the time needed to maintain a successful private online community. The wait will be worth it in the long term if you avoid a very public and brand-damaging misstep in the short term.
#29) Your Online Community Platform Does Not Provide Enough Analytics Data
To your company, the business intelligence about your customers or members is one of the most valuable aspects oF your online community. As you select your technology platform, make sure that it captures, slices and dices, and can output (in a usable format) demographic, transactional, and behavioral data about your members or customers.