Monday we covered taking social networking participation to a whole new, profitable level. Yesterday, I opened your eyes (I hope) to the huge difference between influence and impact and how the latter is only found in going past participation to the level of building and leading a community. Today, given the possibilities shown I’m diving into the process of just how to make the decision to build a super niche social networking site. It’s an often over-complicated question, but one that needs to be taken seriously. As with most other social internet marketing activities – the return you get from building a community will rest on the investment you make. Part of that begins with making the right decision for your company and your goals.
Important Decisions and Research Before You Build an Online Community
Making the decision to build an online community, should really start before you even consider an online community a viable option. In other words, if you’ve set your mind that an online community is the direction you’re going to take — then you’re on the wrong track.
The decision starts with your company and your company goals. Knowing and understanding the needs of your company, should happen WAY before you even consider building an online community. Ultimately, everything you do online, every strategy, every peice of content you publish — should be tied directly to your company goals.
The decision starts with understanding your target audience. Again, as important as your company goals, understanding your audience is extremely important to understand before considering an online community. There is a ton of research and analysis that goes along with this, but the ultimate question is — will my audience participate and can they be impacted by building an online community?
The decision starts with understanding exactly how building an online community fits into your current and future online marketing activities. Too often solopreneurs, bloggers, and small businesses treat online marketing activities as separate islands just floating around. The true power in your marketing plan comes when you’ve realized that each component can have tremendous affect on the others and each can leverage the power of the others. They should all work together and so should your online community, should you make the decision to build one.
Important Things to Understand About Building an Online Community
Building a community is not as simple as “built it and they will come.” Not even close. Building a community takes time and a considerable amount of effort. It’s a much more complex proposition, but the return will exceed the investment if you’ve taken the time to make the right decision, with the right information.
Building a community does not have to be expensive. There are several ways to build an online community — and many of those alternatives are very inexpensive. The days of requiring seed investment to get started are over. Alternatives range from open-source software like Joomla, to excellent custom built alternatives like Hollis Carter’s Social Networking Empire. You can even invest in large-scale solutions. Regardless of the solution you choose, it’s all about the “fit” for your community objectives, NOT the amount of money you spend.
Building a community is not a end-all quick fix. Because of the time and investment involved in building a community, realize, it’s not going to happen over-night and it’s not a fix if you’re not already profitable or at least, sustainable during the build and launch phases.
Online Community Resources to Review Before You Make the Decision to Build
Rich Gordon’s Online Community Cookbook is an excellent resource that can be downloaded chapter by chapter and includes a very good discussion of what you need to consider before and during the build of an online community.
Jeremiah Owyang has an excellent slide presentation regarding Online Community Best Practices. It has a ticket price, as it’s offered through Forrester Research – but well worth the price if you’re serious about considering an online community as part of your online business.
Full Circle Associates has an Online Community Toolkit that is a must read before and during the build of an online community of any nature. Great information.
ScoreChicago has an excellent blog post with super resources (including the three above) that will help guide you in your decision to build an online community.
Community Spark has excellent resources for helping with building a new online community, as well as resources for marketing and monetization of online communities.