Developing credibility is the first step in building an online community for your brand. Simply put, if your organization isn’t credible, online communities can still gather around the brand but they may have torches and pitchforks in hand.
Community building starts with an audience that returns regularly to a site. You can keep your audience coming back for more with posts focused on a few specific subjects you know to be of interest. Creating this content for your online community must not be an afterthought – you have to plan ahead to create credible and compelling content. The best way to do this is to take advice from a group of people who have been doing this for decades — journalists.
The Poynter Institute suggests that any content creators follow some basic rules of a newsroom, and offers these guidelines:
- Make an editorial calendar and hold weekly editorial meetings for your content creators. An editorial calendar can very easily help you get organized and see where regular columns can fit in. The meetings give you time to reflect on what is working and what is not. Giving people the time to create content (according to a calendar) and being held accountable for your content (editorial meeting), takes away some of the pressure and focuses content creators on quality, integrity and ethical standards. This is paramount to establishing trust with the audience which leads to community building.
- Develop (and stick to) a regular schedule of publishing. A regular flow of content will build (and keep) audience attention. This may not mean every day depending on the subject but you need to establish a frequency on which your community can rely. At ProfNet Connect, we have seen success with posting at least 3 blogs a day. This keeps our audience coming back and allows them to become familiar with our voice. Reliability also helps to establish the trust we need for a community.
- Positive communities are not built around a silent host. Your brand needs to actually participate and promote conversation around your content to build a community. Request that appropriate people from your organization comment on your posts. Be sure to respond to comments added to your content and add your own comments to content posted to your community. Go out to like-minded web sites, LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Participate in chats and reply or retweets on Twitter. Just make sure you are engaging in actual conversation and not straight promotion. No one minds you mentioning your brand when it’s appropriate but you will be flagged right away if you are spamming a conversation.
- Care for your community platform. Keep on improving your site. Add features and functionality that allow people to carry content over to other communities and social networking sites. Play around with new features. Some will be appreciated by your users but be prepared that not everything you add will be a success; some features may be ignored, others may cause an uproar. If you are not 100% sure a change will work, have a quick exit strategy where you can roll back to the previous version. If you have truly built a community around your brand you will be easily forgiven for most missteps.
Author Sandra Azzolliniis PR Newswire’s vice president of online communities, and oversees Profnet Connect, a free online community linking thousands of professionals.