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Strategy and Planning for Online Community

February 5, 2009

Up to 50% of all online community initiatives fail.  Social media strategy and planning services are the new black for companies with struggling communities.   Organizations just starting to leverage social media want to know how to be successful.  Everybody seems to be asking the question, “How do we increase the likelihood that our social media initiative will succeed.”  

Before examining components of a successful community, let’s take a look at some sure fire ways to increase the chance of FAILURE

  • Use a tools-focused, ”If you build it, they will come“ approach.  Online community is not Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams.

   Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. 

  Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

  • Assume that all you need is a place, and that the users will just show up and supply all the content
  • Have no defined, documented strategy and plan for the initiative
  • having a defined, documented strategy and plan, but limited plan or resources for ongoing execution of said strategy 
  • Failing to nurture the community on an ongoing basis
  • Not listening to your membership
  • Focusing only on quantitative ROI while discounting the customer franchise value and the value of the relationship
  • Pushing product before establishing a trusted relationship (marketing initiatives)

So, what strategy and planning is needed?

Before implementing any online community or social media initiative, I strongly suggest that clients develop a comprehensive social media strategy to assure that their social media initiatives are accurately and realistically aligned with their company strategy and business objectives – basically a blueprint to success utilizing current social media tools with best of breed community practices.

What would a comprehensive social media strategy include? 

Some will say there are five things to define, some will say there are eleven, but the consensus is that regardless of how organized, the appropriate planning highly increases the probabilty of success.  When I was at Mzinga, I coined the term “Seven Components of Successful Community” to define what I believe are the key social media strategy components.  I consider these essential to the successful launch and ongoing management of an online community: 

1. Community Membership Acquisition & Retention Plan

Target membership and desired interaction, acquisition (marketing) and retention, member ROI, and competition (other communities, other calls for target membership attention).

2. Strategy – Business Objectives Definition

The defined vision of the social media initiative and alignment with corporate strategy, business and financial goals (ROI and measures) and objectives of the initiative.  Identification of documentation, decision making, ownership, policies, roles and responsibilities as related to community initiative.

3. Ongoing Community Management Plan

The plan for ongoing day-to-day community health – the “care and feeding” of the community.  Usually supports pro-active community management and growth via community engagement and development, and alignment of the community to meet the community strategy, goals & objectives. 

4. Membership Communication Plan

Defines the methods and modes of communication to the membership for all phases of the community lifecycle.  (May be included as part of the Community Membership Acquisition & Retention Plan, or Ongoing Community Management Plan.)

5. Moderation Plan

Defines level and type of moderation, such as proactive scan or reactive moderation, use of word filtering, acceptable practices, and policies (such as TOS, violation reporting, and use of UGC).

6. Content Plan / Programming Schedule

The plan for sourcing and use of content – new & existing, internal & external, expert & user generated, static & event based.

7. Tools / Rollout Plan

The software and infrastructure enabling the social media initiative, includes rollout (all-inclusive) and future plans.

For each of the components, prescriptive actions should be included as part of the strategy and planning. 

Companies who take the time to create a comprehensive social media strategy covering the Seven Components for Successful Community – whether organized as I’ve defined above or in another manner – will see their probability of success increase dramatically.  If not, they might sadly become candidates for a Community Resuscitation Strategy.

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