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Your Online Community is a Beach, A Guide to Planning Your Community

Aug 1

Written by:
8/1/2012 11:40 AM  RssIcon

Creating online communities can be your biggest source of driving awareness to your product and service(s). Many people/businesses do not understand how to create a community, the work involved and the detail that goes in to setting the foundation. I am going to give you an overview of creating a community by comparing it to the beach.

Before we begin, close your eyes and think of all the things you might see when visit your favorite beach. Do you see people, multicolored umbrellas, hardworking lifeguards,kids digging in the sand, a few games of Frisbee or beach volleyball, and the warm ocean? Do you notice all the different people? They all share the same goal of coming to your beach to relax and enjoy the sun and the amenities of the beach.

First, lets pick a name for your beach.This will be a name that will be recognizable to everyone. Try to pick something unique to your idea. Choose something that everyone will be able to share, build an identity, and flow off your tongue.One caveat to remember, you must be able to buy the real estate in the form of a web domain that is available. With the many different tiers of extensions you should be able to find something suitable. Once you have your name set, your ready to start planning your community.

(I am assuming you have hosting,design and software in place)

Is your beach going to be private or public or a mix of both? This means you will have to offer a goodreason for your visitors to gain access to the private area in the form a beach tag. These beach tags could be anything from a simple registration to a software license or membership fee. Private areas typically will offer more amenities and offer a reason for conversion. Having an open or restricting any area in your community is part of your plan for your business.

When your visitor happens to visit your beach a list of rules and laws that govern are normally posted in plain view before you enter the beach. These rules will be your code of conduct, privacy policy and possibly a site map. These rules will lay the group work what is acceptable and lets the public know how you conduct business. These policies often outline how information is collected, dispute resolution, and where to get additional information for inquiries. These rules may also appear before you register or sign up to participate on your website. Once the visitor enters into the community, the visitor abides by the rules laid out in the terms and policies your written just like how beaches have signs upon entering.

Every beach has advertising to help fund the services they provide. On the beach, you might find these advertisements on beach chair rentals, lifeguard stands and biplanes flying in the air with messages. On your community website these can be one of the various sizes of banner ads you might see. The placement of these ads can determine how much income you make. If your website isn’t heavily ad supported to run your tone down the amount your visitor will see. Not everyone likes to be marketed with a barrage of ads.

Every visitor on your beach brings unique items such as beach towels, chairs, sand toys, umbrellas etc. Every user in your community has their own avatar, forum signature and unique name that differentiates each member and makes them unique.

There are so many factors on the reasons why your visitors keep coming back to your beach. The most important reason is the content. If the beach is constantly clean,kept in good shape, and has activities that appeal to your audience,you are likely to have them comeback. This is called retention. Your content is focused around the purpose of your website, your are keeping your site properly moderated and you keep your audience involved with activities. If sports are played on the beach then contests can be played on your website. They offer your membership a chance to participate.

A community driven website often hosts its own forums. These forums normally cover a wide variety of subjects that pertain to the companies focus. On the beach, these forums are normally the groups of people who sit together. You will find that beach goers tend to separate. The elderly may stay together and the youth will become there own clique. The families with children normally sit closer to the ocean so they can watch the kids effectively. They all love your website or beach but each group has a different level of personal investment. This leads to different levels of participation. It is a good idea to encourage everyone to become more involved in the community. You can host multiple topics that appeal to a wide audience under your brand. Create discussions and listen for feedback. Be sure to acknowledge your valued members.

Some beaches likes communities have issues they might have to deal with. Beaches have things like bad weather, bugs, and whales that become beached. With online communities, you need to plan for spammers, trolls, and unruly members. Your should have a plan outlined to deal with such offenses and moderate accordingly. You should have most of the rules laid out in your acceptable use policy linked in your terms of use.

 

Your moderators are your lifeguards or community savers. They watch over your community and keep things going smoothly. They are relied upon to be invisible but step inwhen is necessary. Your website to be able to have adequate coverage of Lifeguards (moderators) to monitor the beach(community site) and needs during peak and off peak times. They keep the site clean of the offensive content and respond to users in a timely manner.

Every beach has a few donors that help pay for some of the services because they believe in the overall vision. These donors are your advocates. They are heavily invested in your community. They are the staunch supporters who are also your power users. You need to identify who your advocates are and work with them to continue to grow your community.

By reading this guide, I hope you now have a better understanding of creating your own community. Your beach is your own piece of land. Keep it clean, listen, cultivate and engage visitors.  

Copyright ©2012

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