Lots of clients want an online community, and in some cases I’d agree that it’s a good idea (see previous posts here and here.) Makes sense. A good online community can be the focal point for an organisation’s fans, customers, employees and so on, allowing them to engage with the company/sector/issue in question and as a result grow even more passionate than before and give them a launch pad for bringing others onboard.
However, if you don’t already have a very big, active and passionate offline community, your online community won’t work. Sure, you might get 50 people, and if that’s OK with you, fine, but in most cases it won’t be, especially if you’re trying to prove ROI (hard with social media in any case – impossible with 50 people.)
So what do you do? You build momentum towards community. You first pinpoint stakeholders and potential supporters online and engage with them nice and slow, instead of trying to force a community on them. If your issue is important and you make yourself a well respected thought-leader on it, community may then eventually happen organically, but as the result of human interaction and not of a tool that’s been provided. And please note that community in this case might not even mean an online community, say a Ning. It could just be people connected via Twitter, who engage on one very popular blog, or a Facebook group. Remember, it’s not the tool that is going to make people suddenly want to be in a community, it’s the story around it.
How do you start though? How do you bring people together, engage, create this momentum that will eventually lead to a community of mobilisers for your cause?! Why, you follow the 4-pillar approach to online engagement.