How to Develop an Online Community

So, you want to build a community online. That’s what we learned from our recent digital marketing poll as it had twice as many votes as the next highest option. Then let’s get to work. To attract life science researchers, there are five things you absolutely need in order to build a community.

First, you need a game plan. Creating and supporting a community takes time. Before starting any community, you want to make sure that there is a need for it and that your vision will make it stand out.

We suggest surveying ideal community members to get a better understanding of what will keep them coming back and where they are currently turning for this type of information. You may learn that there are already similar communities offline that you could tap into to fuel your community. Having this competitive intelligence early will ensure that your online community has a solid foundation.

Second, you need to build the right features to support your community. In your competitive intel survey, you probably found several industry needs worth exploring. Build specific features to support these needs. For example, in a recent survey, we found that life science researchers identified the following values as extremely important: self-fulfillment, being well-respected, and accomplishment.

To me, this means that any life science community needs features that identify the membership level of its members and rewards members who have high participation. You’ll know that you’re doing it right when members from your community are linking to their profiles as part of their resume. See StackExchange and Quora.

Third, you need a launch strategy. Launching a website, firing off a press release and waiting for membership to grow won’t work. Instead, try:

seeding initial content (i.e. awesomeness) to attract members
creating some exclusivity by requiring authorization to join
holding a kickoff event to bring members together
contacting several key writers from medium sized blogs and offer up an interview (they’ll appreciate the content and you have a platform!)

Regardless of your launch strategy, you will need to take time to hand pick quality individuals who are influential among their peers and can influence their followers.

Fourth, you need to focus on increasing participation. Go where the people are. Your community may have wonderful gems of information, but if no one knows about it, then it is worthless. Take your best content and share it directly with those who can benefit from it. Link back to your community, and tell them that there’s more.

If you’re creating a forum, setup a twitter account that tweets each new topic thread that receives more than five replies. This way, you’re rising threads are included in real-time searches. If you have a news section, think about offering your members the opportunity for a member highlight where several of them are the focus of the content. Stimulate your members to invite their friends and colleagues so the community will grow with the same spirit as you setup. Make sure that you already built tools to encourage this type of growth.

Finally, you need consistency. Promote the best community members to roles of significance. At first, add moderators. Later, promote the best moderators to administrators and add more moderators. Encouraging and rewarding your top community members will allow you to take a step back knowing that the community will continue to grow in accordance with your vision. Then, review your analytics regularly or after every large increase in user registration. See where user registrations are being driven from and find similar opportunities.

If you are thinking about launching an online community, let us know, and we can give you a few other ideas to help ensure a successful launch. Also, stop by tomorrow to learn about tracking online ROI.

A few resources


How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
Tribes, Seth Goodin

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