Launching and sustaining a successful online community for your association or organization is incredibly beneficial to your members or clients, but is no easy task to get off the ground. It takes countless hours, effort, creativity, strategy, and internal buy-in from your entire organization.

While internal buy-in from your organization is absolutely necessary to create a thriving community, too much buy-in can saturate the community with employee voices and sentiment, ultimately taking away from the point of the community; a safe space for your members or clients to network and converse with one another openly and honestly.

So, when should employees engage and interact within their organization’s online community? I’ve created some “Rules of Engagement” to help.

DO:

Become familiar with the community. Employees should take it upon themselves to become familiar with the community and learn how to navigate the site and find things. This will only help them become more knowledgeable when conversing with members or clients, because they’ll be able to speak to the specifics of this great member benefit.

Fill out your profile. Employees should also take some time to fill out their profile, add a profile photo, and update their bio and job history so community members know who they are. Plus, this will model the behavior you want members to be taking themselves (which is filling out their profiles), as this will lead to increased engagement within the community.

Browse discussion posts and library entries. Browsing discussions will keep employees aware of member and client sentiments, give them insight into the “hot button” issues, and enable them to keep a pulse on their members’ thoughts without having to send out formal surveys or calls for feedback. It’s always important to take note of extremely vocal clients (both positive and negative), and be aware when interacting with them through other mediums.

DO NOT:

Post a response to every thread. Employees should not be posting a reply to every discussion thread that members or clients post, as it will ultimately deter clients from responding to each other. Plus, the online community should be a safe environment where members and clients feel empowered to be honest and open. Having too much employee engagement will muddy the waters about who this community is really benefiting.

Contact clients or members personally. Employees should not be contacting clients or members personally in response to threads, unless it’s strategically decided upon as the best course of action. (Of course, if a post directly addresses your organization or is a question that only can be answered by an employee, this is an instance when it’s okay to respond.)

Contradict information posted by members. Employees should not contradict or correct any “wrong” information or responses that are provided by other members or clients. Inaccurate answers should always be dealt with strategically and should come from one dedicated voice of the organization (such as a community manager or support manager).

Post promotional or marketing material. The most important “do not” for an online community is that any material that can be construed as marketing or advertising has no place being posted. If clients and members feel this platform is just another way to get them to spend more money with your organization, participation and engagement will quickly die.

Remember: Even posts that may paint your organization in a negative or unfavorable light are valuable conversation topics and should not be censored. Oftentimes, you’ll find that other members will come to the defense of your organization organically, and further remarks are not needed. Plus, this will be a great way to help identify your most loyal members and clients.

The most important question to ask yourself when deciding to engage within the community is: Who will benefit from this course of action? The answer should always be the member or client.

Today, Abila unveils its new Abila Community, hosted by Abila Product Partner Higher Logic! From participating in discussion forums, to viewing a calendar of upcoming events, to accessing user and topic directories, the community will give Abila customers real-time access to the latest and greatest industry trends and product happenings.

About the Author

Heather Arkwright is Community Manager for the new Abila Community.