“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
– Peter Drucker
The exponential growth of online communities has skyrocketed over the last few years. This is exciting news and shows how huge an opportunity it is for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Online communities are quite diverse and very niche, and they should be. They have opened opportunities for life coaches, academics, writers, business leaders, and so many others. This growth was fueled in part by the surge in remote workers and unemployed professionals. The stage has been set for an exciting future within the community space.
Knowing the popularity of online communities and realizing their potential, it is important to take extreme care in developing your community. For those of you who have an existing community or want to build one, this blog lays out how to do a community audit and maximize membership growth to the fullest extent.
Community audits are all about inspecting, evaluating, examining, and critiquing all facets of a community. Areas that are analyzed range from how the community is structured to how successful community engagement is going. It’s not only the building blocks of the community but also the health and vigor of the community that are analyzed. This process may be tedious and slightly boring but the impact will prove to be undeniable.
Are YOU ready to dive in? Let’s go!
When entrepreneurs set out to start an online community, the very first thing they do is to decide what the purpose of the community is and what that focus will be. Although it would seem easy enough to quickly come up with a purpose for the community, it shouldn’t be done haphazardly. Time should be spent brainstorming, gathering information from careful research, and narrowing down the options. Your community’s mission and reason for existence should be priority numero uno.
Part of this process is dependent on knowing your target audience: who they are, what they value, and what they need help with. For example, your target audience could be writers. Or, it could be creative writers with an emphasis on storytelling to autistic children. Your community should cater to members that fit into a finite niche not to exclude people but to create the perfect atmosphere for collaboration.
Look at your current target audience and think about the purpose and goals of your current community. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What specific goals are we looking to achieve?
- Is the community’s mission clearly defined and communicated?
- Have members bought into the purpose and mission of the community?
- Do you feel high energy within the community and a sense of cohesiveness?
- Are members engaging with content, discussions, and virtually in meetings?
- Does it appear that members are in harmony like a crew of rowers in a boat?
It’s also critical to review the Community Guidelines as they are currently written. Do the guidelines make sense and cover all areas? Are they inclusive? It’s not about rule-making, but it’s about ensuring a good culture. No one member is bigger than the other members. Make sure those guidelines are clearly written and lay out the responsibilities of members. Define the core values of the community and impress upon members a clear line of communication.
STRUCTURE & DESIGN
When you originally set up your community you likely started with the basics. At first you likely decided which community platform to use such as Heartbeat, Circle, Facebook groups, or Discourse. Then you added some basic channels/spaces like community guidelines, FAQ’s, resources, events, and announcements. Those all should definitely be included in some form or fashion within your community structure.
The channels/spaces should evolve over time to suit the needs of your community. Luckily online community platforms take this into account by allowing you to make changes. You may need to add new spaces or remove redundant ones. Take a look at the analytics for your community and view the stats for current channels. Most community platforms give you real-time data on usage within channels. By doing so, you can see if a channel is “lonely” and due to a lack of activity. Ask for feedback from members to find out if the current spaces/channels are meeting their needs. Find out from members any new additions they might benefit from. At some point, it may be time to have tiers within your community to offer exclusive content and enhanced features for more advanced members. Tailoring your structure to fit member needs is super helpful depending on where members are in their journey.
In addition to the building blocks of your community structure, it’s also important to audit the design aspects of your community. Note: you don’t have to be a graphic designer to make your community visually appealing to members. There are tons of software sites out there that can assist you with graphics and overall design elements. I use Canva Pro quite a bit due to its ease of use and numerous template ideas.
Audit your current community design:
- Utilize a logo, color palette, and modern fonts. Is your branding consistent throughout?
- Create banners, cover images, and make use of emojis where applicable
- Since words matter, use descriptive titles for channels, resources, projects, challenges, etc.
- Check that the flow of your community areas is fluid and purposeful
- Use links within channels that point back to other helpful areas within the community
CONTENT – RESOURCES
The biggest part of an online community apart from member connection is the content it contains. Community content is crucial to providing value to members and should be instrumental to member success. Content displayed within a community should contribute to member development, and engagement, as well as offer tons of useful information. If you don’t already, make sure you have a variety of content for members to consume. That variety can consist of courses, virtual meetings and replays, how-to guides, ready-made templates, webinars, and much more.
Is the content you give both consistent and targeted? Are members asking follow-up questions about the content or engaging with it through discussions in threads? Does the content speak to the pain points of members? Is the content outdated and should it be removed now? Are members sharing the content outside of the community?
Sending a weekly newsletter and creating blog posts is highly recommended as well. Sending these to your email list can propel new prospects to join your community.
The root word for communication and community is the Latin word “communis” meaning common or shared. There is no community without communication. Isn’t that what community is all about? A steady stream of engaging conversation is the marker of a healthy and thriving community. Sharing is caring and that means distributing learning and motivation consistently.
Are you reaching out to members individually by commenting on their posts, answering questions in a timely fashion, using DM’s to check in, and asking for feedback on their experience? Are you noticing those who aren’t involved as much as you’d like them to be?
Communication in a member community can be delivered in many ways. Hold virtual meetings 1-2 times weekly that involve Q&A’s, business development, 1:1 sessions, guest experts, and member-led discussions. Take a look at your current level of communication and how you are going about it. Determine if you should mix things up a bit.
If aren’t currently asking for feedback, make it a point to do a lot of that. Let members know the community is their community. Let them know their opinion matters and you seek input from them to improve the community. Ask for feedback at the end of virtual meetings. Create surveys and ask questions in a thread to gather info. Review what members are discussing and who is participating.
Some business owners and entrepreneurs really love “techy stuff” when it comes to operating their business or community. Others leave that up to the experts to help with. You probably have found that some members are great with the technical aspects of growing and maintaining a healthy community. You probably also noticed there are members who know a little but not everything it takes to make their community work seamlessly.
Constantly share resources that help with automation, email marketing, CRMs for client management, and content creation platforms. Invite experts to teach members how to use platforms to save them time and energy. Create mini-courses to go over the basics of email sequencing, social media strategy, member management, tagging & segmentation, and paywall structuring.
Regularly checking for broken links and reviewing automation processes has to be done without exception. Software platforms make changes and updates frequently. Credit cards expire and need to be updated. Websites can have issues due to malware or the web-hosting sites being down. Email addresses change over time or be spelled incorrectly. Inquire with members to make sure they are getting your emails. Audit your automations to check that all points of automation are working and the chain is unbroken. Also, ask members to update their profiles and payment information as changes arise.
Track key performance indicators (KPI’s) such as member growth and retention, engagement rates, channel/space activity and content reach. Most, if not all, community platforms offer analytics to help you with the health and effectivness of your community. You may not be a stat person, but even the basic analytic information provided can be eye-opening and helpful. Here is a list of some statistical categories to keep track of:
- Thread Use
- Direct Messages Sent
- Documents Accessed
- Device Use – Desktop, Mobile, Website
- Activity Hotspots – time of day volume
- Top Users
- Channel/Space Use
- # of Comments Added
- Community Growth
Those are just a few of them. Using this data can help you make the necessary adjustments to improve engagement, membership, content, and so much more.
Audits do sound scary when it comes to the IRS or accountants LOL. However, it’s imperative that you as a community owner and entrepreneur conduct a branding audit periodically.
In our community, Online Community Creators – the OCC, we are having a challenge for the month of December centered specifically on branding audits. At the same time, we are running a FREE Trial that gives registrants access for two weeks into our community if they sign up by December 1st. We would love for you to take a tour around the OCC!