Online Community Basics: Start with Research – The 3 questions to ask

Cross-posted from the OC Report.

As a follow up to all the recent questions I’ve been getting about basic online community strategy, I’ve decided to write a series on online community basics. First up is one of my favorite topics: research!

Start With Research: The 3 questions to ask.

Q1. What does your current community ecosystem look like?

It’s important to make an inventory of your existing community touch points. Think you don’t have any? Think again.

A potential starter list:
– user groups
– independent bloggers (check blogpulse.com)
– discussion groups / google groups / yahoo groups
– enthusiast sites
– industry / topic publication sites
– meetup.com / upcoming.org

You should be seeing some signs of life. Found something? Good.

Q2: What do your customers, prospects or partners need from you?
As a business, you are in a unique position to provide value to your community of prospects, customers, and partners. This could be simply providing a “clean, well lit place”, exclusive content, or access to your employees. How do you gain insight into what your community needs? Ask. Face to face, conference calls, email questionnaires, or web-based surveys (survey monkey) are all effective and relatively cheap. You can also hire research firms that specialize in this type of needs-based analysis.

Q3: How would your organization benefit from hosting a community site?
This question is in it’s rightful place. Ask not what your online community can do for you… or at least not as your first question. Seriously though, it’s important to align your community strategy and direction with your general business strategy. Who do you start with? The stakeholders who will be writing checks to pay for the ongoing community infrastructure, moderation, and maintenance. Including stakeholders in this phase will also help to ensure buyoff, and help flag any early concerns about unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of the community. Others you may want to involve? Your web team, marketing, product management, and customer support.

Bill Johnston - Founder, Structure3C. Former Head of Community at Dell & Autodesk. Mobile: (415) 233-6914 Twitter: @billjohnston LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/billj In a sentence: Seasoned online community and social media executive and advisor with over 15 years experience developing large scale online communities, social media initiatives and successful online product strategies.

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