Online Community and its Challenges! Can We Talk About that Now?

We hear constant conversations about the benefits of online communities for businesses, as well as ways to engage the community and keep it interesting and involving. But seldom we talk about the challenges many community managers and organizations face before they decide on how to pursue this venue.

As the QuestionPro Communities leader, I am constantly asked about best practices on community setup, engagement and growth. By doing so, I am also able to constantly see the struggles and the challenges that prospects and clients face before deciding on creating their own community. Based on my experience, I have gathered the biggest challenges I have seen so far, and hope I can bring some light on how to help you face them.

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Challenge 1: I don’t have the staff to manage!

Many of our clients approach me asking if they need a designated group or staff to manage their community (ies). Many of them approach me saying straightaway that would love to have their community, however, they can not allocate one of their resources solely to community management.

The truth is, yes, it would be optimal if you could have one designated employee dedicated solely to your community. However, that will not be needed at the beginning, especially when you are starting your community from scratch. There are many ways that you can have a healthy and lively community without a full-time manager, and depending on your goals with it, it may take months until you get to the point where you will need a full time resource to manage it. But note, if your goal is to create a healthy community with hundreds of thousands of members such as Travelocity or Harley Davidson, then you should consider hiring a dedicated manager to help you keep it engaging and monitored. And don’t worry about the ROI… If you have a healthy and engaged community you will definitely see it!

Challenge 2: I am not sure how to get started!

This is the most common question, but also the easiest one to answer.

The truth is that if you have chosen the right platform to host your online community, your account managers, or product managers, will hold your hand and help you throughout the process. With our platform, for example, even though a community can be set up in less than 5 minutes, we still help our clients set-up their communities and walk them through the process until they feel confident that they can do it on their own. We do see great value on this practice, as we know 1) our clients are happier when they realize how easily they can set up their own community, 2) we optimize their and our times by showing some shortcuts (who doesn’t want to optimize their time?), and 3) they realize that our intent is to give them as much support as they need to have an engaging and active community.

Challenge 3: It may be too expensive!

Yes, time counts… But money is the crucial key to make a decision. What I find the misconception with online communities is that many people believe it is expensive before doing their research. The cost of an online community is dependent on the platform you chose, as well your goals wit it. For example, the cost of creating and managing a community of 500K members will be very different from a the cost of a community with less than 50K. My advice on this one is to have your goals clear before you approach a server, create a 1 year community growth plan with your expectations clearly laid out, and chose the right platform to help you manage it. That way, you can clearly see the amount of your investment and estimate a timeline for its returns.

Challenge 4: I don’t see the value of it!

I have noticed that oftentimes the questions around the true value of an online community and the ROI, are raised by someone that has either heard the buzz about the value of online communities, but has either not done its homework searching for the benefits of it, someone that has no clarity on his or her goals for their community, or someone that is has packaged challenges 1 through 4 altogether.

My initial response is to help them clarify their goals with the community (is it to help them get product answers?, is it to build customer loyalty? to increase brand awareness?, etc), then I clarify the main benefits of online communities (which is a topic I have been exploring on previous blogs, see here), and finally I show them the possible positive outcomes of having their own community. Online communities have true value for its organizers, as long as you clearly understand what are your goals and expectations with them. Also keep in mind that most of the measurable results will be in form of sales growth, customer loyalty, customer outreach and retention rates, up-sell opportunities, brand awareness, in between others. Also know that regardless of which results you see first, if you harness your community in a meaningful way its value will be easy to notice.

Challenge 5: It may take too long to create my own community!

Another common misunderstanding about online communities. Once your goals and objectives are clearly set and a decision on the server has been made, creating a community should be quick and easy. A community setup can take from 5 minutes to 30 days, again, depending on your requirements and expectations. Some of the dependencies you may find with community set up are related to community customization and initial recruitment, but with the right platform that process should be seamless and quick.

Contact Us for more information on how to setup your online community.