Are you excited about building an online community for your association? It’s a brilliant idea that has found great use among associations. It’s true that online communities are useful but if you ask me, it is not as straightforward as you may want to believe. You need to work out a plan to establish it. Remember this is something that you’ll develop bearing in mind that it will be a lasting component of your association’s strategy.

If you want to build your online community, you’ll be responsible for putting together the building blocks. The success of your online community in promoting the welfare of your organization is based on how you create and launch it. In a nutshell it needs: planning, evaluation and strategizing. Here are the vital steps that will help you get started with your online community.

1. Develop a Common Theme
This always comes first. Define your organization and the topics of discussion. Your idea should bring people together in a unique way that is not vague. Make sure that your cause is has all of its gaps filled in. This is a great secret to building your member base. Avoid ideas already in use with other stablished communities. Duplicating their idea means getting the same audience hence, it will be difficult for you to thrive.

2. Evaluate Member Interest Levels
Consider the size of membership that you anticipate in the niche. How many people could be interested in your concept to help your community grow? Again, establish whether your target population could be in collaboration with other online communities. To get started, you may have to trial this via social media sites like twitter or LinkedIn. Set a goal of the number of connections you want to make in a week or so.

3. Choose a Software platform
Read my post about Selecting the Best Online Community Software to get some insights into how to go about this step. Not all platforms are suitable for your online community. Evaluate various software vendors and choose a platform that will specifically be useful in maximizing the participation of your members.

4. Develop a Community Outline
When building an online community, I normally ask my clients about their needs: their target audience and the software capabilities they require. Building your community would require full knowledge about these aspects. If there are crucial sub-topics for your common theme where different sub-communities would be helpful, include them as well.

5. Design a Calendar of Activities
Prepare your engagement opportunities to show a clear value proposition for members joining and taking part in your community. Yes, you’ll obviously start from zero but it’s good to have a list of activities that will get you going for about a week or so. A plan for the coming weeks should also be put in place. Include blog posts and discussions in your calendar among other activities as would fit your community.

6. Build a Team of Recruit Experts and Founding Members
You see why it is important to survey your target population? One of the reasons is to help you establish a team of founding members. Based on the feedback you got, reach out to them informing them about your plans to launch an online community. These people will help you to shape your association’s online community.

7. Formulate a Moderation Policy
Ideally, these are the terms of engagement you will use for your online community members. I have seen people go to online communities with other intentions other than for what they were established. However, a well-defined policy for your online community would help in restricting members to the goals and objectives of your community. This is a very useful guide towards online etiquette and strict adherence to your community values.

8. Establish a Reporting System
Prior to getting your community live, make sure you have a system of tracking important metrics such as subscription, community activity, and traffic. These numbers are useful in the continuous development of your community. I usually use them to strengthen the weak areas and know which are working well. I recommend having easily measurable and achievable goals for the first 6 months of your community. It will help you track performance and the general progress of your community.

9. Perform a Soft Launch
Congratulations on reaching this point. You are now ready to launch your online community. However, a soft launch is important. This should be conducted once your vendor is done with the implementation process and has set up your community layout. Most importantly, you should have your active founding members in place to engage those coming on board. However, work with them first prior to inviting new members.

Now that you have learned the basics of setting up an online community, it’s time to get started. Enjoy your online community building!