So how do you create a community site that recruits members, retains them and actually generates revenue?
The question can be answered in three words: Content, content and content.
The concept of web communities is not new. Virtual communities have evolved from the early days of dial-up BBS and CompuServe forums to Java chat, buddy-list applications and beyond. Today, anyone can create their own web community, whether it’s through a professional web page developer, free services such as Geocities and Yahoo clubs or with do-it-yourself software programs.
It may seem elementary. However, if you want to create a web community, you must provide visitors with the content they desire. Once you’ve settled on an idea for your site, spend some time perusing the competition. Ask yourself, “Why do they have this content? Why do they advertise where they do? And what do I appreciate about their site?”
I’m not encouraging the “copycat” approach. I am urging you to simply do your homework. A healthy dose of market research, competitor analysis, and a dash of focus group testing can put you on track for success.
The next step, after choosing your “one-of-a-kind” content, is to generate interest through advertising and/or strategic public relations. Once you’ve established a healthy community, you should consider how to keep customers faithful.
Mining the industry and your competition is a good place to start. But you must consider where the next source of content for your community will come from. A major part of keeping your community strong and active is paying attention to what members are discussing. Many community sites get caught up in what they believe users want. They don’t take the time to actually check with the community itself.
Use Member Expertise
Here at MyFamily, we recognize that outstanding community sites appreciate member expertise, so we rely heavily on member-generated content. There is a tendency in business to think information flows one-way: internal to external. It’s important to realize that a user feels more like a member of the community when that community recognizes the expertise of its user base and values the information those members have to share.
Offer an easy way for members to provide feedback. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to find an email link or a phone number to communicate with the company. Although you are operating a “virtual” community, you must not make the mistake of cutting off real contact.
Link To Outside Resources
When considering content resources, most companies get nervous at the idea of sending their customers to other sources of information or even to the competition. Here’s some advice: Don’t be like “most companies.”
If your community is clamoring for links to outside resources or discussing the features on another site, chances are they will leave your site for the information. Why not fulfill users needs and give them a reason to return to your site? If you have done your research, your site should have the content visitors need and present it in a format they want.
In addition to content, the successful site is concerned about the presentation of information to the community. Interesting data will keep the attention of your users for only a limited time. Internet users want instantaneous information. As you change the content of your site, make sure the speed in which it can be viewed remains constant or even improves.
Finally, the part you’ve all been anticipating — how to generate revenue.
The concept is simple: Forge a relationship with a reputable e-commerce vendor who can provide your community with items related to member interests. Creating a web community that provides customers with data on items of interest but offers no way to purchase them is an exercise in futility.
Everything I have discussed so far is centered on keeping community members on your site or at least giving them a reason to return. So, why would you arm them with information about their interests and then send them to other sites to purchase items that fuel the excitement of the community?
If you have done your job correctly, you should have created a web community that feeds on itself. Once your advertising and public relations efforts have attracted new members, these people should not feel the need to leave your site for your competition’s or spend their money elsewhere.
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