From associations with multiple branches across the country to individual creators and one-person teams, organizations offer their audience a variety of products and services. However, it’s a mistake to think of this as only a one-way relationship. While your audience consumes your organization’s services and products, they can also participate further in your organization as a community and may even influence your offerings.
When given the tools to do so, passionate consumers can form a user community around your organization. User communities are groups forged around specific products, brands, organizations, and other interests for the purpose of holding discussions, helping one another, and sometimes even offering transformative ideas about their subject of interest.
An active user community can be beneficial both to consumers interested in an organization and the organization itself, often at very little cost. To help your organization create and leverage its own user community, this guide will first answer a few essential questions about these groups, and then explore strategies for effectively building and engaging with a user community.
At TagFi, our team has experience helping organizations of all sizes forge and grow their communities. We understand the importance of cultivating a thriving user community and give organizations the tools they need to empower their users. The strategies in this guide focus on teaching organizations how to make the most of these tools while being conscious of practical considerations, such as limited resources.
Due to the sheer variety of potential organizations and products that user communities can form around, no two groups will be exactly the same. Fortunately, while this diversity in community experiences can lead to many questions, there are answers that will apply to most user communities.
A user community is essentially a group of people who gather together over a mutual interest in an organization. These discussions usually involve users exchanging their thoughts and opinions on the organization, sharing their insights, and assisting other users by answering their questions or helping troubleshoot relevant problems.
In some cases, these discussions can even take on a transformative effect as users offer feedback, solutions, or even develop ideas that expand on an organization’s current products or offerings.
The level of oversight in these groups will vary, but most user communities have a relatively high degree of freedom to hold discussions at the community’s discretion.
User communities provide an organization with loyal support, giving products and services additional longevity. When consumers are invested in ongoing community discussions, they’ll continue to support your organization, even when you aren’t continually releasing new content.
User communities are able to cultivate this high level of loyalty and engagement through:
User-generated discussions and content helps keep your members engaged long-term. Even the most hands-on organizations are limited in their ability to answer every member’s questions and continually create new content. As user communities start their discussions among members, often with little prompting from your organization, they can essentially create an infinite amount of content as users discuss unique ideas and problems amongst each other.
While user communities come with many benefits that make supporting them well worth the effort, there are a few trade-offs and potential pitfalls to consider. Specifically, due to their nature of relying on users rather than your organization to facilitate discussions and content, user communities come with an inherent lack of control.
By definition, user-generated content will rarely be created with your organization’s exact quality standards in mind and may not represent your brand in the exact ways you would prefer. While these discussions and their content are not strictly wrong or incorrect, they may not align with your intended vision. Organizations can get around this issue by implementing community guidelines that provide conflict resolution tools without stifling users’ freedom or creativity.
Additionally, keep in mind that user communities tend to be composed primarily of enthusiasts. These dedicated fans of your organization are some of your strongest supporters, but they are usually also a vocal minority, and their wants and desires may not actually reflect those of your entire audience. This means that while you can learn a lot about your audience by paying attention to your community’s discussions, you should also keep an eye on other sources of information about your consumers to ensure everyone, not just the loudest group, is being accounted for.
User communities are often forged organically by dedicated fans interested in connecting with similarly passionate individuals. However, your organization can help form, maintain, and grow these communities with a few strategies:
Your user community will need different levels of hands-on support depending on your organization. For example, a new organization will likely need to take active steps to establish a community and spend a significant amount of resources encouraging members to join. By contrast, an organization that has been operating for several years will likely already have at least a semi-active user community and may focus more on regularly creating new content to support ongoing discussions.
Engaging with your user community requires careful observation to understand their unique needs and values. While every community has their own preferences, there are several strategies that most organizations can find success with when they interact with and leverage their communities.
One-way feedback systems, such as asking users to complete surveys or other feedback forms, allow organizations to collect their audiences’ opinions on specific offerings. However, this type of limited communication doesn’t allow users to interact with one another, limiting the potential of a user community.
When your organization provides two-way communication options, groups can gather together and start building a community. Here are a few ways you can help facilitate communication between your members:
Online communication channels will require leveraging the right community software for your organization. While it can be tempting to just rely on social media, building out these communication channels on your own website will give you greater control over your community’s experience, allow you to create your own community guidelines, and respond to community requests and concerns quickly.
You can also avoid the costs of hiring a web developer by using online community software with pre-built templates and tools that are readily available right out of the box. A solution like TagFi’s community engagement software can act as your new standalone website, providing added flexibility, total content control, and powerful revenue generating potential for your organization.
User communities thrive due to the passion and creativity of their members. Plus, innovative communities can inspire your organization with ways to improve your current offerings or to create new offerings. You can help fuel this innovative spirit in your members by:
As mentioned, creative user communities may result in slightly less control over your brand than you may prefer. You can assuage these fears and put your community on the right track from day one by implementing community guidelines to help steer conversations and your members’ creativity in the right direction.
User communities can only thrive when their members believe in and trust the organization they have formed a community around. You can help build this trust by being transparent in your communications, setting clear community guidelines, and being straightforward about which—if any—members of your community are employees or staff at your organization.
By following these practices, you’ll receive a number of benefits, such as:
As you communicate with your members, be thoughtful about what they need to know and how you can explain policy and guidelines changes as they come up. There will be details or reasons behind decisions that you’ll want to keep behind the scenes, but you can always share why and how your organization’s decisions will impact your community to avoid any surprises on either end.
A community’s members will change over time as new individuals become interested in an organization and others scale back their involvement. This means your community’s interests will also change over time.
Your organization can continue fostering a healthy user community by staying up to date with your members’ changing needs and values. A number of aspects can alter your community’s needs and how they view your organization, including:
Understanding what your users need and value is essential to creating content that will find success with your audience. Sometimes organizations can make assumptions about what their community wants, which may not always align with their current community’s interests. For example, you might assume that your members are eager to resume in-person events, when in reality your organization has managed to attract a community of remote members who will have limited interest in such activities.
User communities can greatly impact your organization’s success, creating a loyal group of members dedicated to your content and community. Forging a user community and giving them the tools to support your organization requires a dedicated strategy focused on open communication and a strong understanding of your members’ values.
Dedicated user communities form when an organization already has strong membership engagement practices in place. Here are a few resources your team can use to help position your organization to cultivate a dynamic user community: