First off, I apologize for the hiatus that I have taken with my blog posts, but I have been able to take full advantage of my employment status and just got back from vacation. Orlando was fun.

Mystery Machine

Mystery Machine

I post the above image because to most, online communities are a mystery; People never know what to expect, or what is going to happen once the flood gates are open. If you take the proper steps in advance, you can begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together – the truth of the matter is that you need all of the pieces in order to solve the complete puzzle. Without all of the pieces, your puzzle, and community, will be incomplete.

Research is a key beginning step. Observe what others are doing. If you are the 1st in your area to expand into Social Media, review similar areas/sites – odds are, someone is doing it, and doing it right. At the same time, no one likes a “copy-cat” so what may work for others, may not work for you. Pick and choose what is appropriate for you and your members.

Figure out who your demographic is – who are the key 2-3 groups of people that you are trying to reach. What are they looking for, and what is missing? What is their personality and how do they want to participate (pulling or pushing of information)? Depending on the answer to that question will depend on the types of tools that you should implement within your community.

Develop a strategy based on the answers and discussions above. The research and discussions that will happen during the above steps will help to mold and shape your strategy.

Once your strategy is complete, discussions around an “internal build” or external Software as a Service (SaaS) provider partnership can be discussed. There are many schools of thought around this, but my thoughts are that if you do not have to reinvent the wheel, why try. There are many vendors out there that can assist in all aspects of your online community initiatives, so leverage them as much as possible.

Crawl before you walk, walk before you run. Do not overwhelm your community up front. Remember you never get a 1st chance to make a 2nd impression.

The most important aspects of any Social Media or Online Community initiative is to ask questions and begin the discussion with those key stakeholders that are familiar with these tools. Make sure to capture the dialogue that happens during these meetings, as it will be very insightful….and when in doubt, you have to go with what and how you feel. Decisions based on revenue generation can have  a detrimental effect on your community.

Thoughts? Obviously this is just scratching the surface on things to think about.