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How to Take Your Online Community from Zero to Awesome

Growing a vibrant online community isn't an easy. That's why its so rewarding when it takes on a life of its own.

Eighteen months ago we began the process of building an online community at Eloqua. As the community manager, my mandate was to grow the community from scratch, keep members engaged, and make sure that the content was up-to-date. I had help from Jive Software and inspiring ideas from The Community Manager. But mostly, I found that trial and error were two good friends.

If you're delving into community management for the first time -- or if you're looking for a way to reinvigorate your current community -- consider one or more of these ideas below. They've worked well for us. I'm happy to report that our community is growing steadily with members helping members on a daily basis. It's an honor to watch it bloom and help so many people.

1. Make it Personal. Yes, our contracts are with other companies, but the day-to-day activities of doing business happen between real people. Embrace that! A breezy, personal tone helps people feel comfortable. One of the things I enjoy in our community is the funny status updates that people share. We encourage and celebrate these to keep the spirit of camaraderie going.

2. Play Matchmaker. Get to know some of your members, or at least a handful of your most active members so you can connect them to each other. Did Bob ask a question that you know Sally can answer? Do a virtual introduction to get the party started.

3. Bring in the Big Guns When Needed. Does your community have a heated or frustrated discussion going on? Bring in an exec or a subject matter expert from your organization to weigh in. Show your users that someone is listening and they’ll be back again. Shy away and they'll write you off.

4. Encourage Borderline People. (Wait...that doesn't sound quite right.) Points and status levels can be great motivators in your community. If a user is on the cusp of moving to the next status category, drop them a note and tell them exactly what they can do to move up. When they do, congratulate them or celebrate them publicly.

5. Inflate Your Points. Every few months we have a double points extravaganza. If you normally award 50 points for starting a discussion, make it 100 for a two week period. This is a great way to help your "borderline" people move up and get a sense of accomplishment as well.
What ideas have worked well for you and your community? I'd love to try one of your suggestions.

Do you have any community manager pointers? Share them with us in the comments below.

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