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evaluate microscopeYou know that there is serious value in a community. It’s why you’re reading this in the first place. Chances are that you’re active in at least one online community; you’ve seen the value that effective and clear communication can bring to the table. Maybe you’ve tried to bring some of that value to your own brand by setting up a community on a traditional social networking platform, maybe you’re looking for a way to get started. There’s good news here: you’ve come to the right place.

But, hold on for just a second before you jump into something just because everyone’s doing it. Put some serious thought into the following 5 questions to ask about your community – or potential community – today.

1.       Are Distractions Hindering My Efforts?

Where is your community hosted? This is one of the single most important questions related to online community building. If you’ve gone with one of the more “traditional” social networks – you know what I’m talking about here – you might think you’re fine.

What are your followers faced with upon logging in? Information that relates to your brand alone? Or, a compilation of posts, advertisements and photos from friends that have nothing to do with you or the information you’re trying to promote. In traditional social networking, this can’t be avoided; these networks are built to connect users from all over the place with each other and hundreds – or thousands – of brands.

If your answer to this question is yes, it might be time to look into something more, something that offers a deeper, distraction-free social experience, like Social HubSite.

2.       Do My Community Members Have a Chance to Connect with My Brand?

Just because you have a social presence doesn’t mean your members are able to connect with you or your brand. Offering special coupons and promotions are great, but they don’t open up the door for communication. In what way are you personalizing member experiences? Are you welcoming new members individually? What about taking the time to answer personalized questions in a public forum? If not, these steps should be considered today; your community should be about connections.

3.       Are My Community Members Truly Engaged?

Engagement is more than a “follow” or a “like.” Engagement means that your members come to your community with purpose on a regular basis – that it is engrained into their routine in a way that can’t be forgotten when a new trend comes their way. Engagement is a serious commitment that leads to big things: conversions and growth being just two of them.

To measure engagement, think about your community. Think hard. Do your members go out of their way to start conversations, even if you’re not involved? Do they connect with each other and share information that relates to your industry or brand, that other members might find interesting? Do they comment meaningfully on information you share? Do they invite their friends? You want these answers to be yes. If they are no, you might be lacking engagement, meaning it’s time to try something new.

4.       Am I Doing My Part to Encourage Participation?

Maybe engagement and participation could use a little work after what you’ve learned from number 3. That’s okay, we’ve all been there. It takes work on your end – or the skills of a community manager with experience promoting engagement – to make it work.

What are a few ways you could encourage engagement? It doesn’t have to be hard: what about encouraging members to share testimonials? How about introducing members that have a specific need to other members that could fulfill that need (even if your brand has nothing to do with it). What about highlighting community members or thanking those who go above and beyond to participate in your online community? Maybe hosting a contest? By encouraging members to participate, especially in the beginning, you’re making it more likely that they’ll continue to do so in the future without being prompted. This is essential.

5.       Am I Investing Enough Time Into My Community?

Here’s the thing. As much as social media networks and platforms would like you to believe it, a successful, thriving community is not a post-and-go, or once-and-done situation. Just because you create a branded page or profile doesn’t mean users are going to flock to it, like it, share it and visit your website. It just doesn’t happen like that.

Just like real-world relationships, online community-based relationships take time and effort, especially on your part. Part of each day should be set aside to read up on what information your community members are interested in, to create content that appeals to them, to start conversations and to reply to inquiries and questions. Don’t worry, it can become a part of your routine that is rewarding and enjoyable, but first, it starts with a commitment.

Not sure if you’re ready? Look for a community manager that can work with your brand to help you achieve your goals. Social HubSite allows this add-on for companies looking to get started but unsure of how to make it happen. We get it: for a community to work, it takes time and there are only so many hours in the day.

Regardless of which route you chose, understanding that a thriving community requires a serious time investment is critical for success.

Take the time to consider the 5 questions above today. You community matters – your brand might depend upon it. Are you doing everything you can to make your community the best that it can be? If not, take steps to make a change and put a strategy in place. You can breathe life back into your brand, the time to act is now.

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