As a business, you have decided to engage more with your audience, and plan the community platform to follow through. But, how can you make sure you’re not left as the host of a party that no-one attends?Your planning starts with the needs of your audience.

There are two questions you have to ask yourself. First, do they need you at all? And second, if they do need you, what do they want?

Who needs you?

In this crowded digital world, there is no chance of a “me-too” community succeeding. If a community has already formed around your topic elsewhere, there’s no point in setting up another one. Not unless you can offer value that’s not available elsewhere.

That unique value might involve publishing great content to support and stimulate the conversation, or introducing important voices – perhaps specialist suppliers – into the conversation.

Or, it might involve creating a space where – perhaps because of the platform functionality, or because of the way it’s managed – it’s easier for the audience to do the things they want to do. Which leads us to the second question – what is it that they do want to do?

What do people want?

Does the audience need advice, or support, or knowledge, or friendship, or contacts or….? The list is endless. When we deal with people face to face, we can usually grasp what they want and need – using non-verbal signals as much as what they actually say. Face-to-face, we recognize that people are complex and may have a mix of needs – and if we’re smart we find ways of addressing them simultaneously.

But online, you can’t. Non-verbal signals can’t be seen, and the intuitive, open-ended approach to conversation tends not to work either. You have to be literal and simplistic in your planning.

Which is why it’s helpful to cut through the hundreds of possible motivations, and work with the four essential motivations in a community:

  • Completing a task – community of purpose
  • Connecting emotionally – community of circumstance
  • Fulfilling a need – community of practice
  • Sharing a passion – community of interest

When people take part in a community, one of these will be primary. Of course, people being the complex organisms they are, they’ll have secondary motivations too. But let’s stick with primary for the moment.

What do these phrases mean?

A community of purpose is a place people come to get something done.

This might mean getting help in configuring your computer; it might be a campaign group that’s trying to change the world, or a project team at work. What these have in common is that people join them to complete a task, and they want everything focused to get it done ASAP.

A community of circumstance is about connecting with people in the same life situation as oneself.

Alumni of a college, for example; or people suffering from a particular medical condition. Or it might be people planning to attend an event. The ties are emotional as much as practical, and the outcomes are very open.

A community of practice is about sharing knowledge. You need to learn how things are done, and want guidance from people who know. A student might want to know how to enter their chosen profession, and need mentoring; a teacher may want to share lesson plans.

A community of interest is all about the things we are passionate about – hobbies, social activities, interests, arts and spiritual groups. It’s where we come together with others who share that passion, and chew over what we’re planning, what we’ve done, what we know.

Your business community

Does your community audience fit into one of these primary categories? But planning a community with special value to that audience means paying attention to their secondary motivations too.

Take a customer community – the kind where you go when you need advice on getting your car to start. Your motivation is clear: you have a simple purpose. But what about the people who are so helpfully answering your queries – what are their motivations? They don’t care about getting your kids to school on time – but it could be that they are simply sharing their passion for the brand.

So, if you’re setting up a customer community for peer-to-peer problem-solving, you can’t just focus on satisfying the askers, but have to pay attention to the answerers. The community won’t work without them. You need to make them feel valued too.

And don’t forget that you, as owner of the community, will have your own motivations too – to reduce costs for your business, increase sales, raise your profile, support your brand, attract new prospects or whatever. Your motivations need to be put into the mix, but kept separate from the audience’s.

It may sound complex – but if you know the unique motivation profile of your community, the rest of the planning will follow and people will come.

If you want assistance with planning or sustaining your community, contact me or visit www.shilbrook.com.

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