Over the last few years, I have helped deploy a lot of private social networks. As I watched more and more networks setup, a pattern for success began to emerge. With this information, my colleagues and I developed a workbook to help organizations create a successful strategy for setting up a private social network.
First, it must be established that there is a need for a private social network. Then it’s important to design a strategy that will work for your organization using the resources that you have available.
I have refined the process into the following steps:
- Understand your audience
- Define success for your organization
- Define success for your members
- Choose an area of focus
- Gather your beta team
- Define your deadlines
Understand your audience
Defining your audience will help you focus your efforts. You need to understand who it is that would be looking for the information on your network. This will help you set up something that will be useful to your membership. Understanding your audience is needed to inspire them to further connect and engage with you.
“The secret to all social media marketing, whether it’s as an author, a business or an expert is knowing who you are talking to, why they may want to pay attention and what they are interested in.” – Linda Parkinson-Hardman
Define success for your organization
Success for an organization is different than success for the membership. For example, success for your organization might be to grow your membership. Whereas, a successful network for a member might be the ability to share and access files online. Defining success helps focus your efforts so that you don’t waste time on features that aren’t needed.
Define success for your members
Take a moment to imagine what’s in it for your members. In fact, take more than a moment. This part is crucial. What do you want your online community to do? Would your members benefit from being able to break out into groups? From sharing and accessing files? From the ability to get help from peers? Use this information to build a network that gives real value to your membership.
“If you’re looking to increase engagement, the question you should answer is: How can we continue to strive for meaning? At its core, social media is about making a real connection with something you care about. And it’s about building communities — which really means building relationships…” – Sheena Medina, community manager at Fast Company
Choose an area of focus
Once you’ve defined your audience and the goals for both your organization and your membership, it’s time to pull the information together and decide how to set up your community in the most useful and efficient way. For example, would it be better to create a networking environment or build a resource hub?
Creating a networking environment has a very different focus than building a resource hub. When you create a networking environment, you want to focus on making it easy for members to find and communicate with each other. When you create a resource hub, you want to focus on making information easy to find. Both might be important at some point in time, but it’s best to focus on one thing, and then massage your strategy as you learn more.
“What it takes to make a successful internal social network, they say, is strategic planning, careful follow-through and a willingness to change direction as your users show you how they want to use the tools you’re giving them.” – Build a private social network that employees will actually use
Gather your beta team
When starting a new community (or even a workgroup within the community), it is advisable to start with a “beta” team of users. Beta users are initial people you invite in to provide feedback, discover problems, or identify changes that should be put in place prior to a full launch.
Define your deadlines
Defining your deadlines will help you focus your efforts and ensure that you don’t miss out on any natural opportunities to promote your network. Are there any upcoming conferences? Training sessions? Are there any trending topics? New legislation to learn about? Creating a list of deadlines not only makes prioritizing easier, but it also helps you to take advantages of more opportunities to offer value to your users.
We will go through each step of the engagement process in more detail in subsequent blog posts. Stay tuned!
This is really helpful!
And it begs the next question: once we have are community portal set up, how do we bring people into the community? What is the difference between communities that take off and those that fizzle?
It’s a great question. I helped over 40 non profits design, set up, and run private social networks. And the answer is – there has to be a need for the network to begin with… a compelling reason why people would want to interact with each other. And… you can design engagement to a point.
Here’s an article about how to do that: http://www.lisettesutherland.com/2013/06/epic-brainstorming-and-idea-connection/
My #1 tip if you’re building an online community: hire a community manager in the beginning to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. Building community takes time, attention, and care.