Why Your Company’s Online Forum Doesn’t Have Enough Members

When people are your most important asset, establishing a presence within a large, thriving community becomes essential to your bottom line. In the digital world, that means taking after the likes of Reddit and Stack Exchange to foster discussion and collaboration with your target audience.

Online communities are simultaneously easier and more difficult to locate now that almost any person can create one. The best access point to your audience may or may not already exist; but it requires a significant amount of energy to find out.

At Boone Group, we have seen several large organizations attempt to engineer a community that will attract their target customers. Pharmaceutical companies are perhaps the best example, engineering large online platforms to serve as a hub for patients with a given disease. Despite fairly substantial investments in these “artificially” constructed online communities, most are languishing under a lack of attention and traffic.

Why is Reddit so difficult to replicate?

To find out, we took a look at some of the most successful online communities and identified the following key attributes contributed to their success.

Successful Online Communities Have

  1. A THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE

One of the greatest challenges when designing content for a target audience is understanding how they think. If you can correctly identify the issues your audience is concerned about, and offer them a meaningful place to discuss it, you’re more likely to have a lively forum.

2. AN EFFECTIVE, USER FRIENDLY INTERFACE

A clunky interface is a deterrent. People have enough options for how to spend time online that they don’t want to spent hours — or even minutes — trying to figure out how to post a comment. In our study, sites that made information easy to find, and content easy to interact with, were more likely to retain users.

3. TOPIC SCREENING AND EDITORIAL INFLUENCE

According to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, content curation played a crucial role in Reddit’s development. Strange or off-topic discussions on a forum can clutter the interface and prevent people from finding valuable content within the site.

4. REWARDS FOR ENGAGEMENT

One of the reasons My Starbucks Idea has been so successful is that the company publicly selects ideas from the forum and implements them. As the tracker on the website indicates, 1,111 ideas have been implemented to date. Users are more likely to engage if they perceive something meaningful will come of it.

5. AUTHENTICITY

The most important attribute of an online community is a genuine, authentic passion for a given subject area. When asked what made Reddit so successful, co-founder Alexis Ohanian describes his recipe in simple terms: “we have a damn.”

He continues, “If users see how much the staff cares, they’ll care too. This especially mattered when someone didn’t have a great experience. A free shirt, stickers, poster, or postcard signed by the team pays dividends far bigger than their cost and some postage. People are generally so abused by companies that it doesn’t take much to exceed expectations.”

How Your Company Can Replicate Reddit

Tapping into an online community is an excellent way to connect with customers, identify talent, and cultivate creative ideas. However, creating your own online platform isn’t always the best way to make these types of connections.

At Boone Group, we craft strategies to help companies and organizations send clear signals through the cluttered digital landscape to attract the people and ideas they need. Oftentimes this involves strategic partnerships with online communities.

Click here to learn how Boone can help your company build an online community.