Do online communities need a lot of extra resource?

Unless you’ve been running your own community for a while, you’re likely to have plenty of questions about the practicalities of setting one up. We’re frequently asked about resource requirements so here’s our honest reply.
Do online communities need a lot of extra resource?

If you’re thinking of setting up an online community, you’ll also be thinking about how it will be managed and whether you’ll need extra resources to cope.

Unfortunately when it comes to community resourcing there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; much depends on the type of community you’re setting up. If you’re thinking of a forum-style community - for example, for customer support questions - then the answer will be different than for someone looking for a content-led thought leadership community.

We’re experts in the latter (see here), so we’ve put together some key points to consider when planning resource needs for a content-led community.

1. An individual or a team needs to take responsibility for your community

Online communities are a brilliant way to unite your content; a place where you can create content and discussion on the exact topics that matter to you and your audience(s).

There is no question, however, that to do this well you do need a specific person (or people) to take ownership of your community. Whether that’s an existing resource, or someone new, will depend on your current organisational set up (see point two for more on this). This isn’t necessarily a full time role and could also be a shared responsibility, but the important thing is that someone manages it.

We’re so sure about this need for community ownership, that we don’t usually take on clients where this hasn’t been identified. Why? Because we know that the project won’t be successful without it.

Communities don’t thrive untended - it’s not an ‘if we build it, they will come’ scenario. A thriving community is created through a combination of strategy, content creation, relationship building, moderation, and promotion. In our experience, it’s important to have someone (or a team) responsible for ensuring those things happen.

The owner - whether they’re a full time community manager, or the community is part of their wider remit - drives the community strategy, engages expert content contributors, promotes the community to the right audience, creates engaging community activities or online events, and encourages and moderates conversation (or oversees the people doing these things to ensure they’re coordinated).

In addition to the owner, you need those expert content contributors I just mentioned. Just a few key ones to start with. Identifying these experts will depend entirely on your business, but they could (for example) be senior staff, engaged customers, membership committee members or event speakers. The important thing is that they’re people your audience will trust and want to learn from.

Finally, expect there to be some small time requirements for senior company stakeholders - at least at the start - to help give the community internal clout and the strategic direction it needs to ensure it’s properly aligned with wider business goals.

Putting in this effort up front is what will ensure the community delivers true business value.

2. You probably already have at least some of the resources you need

If you’ve already been blogging, creating or publishing content, or running social media accounts, then you’re going to have internal know-how for creating engaging content and fostering social interactions. The key with a community is bringing those things together.

For example, many of our publishing customers create communities around a particular journal or research topic. In those cases, often the journal editorial team(s) will take on responsibility for owning the community, as part of journal promotion activities.

The right person (or people) to take charge of the community will understand content production and strategy, have good relationships (or be able to build them) with the expert content creators, and will understand social media and promotional activities that boost engagement and interaction.

3. Resource input is balanced by creating efficiencies and realising new revenue

When working out resources needed for a community, don’t think of it as a one-way street. Well managed communities can create efficiencies within your communications processes, as well as offer new ways to realise revenue.

For a start, communities help you to consolidate communications with your stakeholders. Using the community features you can bring together your multiple channels of communications into one place and create a level of automation around content sharing.

We also know that the community model is effective for driving engagement. 88% of our customers agreed that their communities have helped them increase engagement with their audiences and grow customer loyalty.

In addition, many of our customers have found ways to drive new revenue from their communities, through sponsored content and advertising. Some have created entire sponsored communities. Take a look at these case studies from Future Science Group and Centaur Media, to get an idea of how they’ve done it.

4. Choosing the right platform will reduce resource demand

Choosing the right platform for your community has a big impact on how much resource is required. It’s important to understand the level of support the platform offers - not just from a technical perspective, but also in terms of advice and support in managing the community. Are you going to be working with people who know what you need to do to succeed?

With the right platform you can also reduce technical development and support time. For example, Zapnito offers a blend of content publishing, networking features, private discussion spaces, directories, automated emails, and more as standard. Developing these features in-house - potentially across multiple platforms - just isn’t necessary any more.

And on that note, it’s possible you won’t need as many different platforms to do the same job, which also creates cost savings.

So, to summarise - yes, your community will need resources assigned to it, but with the right people and platform it could help create efficiencies and drive new revenue.

If you’d like to discuss community resources and platform requirements in more detail, chat to one of our Solutions Executives.