When you set out to build an expert community, you know what you want to achieve at the end of it: a community that engages with each other, your content and your advertisers. You also know that process starts with a solid community platform, and excellent content to share on it.
So, you’ve got your A, and your Z – but how do you get from one to the other? You already know that great content isn’t enough to create a community on its own – otherwise your publications would already have a thriving scene around the open access content you publish. What is it that you need to bring your community together and create something truly exciting?
In our last blog, we explained how a thriving expert community is all about chemistry: it’s bringing different elements together to get a reaction. Here, we’re going to show you how you can use your community building platform to make that happen: sparking better engagement, increased retention and diverse new revenue streams for your business.
If you want to discover more incentives for starting your expert community (and some tips on making it a success), take a look at A Publisher’s Guide to Expert Communities.
Showcase the calibre of your contributors: utilise expert and company profiles
STM professionals join expert communities because they want access to their peers and high-level experts in their field. For this to be immediately obvious to members in your community, you need to provide an easy way for people to see your authors and the value they bring to the community.
Encourage your authors to complete profiles showcasing their expertise: the more they can share, the better. By collecting their contributions in one place and tagging relevant topics of interest, these profiles will provide a clearer picture of who they are and what they can bring to the community.
Keep your community feeling fresh and current: share reactive multimedia content
A community isn’t a publication: it needs to be fast moving and reactive to feel like a living, breathing community – and not just an extension of your STM titles. Quick-turnaround multimedia content is a good way to achieve this, and it doesn’t need to be perfect or overly polished: if anything, the more authentic it feels, the better.
For instance, if you can record video directly to the platform, why not encourage authors to submit a short conversation starter around their open access articles? They could explain their research process in more detail, reach out to other authors for input, or simply instigate the conversation they want to see around their submission.
You can see how Springer Nature approached this with their ‘Behind the Paper’ series in our case study.
Encourage interaction: utilise networking features
One of the main benefits of joining an expert STM community is networking. It allows your members to connect with peers anywhere, at any time, removing geographical barriers to collaboration.
Your platform’s networking features – like content sharing, directory tools, and expert profiles – should allow you to highlight your experts and encourage interaction between them, creating space around content for conversation. This shouldn’t begin and end with the comments function: a successful community will build bridges between authors and members, with dedicated spaces for conversations on specific topics or for smaller groups of members. Video panels are also a good way to bring smaller groups together in one place.
Give people a reason to interact: Host virtual events on the platform
Hosting an event is a great community icebreaker. A webinar or expert panel around a specific topic or collection of content is a good way to introduce new people to the community, and to get any inactive community ‘lurkers’ actively engaging with each other. Embedding events within the community, instead of hosting them elsewhere, will make the transition from the event to community collaboration seamless: conversations can easily spin off from the event, with sub-topics naturally springing up as a result.
Create a space with character: make full use of branding and customisation
Your community’s look and feel is key to making members feel like they are part of your brand, and not just a ‘reader’. You’re essentially creating a room (or more accurately, lots of rooms) that are an extension of your brand: customisation is key to giving your community space that sense of expertise and gravitas that make your publications a must-read for the STM community. Having the ability to create co-branded spaces in your community is also a great way to add value to your advertisers, without losing the trust of your members or diluting the impartiality of your open access content.
While most community building platforms give you the ability to customise, not all provide the design services to make it easy. If you want to keep every part of the community building process in one place (and get some external help with your design) choose a platform like Zapnito that has this feature built in. A community that feels ‘off the shelf’ won’t spark the same engagement as one that feels bespoke to you and your members.
Give tangible value to members: Create learning and development tools
Similar to virtual events, online learning hubs and resources are a good way to entice new members to your community, and to retain existing members by boosting engagement. It’s one way to showcase the quality of your experts and to deliver a clear, tangible takeaway for members. Again, these learning tools should go beyond surface content, as chances are your members can find that information elsewhere. Instead, it should be expert led, multimedia-rich and collaborative, offering an online classroom experience more than a one-way virtual lecture.
Creating a community is the easy part: making it a thriving, collaborative space is more complicated. But with the right platform, and the right approach to using it, you can create a richer experience for your members and your authors that promotes engagement. To find out more about making your ideas for your STM community a reality, book a discovery call with one of our community building experts to learn how to use Zapnito’s features to bring your vision to life.