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Online communities; Know who your stakeholders are

November 29, 2006

I’ve been moderating forums for the past couple years. Most of them have been successful ventures. But this would depend on how you define success? As of this writing, I run two different online forums at Xing.com– a social networking site for business professionals . I run a forum for Entrepreneurs and another for marketing professionals. One has over 2000 members and the other has over 400 members, respectively.

I don’t run these online forums to gain knowledge. At least, that isn’t my main objective. My primary goal to joining a business focused social networking site like Xing.com is to find business contacts. I find that running an online forum helps me achieve this objective at a much faster pace.

This is the typical motive for most moderators. When faced with the opportunitiy to increase our exposure, we would jump at the chance of having our own community. While this isn’t a bad motivation per se, I find that most owners of an online community fail to realize what type of work is involved in running one. And more imporantly, they fail to realize who is involved as well. The who is just as important as the what.

When running an online community, you need to know who your stakeholders are and what is important to them. In my siituation, there are three stakeholders involved in running an online forum. There is the founder, the co-moderators, and the general membership. The needs of all three stakeholders must be satisfied in order for the online community to continue to flourish. The needs of my co-moderators are most likely the same as mine– to find and develop new business contacts and contracts. The needs of the membership is most likely to engage in healthy discussion and gain knowledge related to the forum at hand. Between myself and my moderators, we all know how to engage and raise the participation of the forum. In the case of my forum, The Entrepreneurs Playground, it is consistently ranked as one of the top 7 busiest forums for English speaking professionals on Xing.

Having moderated successful forums in the past, I’d rank myself as being in the top 20 percent of network leaders who know how to run busy and successful forums. It’s no easy task, mind you. I’ve seen people moderate forums who could serve their own needs but couldn’t satisfy the needs of their community. And yet, I’ve seen other moderators serve the needs of their community very well, but go broke doing so because they couldn’t satisfy their own needs. I’ve seen discussions where moderators bragg that he has given so much of himself while not getting much in return. Note to readers who are thinking about building their own online community– don’t follow this model. Think win/win. It’s ok for you to benefit from your forum. It’s ok to use it as a proxy or vehicle for your own business needs. But before you do that, learn to identify the stakeholders involved and what their needs are. Once you identify the stakeholders involved, work out a win/win model whereby everyone involved is happy.

A thriving and flourishing community is one where people are involved, engaged, and connected to each other. The absence of this can often be traced back to the beginning where the owners of the community didn’t outline who the stakeholders are and how to best satisfy their needs.

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H. Dean

Owner and Google and Facebook Ads strategist for Sachi Studio. Currently accepting new clients. Contact me on how to improve your lead generation strategy.

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