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The secret ingredients to a thriving membership community

There’s a lot more to building a successful membership community than simply installing forum software. To build a truly engaged community where members feel a sense of belonging and purpose, you need a strategy. You need to plan for success from the outset by establishing your goals and mapping out your customer journey before choosing a platform that enables your vision to become a reality.

Let’s start with the definition of a membership community that works – a community is a group of people driven by a common objective that interact regularly with one another. For brands, this objective will be closely associated with your value proposition, whether that’s to improve customer service through peer-to-peer support, empower customer success, or crowd-source the next great product idea.

Here are the top ten secret ingredients to such a community:

#1. Purpose

No successful membership community is without a sense of purpose. If all you do is give your customers a place to chat without any sense of direction, you’ll either quickly lose control over your community, or it will become a digital ghost town.

The very first step in building any online community is to determine its goal. Decide what sort of results you want to see from your community and which actions you want to encourage. Some communities are driven by multiple goals, such as enabling peer-to-peer customer support, boosting retention rates, or empowering customer success. You can then translate these goals into their value to your members and, in turn, into objectives that help deliver that value. A great community experience begins at the homepage, where new members are immediately made aware of the value of joining your community.

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#2. Belonging

Belonging is a fundamental human need and right. Yet in today’s often noisy and overcrowded world of social media, that sense of belonging is dwindling fast on the major social networks. A strong membership community is driven by a shared sense of purpose in which people are united under a common goal.

Every member of a successful brand community has something in common. It’s their shared passion in your products or services that brings them together and forms the foundations for lasting relationships and regular engagement. Real communities are human, driven by many conversations and the feeling of being part of a close-knit and exclusive club.

#3. Passion

Passion is one of the baseline ingredients of any community-based business. It helps breed authenticity and belonging. Also, it starts with the brand and the people behind it. That’s something that’s much harder to achieve for businesses that think of profits and customers in terms of transactions.

Many of the most successful brands are the result of passion. A community-driven brand is all about sharing that passion with others. In doing so, brand leaders can increase their industry authority and authenticity, forge genuine relationships and, ultimately, turn these traits into a healthy profit.

#4. Creativity

A brand membership community is all about the exchange of value between businesses and their customers. Also, it is about interactions between the customers themselves. Above all, your members want to feel gratified and entertained. Communities are all about user-generated content, or content that’s created by members rather than the brand itself. A strong community encourages this, even if the content in question isn’t always particularly favourable. 

A community that’s driven by creativity can become a hotbed for product ideation. By giving your members a say in the direction of your business, it’s quite possible that your next big idea for a new product or service will be born of your customer community.

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#5. Helpfulness

Most brand membership communities centre around customer success and support. Not only does this help reduce costs by deflecting customer support tickets – it also rewards people on both sides of the equation. When one person helps another, both parties feel better and more engaged. The feeling is a small yet it is meaningful on the basis of a strong and lasting relationship.

Successful communities reward their most helpful members with increased recognition. This might be something as simple as allowing members to upvote or ‘like’ constructive posts or highlighting the best user-generated content on the community homepage.

#6. Inspiration

Most of us long to break out of our habitual patterns. Curiosity is born from inspiration, and it’s something that makes people feel fulfilled. A great community inspires people to grow beyond themselves, while your brand serves as a guiding light. People love success stories that they can relate to, those which inspire them.

A close-knit, goal-driven community is the perfect place to tell those stories. Many successful brands focus heavily on inspiration to help customers get more out of their products or services and feel better in doing so. A membership community is the perfect venue for building and nurturing such inspiration.

#7. Culture

Culture refers to the set of norms and characteristics that unite a group of people. Just as civilisation began as small, isolated communities, brand membership communities can grow from small clubs to thriving groups of just about any size. One only needs to look at the cult following of a brand like Apple to see a perfect example of the role of culture in customer communities.

Your community culture should naturally align with the rest of your brand. 

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#8. Authenticity

With online privacy and security being among the biggest concerns of our times, people are far more wary about who they do business with. Thus, trust and authenticity have become key enablers of business success. They’re the traits that make a brand stand the test of time now that trust is in short supply. The so-called brand communities on major social networks often lack this authenticity simply because they’re often overcrowded, plagued by privacy concerns, and lacking in constructive participation.

An authentic community is one where the power is in the hands of its members. It’s a venue where brands aren’t afraid to surrender some control and where two-way conversation reigns supreme. These membership communities encourage a diverse range of opinions while working to establish a common ground. These are the relationships that breed authenticity.

#9. Engagement

Back to the topic of community goals, engagement refers to the activities members partake in to achieve your goals. Not every activity in a community carries the same weight, and different actions all have a different meaning and impact on the overall health of your community. That being said, high engagement rates generally do point to a healthy community.

A strong membership community might not necessarily see hundreds of new posts every day, but engagement rates should be reasonably consistent. If a regular visitor checks in one day to see that there are substantially fewer posts than normal, chances are they’ll start to worry that the community is dying. That’s why engagement rate is the most important metric of all to track. Community managers need to keep a close watch over engagement rates to monitor and uphold the health of their communities.

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#10. Usability

In these days of instant gratification, people aren’t getting any more patient. Even with the best intentions, a poor user experience will be detrimental to the entire community project. Things like clunky controls, unresponsive interfaces, and a lack of usability on the small screen will mean your community is dead on arrival.

While the success of any membership community hinges on the actions and characteristics of its members, the importance of the platform itself cannot be understated. Choose the wrong platform, and your community will never get off the ground. Get it right, and you’ll have the foundations in place to build and nurture superlative member experiences that keep people coming back for more.

Disciple social spaces help brands enjoy all the benefits of community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space that they own and control.

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