One of the tasks I’ve set for myself this year is to develop a more pro-active community engagement plan. I’ve been tackling community engagement in kind of an ad hoc fashion up to now, so want to start the year with a more systematic approach.
So, here’s what I’ve come up with as the major components of an online community engagement plan:
1) Profile the community.
Who are the people that make up the community? Can they be grouped into major categories? How do the groups differ from one another? How big are they? Where are they located? What are their needs? Some of this is already in place, so shouldn’t be too time consuming to come up with.
2) Where are they already engaged?
This isn’t a startup — PKP has been engaging with the community for several years, so we have some evidence of where people are at. It would be better to build on existing relationships rather than trying to build new ones from scratch. This will involve an analysis of what we are already doing.
3) Identify existing ambassadors.
Who in the community is already close to us? What can we do to sustain them, and replicate their higher level of participation in others? A review of our existing relationships should reveal this.
4) What does the community need from us?
What are they looking for? What would make their lives easier? This can be done through an analysis of our existing communication tools (e.g., support forum), but also through conversations with community members.
5) What are our goals?
Why do we want to engage with our community? Do these goals support the broader goals of the organization (e.g., sustainability, growth, fulfilling the mandate, etc.)? It sounds obvious, but I think it is important to spell this out. I’ve got a fairly good idea of the answer to this one, but want to spend some time thinking it through and reflecting on my assumptions.
6) Identify new areas of engagement.
Based on the above steps, what more could be done? What has worked for other projects? Can some existing areas be strengthened or tweaked to be more effective? Are there some new things we could be doing to solidify our community relationships? This step will involve a review of the previous steps as well as a literature review to spark ideas about the positive experiences others have had. Learning from the successes (and mistakes!) of others is a cost-effective way to proceed here.
7) Develop a system for ongoing evaluation.
There needs to be a system that provides feedback on when things are no longer working, and to constantly be uncovering new opportunities for deeper engagement. It can be very easy to slip into complacency and overlook emerging possibilities. I’m not quite sure what this will look like yet, but it is an important step to moving from a reactive position to a more pro-active one. I’m hoping to find some inspiration in my literature review here too!
Interestingly, this isn’t a shopping list of new technologies to acquire. Instead, it is a list of tasks to determine goals, uncover needs, fill needs, and build relationships. No doubt technology will enter into the details, but only in the service of building human relationships, not the other way ’round. I can understand the temptation to see this as a technology problem, and to jump into a process of software evaluation. In many ways, that would be much, much easier. Instead, this is going to take a great deal more investigation and reflection, with fewer simple, straight-forward answers.
If I’ve missed anything, I’d be grateful for any pointers. Otherwise, I’ll start to work through each step in more detail in subsequent posts, and relate my own experiences about what worked and what failed.