Online communities such as forums, chat rooms, social networks, and blogs thrive in the internet. People use these places to hang out virtually, meet friends, make virtual talk, gain information, and generally feel at home. Major online communities such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Delicious, to name a few, are inhabited by millions of subscribers on a 24×7 basis.

For business owners, here are several reasons why building your own forum or online community is good for your business:

1. It serves as a channel for product or business announcements.

2. It provides a venue for customer feedback, complaints, and business-related issues and questions.

3. It provides your business wider exposure to your industry, business partners, customers and other stakeholders.

How to Build Your Own Online Community

When you finally decide to build your business online community, here are some guidelines that you can follow:

1. Determine the kind of online community that you wish to build. Is it a forum, a Facebook business page, a Twitter page, or a combination of either of these?

2. Identify your business goal for your online community. Is it meant for customer service only, or as part of a marketing strategy, or to aggressively generate more sales?

3. Identify the leadership structure of your community. Who will act as administrators, forum moderators, stewards, and the like?

4. Setup your policy on membership sign-ups, roles and responsibilities in the community.

5. Setup your security, privacy and “Terms of Use” policies.

6. Establish your conflict resolution procedures.

7. Determine the hardware and software to be used in building your community.

8. Design the overall look-and-feel and visible interface of your community. What colors, themes, banners, and layout to use, among others.

How to Sustain Online Communities with Email Marketing

While most of the communication that take place in online communities are through direct posts, tweets and updates, email also plays a major role in keeping the communication channels open. In fact, the growth of the business’ online community should be supported by an effective email marketing campaign. Email should be integrated with the rest of your marketing activities to keep the online community thriving and growing. The email campaign is one of a few tools that can really flow seamlessly into every aspect of your online community.

Here are some ways to use email to sustain your community:

1. Hold important real-time online events or live chats and send out email announcements of the scheduled event.

2. Make a compilation of the most popular forum topics and threads and email them to the community.

3. Circulate e-bulletin board announcements through email.

4. Email regular blog updates.

5. Send out an email newsletter on a regular basis.

The value proposition of online communities is the wealth of information that is shared with each and every member. Email marketing campaigns reach out to all members of the community regardless of where they are. Every member gets the message right at their mailboxes.

Your email marketing campaign sustains the interest in your community. Not all members can participate actively and regularly in your community, but email messages keep them frequently in touch and updated.

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