The theme of this past week’s #CMGRClass was “Listening to Your Audience or Community.” In Buzzing Communities, Richard Millington talks about the crucial need to understand key aspects of a community and its members, including
- who its members are and what they do (“who”);
- the social media platform platforms used by members (“where” and “how”);
- the knowledge base, edges, and gaps of members (“what”);
- the issues cared about by members (“what” and “why”); and
- the motivations and aspirations of members (“why”).
These community characteristics will help drive the determination of its audience, tools, content, and more. In his book, Millington says, “The important step is to understand what members want and know how to take that information and apply it to practical activities within the community.” In other words, knowing the “five Ws” “four Ws and the H” will better inform the delivery of effective content and assist in its application to audience engagement.
Another quote from Millington particularly struck me: “Too many communities launch and then struggle to grow their audience, attract members, and sustain high levels of participation.” He goes on to explain two possible causes, an inaccurate concept resulting in a meager audience, or lack of engagement by existing community members.
Reflecting on these concepts, I couldn’t help but relate them to experience with a local non-profit organization that I nearly wrote about last week, but edited out for length. In my discussion of the differences between social media management and community management, I characterized Upstate New Yorkers for Nebraska as an accidental community, but originally had also classified the Junior League of Syracuse as a reluctant community.
Case study: The Junior League of Syracuse
The Junior League of Syracuse, Inc. (JLS) is a volunteer-based women’s leadership development and community impact organization. As part of its overall communications strategy, the JLS has slowly waded into an increasing number of online outlets and now has a blog and a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Storify, Pinterest, and Instagram. The JLS has multiple audience segments for its social network sites, including current and potential members, community partners (e.g., local not-for-profit organizations) and supporters.
I manage the JLS’ social media sites and am occasionally stymied with audience response to posts, particularly from members. The JLS is in the business of doing good: delivering training and education opportunities to allow its members to develop as civic leaders, and collaborating with other non-profits on efforts that promote health and wellness for at-risk families. To raise funds for its mission, the JLS holds an annual holiday market, Holiday Shoppes. When reviewing recent engagement on the JLS’ Facebook page, I realized that the highest degree of engagement had to do with Holiday Shoppes, not mission-critical activities like its member development programs or community partnerships, because it was a shared experience across all audience segments.
The Path Forward
About a year and a half ago, the JLS brought in as member training a Junior League-affiliated speaker. Janet Wieland of Solutions Provided identified volunteer organizations as a prospective “third place”. This term was coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1999 book The Great Good Place to characterize locations where people gather outside the traditional environments of their homes and workplaces (the first and second places, respectively). Janet challenged the JLS to make itself a third place, meeting not only the social needs of its members, but also delivering a sense of personal fulfillment.
This week I was struck by how Janet’s challenge can extend beyond the physical spaces in which the JLS operates to its online communities as well. If its community managers can listen to members – understanding the platforms they use, the issues they care about, their aspirations to help build a better Syracuse – the JLS’ online communities have an opportunity to become more vibrant and fulfilling to members.