How Online Communities Can Help Develop Your Audience

Online professional communities represent a terrific opportunity for forming new professional relationships and extending existing ones. The value of bringing people together from all over the world is obvious in terms of sharing of knowledge and building of relationships. With the web, technology has allowed the creation of a brand new type of relationship.

Geography is no longer the barrier to building relationships that it once was.
Geography is no longer the barrier to building relationships that it once was.

Online peer communities may be built around a profession, a geographic community, or common interests. With professional online communities, the power of a network can drive traffic, audience, and revenue development. Online professional communities and online news sites can help develop your audience; an audience that provides real value, and can leverage this community for professional placement by including custom job boards on their websites.

Sharing Professional Knowledge Appropriately

With any online community, members, site owners, and moderators need to create and sustain an environment where knowledge transfer takes place. For example, professionals with knowledge about a profession’s prospects in a particular geographic region can help other professionals plan their careers more effectively. When online communities are lovingly tended to and built based on certain rules (such as never sharing company confidential information), beneficiaries can include website owners, community members, and the profession itself.

Building Trust

Online communities are ultimately fueled by a strong imperative for the sharing of information, and with an online professional community, building trust is critical. This is in some ways more difficult online because the web applies a layer of anonymity, even in thriving personal interest-based social networks like Facebook. Fortunately, even large online communities can thrive and provide a safe place for sharing of knowledge. Many of these larger online communities help people solve problems with assistance from people who have been there.

Social Design and Technical Design

Audience development through the creation and sustenance of an online network is based on both social design and technical design. Technical offerings should be geared toward the needs and goals of the community. For example, if documents are shared frequently, the site should have an easy document sharing feature. Socially, it’s important to anticipate member needs before those needs become problematic. Some online communities, for instance, may require more moderation than others. Address social needs and technical needs, and you go a long way toward ensuring a thriving online community.

Online communities are built with both technological and social facilitation.
Online communities are built with both technological and social facilitation.

Three Basic Types of Online Communities

With profession-based online communities, it can be helpful to consider what the primary purpose of the community is. In general, there are three basic community types: information dissemination communities, professional collaboration communities, and ”shop talk” communities. Information dissemination communities may grow large, but they are less likely to develop trust problems or need a lot of hand holding because they’re mostly about sharing information.

On the other hand, professional collaboration communities may be smaller, and may need a greater level of trust to develop in order to thrive. Professional collaboration communities online may be integrated into work life, and can provide a sense of belonging. These communities may require a higher degree of moderation for success.

Online ”shop talk” communities can grow into a powerful resource over time. Members may feel more comfortable getting to know each other as they trade war stories and experiences. In order to thrive, however, these communities often need active moderation, at least at first, until member-to-member responses become the accepted norm.

Transparency Is Critical

When online communities are ostensibly created for information sharing, but the community creator actually has sponsor-driven motives, serious problems can arise. A website owner or sponsor may not be candid about such relationships, and the community almost always figures it out and rebels. If you’ve ever read a discussion thread on Reddit after a particularly popular post is found to be surreptitiously placed by a consumer brand, you know just how much reputational damage a lack of transparency can cause, and just how quickly it occurs.

Conclusions

Online communities, whether based on an industry, a profession, or simple shared interests, are one of the greatest things about the Internet. Relationships form that would not have formed otherwise, and information can be shared that otherwise may not have been shared. Developing a thriving online community on your niche website, local broadcasting site, or your online newspaper can be one of the best ways to encourage long term traffic, audience, and revenue development. At RealMatch, we’re ready to help you develop your audience and alternative revenue plan, with custom job boards that can be custom designed to meet the needs of your particular online community.

Photo Credits: bplanet/freedigitalphotos.net, renjith krishnan/freedigitalphotos.net

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