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Online Communities for Business: A Growing Idea (Part 2 of 2)


Last week... you read about participation in proprietary communities hosted on organizations' web sites. This week... we continue our series on communities by discussing getting maximum value from communities.

While there is a place for both public and private communities, the proprietary ones have some specific benefits, says Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland, a research lead at Frost & Sullivan and group manager for the 4000-member Association for Strategic Planning group on LinkedIn. A cohesive group of like-minded individuals with shared expertise will gain more value from participation in a closed community that caters to their specific interests.

Regardless of the type of community you choose, there are important best practices that will ensure your experience is valuable enough to keep you coming back and participating.

Getting Maximum Value From Communities
A big value of community interaction is the ability to learn about new perspectives and insights from others in your field. Participation also allows you to build your own credibility and demonstrate your expertise.

While your active participation in an online community is important, initially you will want to listen and learn. What are the key topics being discussed and what might you be able to add to the conversation?

Make sure to read and follow the community rules which explain what is and is not allowed; for instance, blatant marketing of products or services or excessive self-promotion is often frowned upon.

Don't be discouraged, says Lyke-Ho-Gland, if you aren't getting responses to your comments right away. "People aren't going to react for a while," she says. "It takes months before people will actually respond to anything."

Anthony Vlahos is Chief Marketing Officer at ExecuNet and stresses that it is the role of the community manager to shape the conversations and inspire action. A good manager will "inflame the group in a good way," he says. "They'll tell them about something that matters to them, then listen to whatever they say."

It takes time, but the effort expended can be well worth the value received. Communities, whether online or off, are really all about interacting with other people. The more you reach out to connect and share, the richer the experience will be.

"The humanity counts for everything," says Vlahos. "Get in there personally and invite people to participate and share their insights."