In this post I explained what specific needs member fulfil in an online community. Information seeking, relationship building, helping others, self-expression et cetera are some examples of needs that members satisfy in online communities. With the corresponding Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model, that I designed and showed you, we could clearer see the importance of these needs. I also discussed how brands can foster and sustain engagement in their online communities, by describing a three-stage process that managers can use to turn their community members into highly engaged contributors. I emphasized the importance of encouraging content creation and co-creation among members. Creating enjoyable experiences for your members is also an important element.
In this post, I like to translate all of this into a concrete advice for non-profit organizations. What should be the content of your online community if you want to turn it into a lively, vibrant place where your target group will show sustainable engagement?
The following posts will be quite focused on UNICEF in specific, but I am convinced any non-profit organization can learn something from the insights provided.
The target group (young generation) that UNICEF is aiming to target with its possible community are in general quite individualistic: very focused on their own. They have a hedonistic attitude: they want enjoyment, experience and fun. At the same time they are very ambitious and career-driven. They have a relatively positive attitude towards non-profit organizations, but only support them if they get an ‘experience’ in return. They want to get the feeling that they contribute(d) to a better world. They seek transparency and want to see the effect of their support/donated money.
So what should be your community about if you target these people? How can you engage this somewhat restless, individualistic generation? What could be the main elements if you want to turn them into engaged members?
I asked the community experts and managers to share their thoughts with me. I got a huge amount of concrete ideas and suggestions on the content of a possible community for UNICEF. Some experts said it is better to first take other steps before deciding on the content. So, before I start with giving a concrete advice on the content for a possible community, I would like to go over the steps that need to be taken first according to the consulted experts.
First things first
Community consultant and market researcher Wim Woning thinks “it is crucial to first find out what your target group really likes, before even considering about the content. What do they enjoy talking about? What makes them enthusiastic? What (child-related) development issues do they care most about? You could do this with a market research or just simply with trial and error approach. Poll some discussions on Facebook and see what works and what doesn’t. Learn from that and then start decide on the content of your community”.
Axel Schultze (founder Social Media Academy) confirms Wim’s opinion with his answer and adds: it is first important to ask your target group what they think and how they can see themselves engage. But first, it is important to have a grand vision for your community. He advises non-profit organisations to use the following strategy model:
- Social media monitoring and sentiment analysis/opinion mining (determine attitude of the target group);
- Identifying interests, needs and wants;
- Full audience assessment;
- Purpose definition and vision (objectives);
- Engage and figure out what and how they want it;
- Build a strategy together with your constituencies to all this (the bigger the group the more complex its organization);
- Create an execution plan to do what is really needed.
Jake McKee (chief innovation officer) thinks it all starts with understanding what the objectives are that you are trying to support by putting the community in place. “As you think about your overarching goal (creating sustainable relationships with the younger generation), think about what that really means: do you want to have young people understand issues better? Do you want them to take a specific action? Do you want them to participate in a certain way? What does your top 2-3 priority list look like? You need to find out what the specific behaviour change is that you are looking to achieve. For instance, I have to assume that “building relationships” isn’t an end; it’s just a means to an end. Are they trying to get young people to do something? Are they trying to get more volunteers? More donations? Something else? Non-profit organizations should first make this clear before considering about the content”.
Robert Jan Droogleever (online community expert) thinks it might be relevant to first find out what these people think about your organizations. “What is the current brand image that UNICEF has among this target group? What is the first thing that comes to their minds when they think of UNICEF? If you know this, you will know what you should change or improve. Then, you really need to find out what these people would like to see on your community. Just simply ask them for their opinion on platforms like Facebook. Poll a panel and give them options to choose from”.
Business coach Ian Dickson thinks non-profit organizations should first decide on which groups in this segment they want to focus on. “Community is about focus. The world is full of well meaning “communities for young people” that have failed miserably. Mainly through lack of focus, which wastes resources? Decide which young people matter to you, based around their common interests, and start from there. For example: young people with social problems, young people and volunteering, young people and politics/education/football etc. In that way you might do something useful. But “all young people” is a waste of your time. Between 18 and 30 years of age you go from school to university, or you find a job. Your career starts to fly, or fails. You rent/buy a place to live. You find love and have kids, or not. A wide community aimed at that group, even when chopped into a few segments, it will fail”.
Analysis and discussion of the results:
It is clear that non-profit organizations will first need to do some extra research before deciding on the content of their possible community. As could be seen in my decision matrix, I advised non-profits to first do an external analysis in which they clearly analyse their target group. It looks like this is confirmed by the opinions of the experts that I mentioned above. The group high-educated, young people in the age group 18-30 might be too broad. UNICEF or other non-profits that target this group could, as Ian Dickson advises: segment this group according to some interests, characteristics or other factors they have in common. Then, the specific needs and interests of these groups could be identified. Once this is clear, it should be easier to decide upon the content of the community.
Although it is clear that non-profits will first need to take some other steps before deciding on the content, I do want to give some concrete advices. As stated before before, I got a huge amount of concrete ideas and suggestions from the leading experts/community managers regarding the content for a possible community for UNICEF. Based on their suggestions, the theory I found and my observations of existing brand communities (both commercial and non-commercial) I came to the conclusion that there are three different types of communities (content-related) that could serve UNICEF’s (and possibly other non-profits’) intention. Of course, there are many other possibilities, but this is what most experts and managers agreed upon:
- Option 1: A crowdsourcing (co-creation) community on which (young) people can share innovative ideas, suggestions and initiatives to help UNICEF in creating a better world for children.
- Option 2: An online community where students/young professionals can come to network, discuss and talk about child-related development issues.
- Option 3: An online community on which (young) people can get inspired by reading about new fund raising actions undertaken by others or UNICEF. They can also share the charity work that they are doing (whether or not it involves UNICEF).
UNICEF could decide to combine the three options into one community, but I think so far we learned that focusing and starting small and simple is better. When considering one of these options, I believe UNICEF should realize that the different platform options also have their limitations. For example, building a crowdsourcing community is an option that would work out better on an own-hosted platform. Platforms like Facebook have their limitations and not all of the elements of these options will be possible on platforms like that.
Surveying the young generation
To help UNICEF in the decision of choosing one of the options above, I decided to conduct a survey among their target group. I approached the young generation through Facebook groups of higher vocational educational institutes and universities (HBO and WO in Dutch, respectively). In the survey I asked them in which of the three above-mentioned communities they would see themselves engage. Eighty students shared their opinion. Below are the results of this survey:
Analysis and discussion of results
From the figures above it can be concluded that the respondents were quite equally divided when it comes to gender. Most of the respondents are in the age group 18-23. This makes the results of my survey a little bit less reliable and accurate. From the figures, we can conclude that option 3: ‘a platform on which (young) people can get inspired by reading about new fund raising actions undertaken by others or UNICEF’ is most popular of all: 51% of all respondents would see themselves engage in such a community, 26% of them maybe.
Option 1 and 2 are quite equally divided when it comes to popularity: 30% of the respondents won’t not see themselves engage in these types of communities. Overall the positive outcomes (yes and maybe) are dominant in the results of the survey.
I was quite surprised about these results. In chapter 2 I discussed the different needs that members fulfil via an online community. Relationship building, status, and influence are important needs that members fulfil. I therefore expected that option 2 would be (very) popular. I expected that option 1 would be the most popular. Crowdsourcing/co-creation communities are becoming more and more popular these days. In chapter 4 I have given the examples of Dell’s Ideastorm and MyStarbucksIdea – which are still very successful. I think it is interesting to see and conclude that option 3 is clearly the most popular one.
Of course, there are some limitations about this survey. Eighty respondents are obviously not enough to get a really accurate view. Besides, people can say that they will engage in an online community, but in practice they can act differently and would maybe not engage at all. Brand communities are such a new development that it is quite hard for them as well, I guess, to already make a prediction on whether they like it or not. In my survey I could not mention the brand UNICEF: the organization did not want to raise expectations among these people that they might actually launch an online community already. This makes the results of this survey not very accurate. If people would know that the online community options were from a specific brand, they might have answered differently.
In conclusion: although this survey gives not a very reliable view on what option UNICEF should choose, it does give an indication which of the three options is most popular among these respondents: option 3.
We now have a clear idea on what could be the best possible focus, platform and content for a possible community for UNICEF. Let us continue with another important topic in my next post: management and control.
I hope you survived this long post;)
Until next time,