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How to Key into the Wants of Your Online Community Members

Learning about your online community requires more than some manager’s survey questions or a poll. Sometimes, the best way to know what your community is thinking is to not seem so obvious about your intentions. Here’s how to determine what your community really wants:

  • Observe. Having an ear to the ground enables you to pick up on things you wouldn’t otherwise catch. Members talk among themselves on your forum or community pages or on the other social networks.

    In a forum comment, for example, a member might mention how nice it would be to have a Thumbs Up button so that he can show his approval for other comments or links. Soon, other members add their thoughts about a Thumbs Up button in the same discussion thread. You wouldn’t have known that so many people wanted this feature until it was mentioned as part of a community discussion.

  • Listen. It’s one thing to watch and a whole other thing to listen. During your rounds on the social networks, blogs, and community pages, pay attention to what people are saying. How many members are saying the same things? Members won’t come to you with every concern or request, but they may share ideas with one another.

    Pay attention to what they’re saying and take notes. When you hear that you’re doing something well, think about how to do it better. When you hear less than stellar remarks, think about how you can make things right.

  • Check the stats. Stats and analytics may look like a bunch of numbers, but they’re also a valuable glimpse into your community’s habits. These stats, or web analytics, help you find out where new members are coming from, who is linking to you and why, and how long people are sticking around.

Observing your community unearths valuable feedback about its needs, even if it’s not originally directed at you. However, that doesn’t mean you should rush and take action for every comment or critique you receive. Carefully weigh the merit of every compliment and criticism.

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