Many website owners or bloggers can struggle to build a community of active members and encourage contributions, both on their own sites and on the social sites they use to channel traffic.
While I don't claim to have all the answers, below I've outlined some approaches that I have seen work, including on the professional network that I run myself (the Specialist Media Network on LinkedIn).
1. Try to Attract 'Authorities' in Your Niche The movers and shakers in your industry / niche can attract others who want to learn from them. They are also often those who have the biggest personal networks. It is extremely worthwhile to invest time in courting these people and then publicising their involvement. By encouraging them to provide quotes, speak at events or even just contribute to discussions the ripples will spread.
2. Drip Feed Useful Content The posting of original articles on hot topics can start a discussion going. Even links to well-written third party articles are valued. Top tips, useful checklists and case studies all provide a reason for members to sign up, and check in regularly.
3. Consider Creating Live Events While online chat is great, human contact is far better. Live events cement the relationships that have been built on-line, and establish new contacts that can be followed up virtually.
An interesting speaker and a lively Q&A fast-forwards the debate, and it's easier to understand the emotion behind a contributor's comments. Shared experience, insight and laughter help the group to bond.
Events can also be the catalyst for further online discussion, and a canny network organiser will make sure the content of the event and the ensuing debate is publicized and made available to those who couldn't attend the live event.
4. Moderation is a Must A good live debate needs stimulus and facilitation, bringing in people with interesting points of view as the discussion develops. Online discussions between professionals also benefit from moderation, so try to enlist some enthusiastic experts to guide the discussion and keep the 'plates spinning'.
5. Make Use of Surveys In many a community, as few as 10% of members will post online contributions at length. However, a higher proportion will complete surveys and rate or rank ideas, and read the results avidly. Surveys are a great way to take the temperature of a group, and build a greater sense of belonging to a community.
Over to you We'd be interested to hear your experiences of building online professional networks. Drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook and share your top tips.
About the Author Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, creating practical digital media and marketing strategies for businesses. You can find out more about Penmaen Media here.