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How to Start an Engaging Online Community for Your User Group

Online communities for user groups are an excellent way to get users engaged year-round. Find out which online community platform features you need & the strategies you should adopt to ensure your user group community is set up for engagement.

If your software company has a user group or plans to start one, one of the biggest things to consider is how your user group will meet. This year has put a damper on in-person events, and everyone’s feeling the Zoom fatigue. What if there was a different way to engage your customer user group? Enter: online community.

User groups aren’t limited to geography anymore, and you’ll maximize your user group’s impact if you can give them a way to digitally engage with each other and your company – whenever they want.

If you’re new to the concept of a user group community, you can think of it as your user group’s digital home base. You may still have in-person or virtual user group meetings, but you’d use the community to pair that experience with all the engagement tools a community platform has to offer, like networking opportunities, Q&A, discussion threads, and a resource library.

Want to dig deeper? Check out our complete guide to online community.

Your user group community can help you make sure users can continue brainstorming, discussing ideas brought up during meetings, sharing best practices and creating personal connections. This helps extend your user group’s influence just beyond that one in-person meeting, helping users continue their valuable conversations and giving your company more insight into their needs and feedback.

Let’s dive into what features your online community platform should have to set your user group up for success.

8 Features Necessary for a Successful User Group Community

Whether you’re starting a user group from scratch or hoping to move your existing user group into an online community, there are common building blocks for any user group’s online presence that will help you create an engaging destination.

Here are the top 8 components every user group community should have.

1. Discussion Areas

Discussion threads are a must-have element in your community user group. One of the big benefits of having a user group for customers is that they can learn from each other. Give them an easy way to meet each other and ask questions.

2. Sub-groups

Does your user groups have committees, boards, or other product sub-groups? You may need private areas for these different sections as the user group grows. You may even want to segment user communities by product usage, so each user sees only the information relevant to them. While you can create open areas in your user group community that all members can access, creating segmented areas can help increase engagement.

Choose an online community platform that has the sophistication to segment the community by groups and product categories by user role. This will help you create personalized experiences for each user. For example, when a user logs in, they’d see the most relevant discussions, events, file libraries in their specific group.

3. Event Management

Use in-community events to support users and increase engagement. Community manager Chris Detzel created a community webinar program covering product roadmaps, expert interviews, Ask Me Anything-style sessions, and new product launches. He used Higher Logic to automate the registration and follow-up process. Once the webinar ended, Chris created even more opportunities for engagement by turning webinars into digestible videos, discussion threads, product Q&As, and product blogs. Having an event management tool within the community makes it easier to host these.

Ideas for webinar topics:

  • User panel shares best practices for your product
  • Company roadmap updates
  • Partner presentation of services or products
  • In-depth “how-to” product session

4.  Event Communities

When you can have in-person events again, and while you host virtual events, build a community to support the event. Zoom meetings are great, but it’s hard to continue the discussion after the meeting ends. It’s the same way with in-person events. Your event community can help you make sure users continue to find value in the event even after it’s over. They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and keep up the connections they made at your event.

5. Polls

Feedback is a cornerstone benefit of a user group. Be sure to initiate feedback from members on current releases, upcoming products, and new feature or product ideas. Members will appreciate the opportunity to have a voice in the future of your company, and your company will gain valuable insight from your market.

6. Libraries

Your user group community should make it easy to share files and documents. Your company may want to share files, but you can expect that most files will be shared by your user group, as they share best practices, templates that work for them, or examples of work.

7. Blogs

Give a channel to your users to share their lessons learned and best practices by enabling blog posts in the community. Keep in mind that blog posts generally won’t create a lot of engagement in the form of replies or responses, but they’re a great way for users to share knowledge with each other.

8. Ideation

Your users will inevitably have feedback for your company and products. Collect this feedback efficiently in your community by giving them a way to suggest new features, services, and products.

Once you’ve selected your online community platform for hosting your user group community, it’s time to build your community engagement strategy.

5 Tips for Building a Stronger User Group Community

When you’re building a new user group community, you’ll want to start with a strong strategy. These five tips can help you start a group that will thrive.

1. Find Customers to Help You Lead

A user group helps you create a partnership culture with your customers. Finding a few key customers to help you start this process will help. Identify your most enthusiastic users and ask these customers to contribute to key community tasks. Officially, these kinds of programs are called super user programs. For example, your community super users could lead an online product advisory group, contribute a blog article a few times a year, head up a conference track, or commit to a 30-minute phone call with other leaders once a week.

Empowering those individuals within the user group community will not only help grow the user group but also create advocates for your company in the ranks of your products’ users.

2. Invite Engagement on Both Strategic and Tactical Levels

Your users will want to engage in the community in different ways, ranging from help with how-to questions and “is this a bug” questions to discussions about where the industry is headed or strategic conversations about their use case. Create opportunities for your users to get involved in these ways. Check out our other posts for additional ideas on how to engage your online community.

3. Involve Your Executives

Making your company executives available to your user group’s top leadership goes a long way toward building a lasting partnership. Though their engagement doesn’t have to be constant and the conversation can be casual, it should be a clear priority for your business. You could create a separate area in the community where executives participate with certain users. This type of casual relationship-building in the community is invaluable to both the company and the user community. It is also a sign of a healthy and collaborative customer-company alliance.

4. Listen and Take Action

Let your users know that you are listening. Recognize the work they are doing to support each other, validate product concepts, provide feedback, and advocate for your solutions. Look for quick wins where you can tangibly incorporate their work, or even incorporate key users into your product management processes as beta testers.

5. Focus on Your Users

Avoid treating your user group like another marketing channel by which your company talks at your customers. Make it clear that you understand the user group-company relationship is very much a two-way street where customers drive the agenda. The most effective way to keep your user group engaged and thriving is to always help the users feel like the group is made for them, and not for the company. The company can benefit, of course, but the users need to feel like the organization is being thoughtful with what they ask and share with the group.

It’s Time to Create Your Engaged User Group Community

In a world that’s full of distractions, it can be difficult to get the time and attention of your busy customers. Use your user group community to engage them in a way that provides clear and overwhelming value in solving their most important problems.

Brittany Moon
Brittany Moon

Brittany is Director of Customer Services at Higher Logic. Brittany’s primary role for the Higher Education User Group is providing operational oversight and leadership. Brittany is responsible for all aspects of the organization’s business primarily providing strategic leadership and directing daily operations. Brittany has been with the Higher Education User Group since 2014 and accepted the leadership role as Executive Director in 2019. HEUG has achieved exceptional success in the areas of community growth, customer engagement, and customer satisfaction. Brittany earned her Master of Business Administration from Grand Canyon University and her BS in Business Administration from Northern Arizona University.