Why Growing a Successful Online Community Takes Time
A well-rounded online community doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and nurturing to give members an effective space to share wisdom, discuss new ideas, and solve problems. The International Sign Association shares how this strategy is working for them.
New ideas can come from unexpected places. The International Sign Association’s new online community and company directory, launched in June, were partly inspired by its 2021 virtual convention.
“We were able to watch other associations’ 2020 virtual meetings, and that gave us time to think about how to make ours unique and attractive,” said ISA President and CEO Lori Anderson, FASAE, CAE.
During the conference, ISA held virtual rooms for members to chat with one another. Members could hop in and talk about areas of interest beyond work, including hiking, cooking, gaming, and more.
“Creating these communities gave us the opportunity to tap into something rich and meaningful for members,” Anderson said. “These rooms were a personal connection point, and they helped kick off [the online platform]; it got us thinking about wanting to have fun.”
Those events during the height of COVID-19 helped shape the way ISA developed its online community and company directory. It was not only paramount to create fun, collaborative spaces but also to take a thoughtful, considerate approach to the rollout. Balancing these points helped create a community that gave members the opportunity to connect, share meaningful experiences, and solve problems.
Three Key Forums
Knowing what topics that are meaningful for your members can be a good place to start. ISA was intentional in choosing the three initial discussion boards of its online community: All Things Signs and Graphics, Sign Codes, and Women Leading the Industry.
“All Things Signs and Graphics” is a catch-all for issues members face on the shop room floor. According to Anderson, members can share concerns and provide answers for their peers. “This discussion board allows for an exchange where members get the support they need in the moment,” she said.
“Sign Codes” is the bread and butter of the industry. Since each U.S. municipality has its own unique sign code, this forum lets members support one another in this area and allows ISA staff to share expertise for members.
Since the sign industry is traditionally male-dominated, “Women Leading the Industry” is a forum where members can post and receive feedback from a committed group who want to help women grow their careers.
“This forum can help ISA evolve its vision to create other forums for underrepresented groups in the industry to come together in conversation,” Anderson said.
In addition to the forums, ISA gives members access to a new company directory to search for suppliers, distributors, and sign companies. To protect member privacy, companies and individual participants must opt in to be included in the directory.
“Participating in the ISA community can help sign companies find a solution or product to meet their needs,” Anderson said. “There’s plenty of business between our members who manufacture signs and members who install signs.”
Take Your Time
The major goals of ISA’s online community and directory are to help the association build up its niche community and to stay up to date on member concerns.
“We are currently developing a new education strategy, and this platform will help us facilitate that approach for microlearning of making sure members have what they need when they need it,” Anderson said.
Anderson also recommends that associations approach their online communities as long-term projects and recognize that these spaces will require support to be successful. In the beginning, it may take some time before members start using the new online community regularly. “We want to find the best ways to nurture our members’ relationships and help the conversations expand, and we also hope this platform will help us communicate better with our members,” she said. “For all those reasons, we want to get this right, and that will take time.”