The Top 10 Criteria for an Effective Community

Communities exist for member engagement and for your organization to remain close to your constituents. Engaged members are 6X more likely to spend with your organization and they drive event attendance.  These are not stats to ignore.

There are many ways that organizations are breeding community today.  They include DIY digital communities, leveraging social media sites, off the shelf community platforms, CampfireSocial’s professional networking model, webinars, and even in person meetings.  All have their inherent benefits that bring people within your industry together to form meaningful connections.  Yet not all work to drive deeper relationships that in turn can provide your organization with data, insight, and revenue that can be used to create a richer member experience.  Being thoughtful about your community approach is important –

Your organization should not spend financial and human resources on a community if your goal is to simply provide a member benefit.  

Rather, communities should only be deployed if you are looking to create a data-driven member experience.

As you think through your community approach in our evolving & hybrid world, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from studying communities and how they impact trade & professional associations and event organizers.  

Here are 10 elements that should be top of mind in your community selection process:

1.       Your organization is greater than the sum of your members alone.  Communities should be inclusive of your members, exhibiting sponsors, staff, students, and all who touch your industry vertical. Take your exhibitors for instance – they can provide more value than just check writing. Exhibitors can provide content, trends, and are incentivized to lead discussions as they want to use content & relationships to drum up new business.  Everyone in your organization adds value.  Be sure to provide them the mechanism to do so.

2.       Dialogue should start at the grassroots level.  Allow your users to generate the conversations that matter most to them rather than trying to control the conversation by dictating themes or topics. People are more inclined to contribute when they set the stage for what they want to discuss.  Plus, your organization will have the opportunity to listen and learn about what matters most to them.  If you are concerned about spamming or inappropriate dialogue, you can find a solution that provides safeguards to report users or content and institute consequences for those who ‘misbehave’.

3.       Data, Data, Data – Including Social Listening.  If your community platform does not provide you with behavioral and social listening data, run.  That is an indicator that the platform does not understand your business and the power behind what a community can offer you.  A properly designed community will allow you to understand how your ecosystem thinks, behaves, and transacts every single day.  Then you can redeploy this powerful intel to generate a more meaningful member experience and more community momentum.  You have the unique opportunity to produce content that reflects what your audience cares about.  Don’t lose this opportunity to allow your community to contribute to the growth of your organization.

4.       Don’t use LinkedIn.  Ouch! We all love LinkedIn, and it is a phenomenal platform.  BUT it is exclusionary in that only people in the know can participate in dialogue rather than allowing the dialogue to live in front of your entire ecosystem 365/24/7. LinkedIn also uses data for its own purposes rather than leveraging the data & insight to produce an even better member experience (see #3).  Why give away this valuable intel when you can own the voice of your industry?

5.       UX/UI Matters. Community platforms have changed over the years from Q&A forums to pure social networks.  Modern audiences are used to social networks that allow for the dissemination and consumption of bite sized content, the ability to tag connections, organize their content, and leverage photos to engage.  Your community strategy should resemble what audiences expect and allow for normalized behaviors.  Keeping up with a modern user experience leads to increased participation.

6.       Invest in Human Resources.  Communities are critical components of your member offering and as a result, should not be deprioritized.  Given that community interactions lead to wholistic engagement with your organization including events, it makes sense to dedicate staff to ensuring that your community is properly moderated, the data is collected and analyzed, interactions are appropriately monetized, and that value continues to be cycled back to your users.  

7.       Long Live the Conversation.  Communities should encourage a mix of informative posts and in-depth discussions or groups.  Posts may be just a post, but many posts may lead to deeper conversation that can engage a multitude of your users (again members, exhibitors, AND staff alike) for longer periods of time.  These conversations are the ones that you need to be paying extra attention to. Leverage your social listening (#3) to understand what is so important and why this topic is top of mind and then use this intel to produce whitepapers, micro events, or even make this topic a focus for your next main event.  These groups can be used to prime your audience for your main event and then keep the conversations that take place at your event alive indefinitely.  Think of all the data you can collect!

8.       Profiles are Indicators of Usage.  What separates a community designed for awareness vs. a true engagement tool is the use of a profile.  When users have a profile, they are more inclined to participate.  The reason? People want the credit for their contributions. Without a profile, where is the incentive to participate?  Be sure to make the profile creation process simple.

9.       Follow People Who Matter Most.  Community members are used to the rules of the road for popular social networks. Experiences are curated based on the content and people you are connected with.  This is equally important for your community.  People are more engaged when content that matters most from the people who matter most to them is placed in front of them.  Users are more inclined to connect with new peers when those folks mutually follow the same thought leader.  

10.   People Love to Chat. Your community should offer a mechanism for side conversations.  Many folks are rightfully sensitive about giving out their email and phone number, but they still want to take community discussion ‘offline’.  Many community platforms offer a chat function that contains conversations within the platform, creating a safe space to build a relationship.

Communities can be powerful when designed to reflect the evolving needs & behaviors of your constituents and your organization.  When you offer the right tool, your members, exhibiting partners, students, staff, and other key segments will embrace your technology and act as true partners to contribute to the growth of your industry.

CampfireSocial is a private, branded social network and commerce solution (social commerce) that provides organizations 365/24/7 access to their stakeholders while creating a modern member, subscriber, attendee, and exhibiting partner experience that is monetizable to ultimately own the voice of their industry.  Our solution takes the interconnectivity of community, content, & commerce and digitizes the experience.  

We help organizations:

  • Diversify revenue with a monetizable platform
  • Provide relevance, especially ROI among exhibiting partners
  • Learn more about their stakeholders with behavioral and social listening data & business intelligence
  • Create a modern member and attendee experience

CampfireSocial also offers engagement consulting to better tap into the needs of your members, show attendees, and exhibiting partners.  Contact Erica at to learn more.

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Meet the Author

Erica Bishaf

Founder & CEO

Erica Bishaf is an award-winning global brand strategist (24 years), market research professional, and a 2X tech startup founder. Her startup experience includes CampfireSocial, the private community & marketplace platform, and Pet Gotcha Day!, the immersive video platform for animal shelters. In addition to her passion for startups, she has worked for consumer-packaged goods companies such as Kraft, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, the Illinois Lottery, and MillerCoors in a variety of roles encompassing global product innovation, package redesign, brand equity, shopper & retail insights, and strategic planning. In 2015, Erica started her own consultancy where she led projects for startups, growth stage companies, Fortune 500, trade & professional associations, top 10 trade shows, and private equity firms that focused on building brand & communication strategies, strategic planning & workshop design, innovation, segmentation identification, UX/UI design, consumer journeys, A&U work, uncovering shopping & retail touchpoints, and more. Erica has also built teams from the ground up for three organizations. She enjoys bringing an entrepreneurial lens to her work to identify new opportunities for growth and using quantitative and qualitative methodologies plus financial data to accomplish her clients' goals. Her clients have said that 'Erica is a keen observer of human behavior who can translate observations into action and one who spurs others to better thinking and better results.' Erica can be reached at

Erica Bishaf
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