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May’s Online Community Meetup featured Randy Paynter, co-founder of Care2. Paynter’s talk, "The Five Steps to Growing an Engaged Online Community," examined how to build and sustain online communities by relating some of the lessons he has learned through managing the Care2 community since its inception.
Founded in 1998, Care2, a B-corporation that works with over 700 nonprofits and has more than 15 million members, defines itself as a social action network. Care2 provides visitors to their site green-living advice and the opportunity to act on behalf of the causes they care most about. The Care2 community is largely composed of women, a valuable and powerful consumer segment when one considers that women control 83% of consumer spending and are more inclined to spend in line with their values. Technology and social networking means, according to Paynter, “Community has never before been more important for organization success.”
The following are Paynter’s steps for growing an engaged online community:
Following the presentation, Paynter answered audience questions that revealed more about Care2. For instance, Paynter revealed that initially Care2 focused on environmental issues, however, it was discovered that although people generally came to the site to learn about or support one issue they could be appealed to take action on other issues because most people are not “one-issue” people. Using the technological tools at their disposal, the staff at Care2 can cater to the individual preferences of their community members by allowing them to customize the newsletter content they receive or using individual member history to send out petitions for causes that will most likely appeal to those people. Despite the proliferation of sites that take a more niche approach to embracing causes, Care2 believes that taking a holistic approach to advocating for progressive causes is the best approach for them because it allows them to draw people in via issues that interest those individuals and then exposes them to other worthy causes.
The Care2 community, like those found on other social networking sites, includes a small number of “super users,” who account for a large volume of online activity, with a much larger number who are more casual users. In an effort to make the site’s resources available on-the-go for community members, Care2 plans to do more to capitalize on mobile technology and make their site mobile friendly. Although Care2 does not have the resources to create opportunities for its community to connect offline via a published magazine or meetups, it will continue to focus on its strength: the online community. Part of that strategy includes more outreach on popular social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, while still providing valuable content for their community members who may not be on nor will be persuaded to use those channels. And if the community member who drove 700 miles to visit another lonely community member over the holiday season or the community connections that resulted in marriages are any indication, the Care2 online community is indeed strong and on the right track.