Ariana Hampton-Marcell
Marketing Specialist

Building an Online Community through Increased Outreach Engagement

If You Build It, They Will Come…Right?

Based upon interview with Laura Nash, Digital Strategist

Although this mantra seemed to work out extremely well for Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” his results may not accurately depict reality. He knew exactly what he was building and for whom he was building it; but for you, answering these questions will take a little more time.


So, where do you start? Let’s start by defining a goal. Outlining your objective is very important because it takes the guess work out of defining your audience and deciding which mode of outreach will be most effective. Whether you’re non-profit or higher education, your primary goal for outreach engagement will likely be to build a community by bringing together those that support your mission and work. And that brings us back to our original questions: who is your audience, and how do we bring them together?

Lucky for us, we had the opportunity to partner with a client to address their challenges of unifying dispersed support and uncovering the secrets for expanding organizational reach using digital tools. In the end, our client was able to successfully answer those three key questions, Who, What, and How for their current and future communications initiatives.

Who: Your Audience(s)                                                                                                                      

It’s typical for your target audiences to fall into two categories: those who know you and those who don’t know you…yet. If you decide to engage both, be fully aware of the needs that have to be met in order to successfully manage your relationship and outreach efforts with them.

  • Brand Ambassadors: These are the people that know and recognize you. They connect with your brand and rally behind your mission because they believe in it. This group is a vital component of your outreach because they have access to an even larger network of people to whom they can champion you organization’s efforts.
  • New Members: These individuals have never interacted with your brand and may be on the fence about whether to get involved. This is a great opportunity for you to highlight the value of your organization and explain any benefits available to them through membership.

What: Their Needs                                                                                                                                    

Here’s where it gets interesting and the details start to matter; you don’t want to risk losing your audience. The needs of your audience are extremely important because it will tell you a great deal about why they want to engage with you and how they choose to do so.

  • Brand Ambassadors: Your existing members need a place where they can connect with other members, stay up to date on the latest organizational news, and create events that increase involvement and interaction with your brand. Whether it’s a conference, book club meeting, or fundraising event, each activity allows everyone to show their support while continuously building up community.
  • New Members: You have to give them valuable content to go through to reel them in as they sit on the fence! Think WIDE by putting yourself in their shoes, and providing them with all relevant information to anticipate any questions they have: What’s Your History? Who are your members? Why Should I Join? Can I Get Involved? How Can I Receive More Information? The goal is to make your organization as accessible as possible without becoming too overwhelming.

How: The Solution                                                                                                                                    

An integrated website! The most effective websites are well planned out and use a very welcoming tone that encourages visitors to spend more time perusing each page carefully. Creating a responsive website is key to increasing outreach to all of your target audiences, and an excellent way to disseminate information and raise awareness about your organization and its members. In addition, it will encourage all visitors, including new and existing members, to initiate and engage in open dialogue with one another.

Following our work with the client, there were an unprecedented number of member-created events being held in more cities around the U.S. due, in large part, to the success of their website, which was artistically designed to increase the community and outreach for the organization.

All in all, while your outreach might not always have the magical appeal of the cornfield ballpark in “Field of Dreams,” you can definitely hit it out of the park by building outwards to reach those with whom you want to connect. The better you know your members, both new and existing, the more effective your efforts will be.