Whole Foods’ new website is a great example of how a company can take the passion its customers have for its products and services and create an online destination for this community to live, grow and thrive. The site connects Whole Foods fans from across the country, demonstrating that the company understands the power of community for their brand. Here are four tips that an association can learn from Whole Foods about how to create and manage a successful community online:

  1. Create an organizational blog—and learn from the comments it generates.
    Whole Foods employees announce new products and company news, offer tips and send topical alerts through text, video and podcasts on the Whole Story blog. The blog accepts comments from customers, giving them an opportunity to share their opinions and respond to Whole Foods employees.
  2. If your association doesn’t yet have a blog, start one now. You can set up an executive director-only blog, or you can create an organization-wide blog that allows different employees to contribute posts. Although it might be intimidating at first to accept comments, this function will create more transparency for your blog and will encourage member participation.

  3. Foster interaction through compelling content.
    The Whole Foods site is packed with opportunities for visitors to share and learn from one another. Customers can rank and search for recipes, watch cooking demonstrations, listen to podcasts or chat on a forum. Whatever it is that makes customers passionate about Whole Foods, the site sets up an easy way for an individual to tap into that passion.
  4. One of the first steps to building such a dynamic community online is for your association to have quality content on your site. The content needs to provide information and resources that offers a real value to your members, and it needs to be updated often. We also recommend using different media, including video, photos and podcasts, to share your content. By offering a range of forms, you tell your story more effectively and appeal to different audiences.

  5. Be national and local.
    The Whole Foods site not only hosts a national site to connect customers across the country, but it also successfully taps into the unique local community. Each store has its own site with information about special events and ways customers can get involved.
  6. If your association has state or regional chapters of groups, consider creating a section of your site for each of these communities. Following this strategy will allow local groups of members to gather and grow.

  7. Be socially active.
    To connect with customers beyond its site, Whole Foods plays an active role on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

    If your association is just beginning to explore social networking tools, it’s ok to start gradually. At first, try Facebook and LinkedIn. Once you feel comfortable with those two tools, you can expand the range of your social media to best accomplish the goals for your association community.