This is NOT “Field of Dreams” people…

I don’t usually publish work related content, but I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the topic of online communities.  I develop support paths and provide support for online communities.  So if you’re on one of my websites and click the “help” or “contact us” link…that’s my stuff.  FAQ’s, forums, supporting people via social networking tools…all in my neighborhood of expertise.  I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to work on some great projects, probably more than most people who do what I do.

So here’s the first, of what I hope are many, work-related posts.

4 cornerstones of a successful online community are:

  • Ego Feed – There has to be some ego feeding mechanism to any successful community.  This the “reward” gained from displaying something self-created and having it judged, positively OR negatively.  It could be created on-site or off-site, but it needs to be displayed in a public fashion.  There also needs to be a way for the member to espouse their opinion and have it commented on for discussion.
  • WOW Factor – There has to be something that impresses the visitor about the experience.  It could be the site, the community, the interface, the toolsets, the content, the interactivity…whatever.  It must be unique and it must be customer/member inclusive!  When you wow people they tell family members and friends.  It’s a bonus if your wow factor involves the “ego-feed” mentioned above.
  • Ease-of-use – It may sound silly, but I use my Mother as a guide when designing support paths for the websites we’ve created.  Regardless of the complexity of the tools you’re serving up, it needs to be “mom-friendly” or people will lose interest very quickly.  The community member needs to be served with the core experience within 15 seconds or so and that requires a very simple design which should be straightforward, clean and purposeful.  No one likes busy web pages, especially when the “busy” doesn’t related to the purpose for your visit.
  • Engineering Support – Successful communities are well supported communities that roll with the punches.  Being able to identify and address issues quickly imbues the community with an invaluable sense of comfort.  It’s imperative to let the member know that someone is “at the helm” and being responsive to technical issues is a great way to do that.  It’s also important to immerse the engineers into the support mix to help provide a sense of ownership in the community.

So, ultimately if you don’t have an engaging, core experience you’ve got nothing.  Regardless of the money spent, infrastructure built, product commitment, amount of people involved, or resources allocated…it’s EASY to miss the mark.

You can build it…but it doesn’t mean they’ll come.

F_M

COMING SOON:  Meta-communities such as MySpace and Facebook and how they impact smaller niche` spaces.  Can the little guys survive in the shadow of these behemoths?  Find out next time!

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2 thoughts on “This is NOT “Field of Dreams” people…

  1. When you say that the participant needs to know that someone is “at the helm” does that mean that there needs to be a publicly visible moderator – an individual that is visibly involved? Or do you mean that someone needs to be in the background addressing issues and making their presence apparent if not visible?

    Thanks for the fascinating post!

  2. Both, and more.

    A big component to retention is making the member feel like it’s safe to plant roots and that takes time. It takes involvement from a community manager and the team that supports him…now here’s the trick, over the LONG term. Who wants to join a community that could be gone in a month? Not me.

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