Getting the ball rolling

11 Jul

Most people expect that online communities are like instant mashed potatoes — just add water and away you go. That is, I’ve seen a a number of cases in which the online community is set up, the invitations are sent out, and then everyone sits back and waits expectantly for the community to appear.

If you’re lucky, people may be so interested in getting together that the community will come together under these circumstances. But in most cases online communities come into existence gradually as people meet each other, learn about their interests and capabilities, and then reach out to make connections.

So what do you do to encourage the development of community? I think there are two tactics that are very helpful. First, you can use content as a way of bringing people into a site. If you have documents on best practices, or FAQs, or any other types of information that people often ask for, then post them to the community. The more information you post, the more likely it is that your members will treat the community site as the default place to go when they need information.

Second, if you have a sufficiently committed group of volunteers, you can create a “community stewards” program. A community steward is someone who commits to ensuring that that the community site remains active. Community stewards may initiate new discussions, answer questions that have gone unanswered for a period of time, or introduce members to one another based on common interests, just to name a few.

Does technology have any impact? I think it can definitely help. For example, AssociCom has a powerful notification mechanism that allows members to find out about new content that is added to the site, or new activities by other members. Notifications are useful because they help members become aware of the activity within the community. And awareness then encourages them to participate.

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