In a world where behemoths like Facebook and Twitter dominate the social media landscape, I frequently run into the belief that small online communities are not viable. This is reflected to a certain degree in the 1-9-90 rule of contributors vs lurkers, which would seem to suggest that you need hundreds, if not thousands, of community members in order to have a handful of reliable contributors.
However, there are numerous examples of successful small communities. For example, Apiaries and Bees for Communities, based in Calgary Alberta, has a thriving online community consisting of about 175 members (and growing). In a recent blog post, Rich Millington of Feverbee (which is an excellent site for information and advice on managing online communities) talked about successful and unsuccessful hyperlocal communities, which by their very nature tend to be small.
So, small communities can be successful, but they can also be challenging. It’s important to recognize that the 1-9-90 rule is really about averages, not about individual human behaviour. In fact, a report from IBM, looks at the factors that affect an individual’s likelihood to contribute and how that evolves over time. What’s most interesting to me from this study is that a person’s greatest rate of contribution tends to be right when they join the community. This is the opposite of many people’s intuition that members often lurk at first and then slowly begin to participate. Another conclusion from the report falls into the “Doh!” category; people tend to contribute to communities that involve topics they are interested in.
So what does this means for small communities? I believe, and this is certainly consistent many of the communities that I have been exposed to through working with them, that success is primarily a matter of who you can attract to your community. Rather than trying to pile on as many members as possible to achieve the mythical “critical mass,” you need to seek out those individuals who have a deep passion for what your community is about. And I believe that you need to approach them as individuals. Don’t use a form letter to invite them. Find out a bit more about who they are so that you can make it clear to them why they would be interested in your community. Bringing on just a handful of these passionate contributors can be the difference between success and failure. And because contributions do tend to drop off over time, this is not a one-time effort, but something that you need to build into the ongoing plan for the development of your community.
I want to close off by noting that the issue of small communities often comes up for associations who are thinking about building an online community. Associations actually have an advantage in this area because they have always had to deal with the issues of volunteer recruitment and management. Taking advantage of those skills to bring “power contributors” into your community is surely a significant step on the path to success.
Conference attendees are getting more out of conferences with technology. Most conferences allow attendees to see online what presentations are available and what exhibitors are participating. At some larger conferences you can plan a schedule of what you want to attend. Exhibitors rent devices that scan attendee badges for lead collection. These technologies are intended to allow attendees and exhibitors to get the most out of their conference investment by an efficient use of time in meeting face to face, asking questions, getting answers and exchanging the latest information. Trying to maximize the benefits of a conference can involve an exhausting few days for all concerned.
However, imagine the possibilities if you combined an online community with mobile communications to revitalize and effectively extend your conference beyond that precious face to face time. Attendees and exhibitors with their own web access device such as a smart phone, iPad or laptop could do the following before and after the conference and while attending in real time.
- Plan which presentations to attend
- Access schedules on the fly
- See who is planning to attend a presentation
- Check in to presentations
- See who else has checked in to the presentation room
- Follow the Twitter feed for the room
- Communicate with interest groups, exhibitors and presentation attendees
- See “What’s Hot”; the most popular presentations and exhibits
- See what people are saying about presentations and exhibits via a Twitter feed
- Organize an attendee driven round table discussion or break out session
- See which people have checked in to your booth or exhibit without having to scan show badges
AssociCom plans to extend our online association communities to conferences with mobile conference. We are starting work on this application very soon and we are always interested in your thoughts and what features interest you so please comment below. Thanks.
There’s been a lot of talk about the death of email. The general theme seems to be that young people don’t use email anymore, they just communicate through FaceBook or Twitter or some other social media tool. And while I agree that social media tools are in fact better for some types of social interactions, they won’t kill email. The reasons are two-fold: First, some interactions are inherently individual-to-individual and that is a mode of interaction that email supports completely naturally. Second, and more important, email software has evolved to be inherently user-centric. That is, email software is excellent at letting me do what I want with email, and letting me do it in a straightforward way. Here are three examples of this:
- Deletion – I just got a message from my the HR department. It’s full of the usual badly chosen metaphors and bland exhortations to seek excellence. They think this is important and, if it were left up to them, I’d continue to see it and absorb its profundities forever. But in the land of email, I’m in control. I can just delete that message and it need never trouble me again. Email lets me decide what is important.
- Organization – How I organize email is totally up to me. I’ve seen people who just leave everything in their inbox and depend heavily on the markup that indicates whether they have read a message or not. I like to create folder hierarchies, and file emails away into what I consider to be the “right” place. In GMail, you can create various tags and use them to help you structure email. GMail even has some heuristics built in to try and identify important emails. There are lots of different email clients out there, and they support a wide diversity of individual approaches to managing email. Email lets me organize things the way I want.
- Tasks – Most email clients make it easy to flag emails or turn them into tasks with reminder dates and various other features that help one priortize one’s day. I personally use my inbox as a task management system. As soon as I have finished with an email, I file it away somewhere (often the circular file). So all that’s left in my inbox is stuff that requires me to do something. You can tell how overloaded I am just by looking at how many items are in my inbox. As with organizing email, there are many email clients that support a variety of personal styles. Email lets me prioritize my activities the way I want.
I think these capabilities are significant. I haven’t seen any social media platform that gives me as much control as email does. Social media has its place. It’s excellent at supporting group communication. It works well as a way of highlighting new information and encouraging discussion. But it hasn’t killed email and it won’t until it delivers the sort of user-centric experience that email provides.