Too many sites make the same mistake as TasteTheGlenLivet (below):
This could be a thriving online community. They claim to have 20,000+ members, but few are participating.
At every single stage they put aesthetics before function.
At every single stage they made it more difficult to interact.
Just spend a few minutes browsing the community. It might look nice, but it prohibits interaction when it should be facilitating interaction. It's difficult to find where you could interact.
Do you notice a pattern? They all make it easy to interact with others. Everything is built around interaction. You can see dozens of conversations you can participate in right now.
We need a profound rethink in our approach to branded community platforms.
Too often we ignore that almost every successful community is based around a forum-based platform. Too often we hide the interactions in favour of content and brand image considerations.
I've been in meeting that have neared the shouting stage trying to make this point.
Will your image be better with an empty community around a beautiful site or a thriving community on a simple, functional, site?
You can't tell your designers that you want a community site and wait for them to come back with ideas. You need to tell your designers that you want a community that:
1) Features the latest interactions on the front page of the community platform.
2) Features the latest interactions in the most prominent areas of the community platform.
3) Lets members participate in no more than three actions (click, enter e-mail and desired username, participate).
If branded communities simply followed these very simple rules, they would be far more successful. We wouldn't see the likes of Ducati, GenerationBenz, and TasteTheGlenLivet destroying the potential of their communities.