Month: July 2009
I participate in as few online communities as possible. I would prefer members of my online communities to do the same. Are members of 12 online communities really interested in developing lifelong relationships in mine? Are they interested in finding a group of people and working towards a common purpose?
Lets call these people skimmers. They skim through communities looking for short-term benefits rather than building long term relationships. When you go for fast growth and mass promotion you're most likely to attract skimmers. They are the easiest to reach. If you have thousands of members and little activity you probably have too many skimmers.
This provokes the bigger problem, how do you attract divers?
I see two ways. First, target the 50% of internet population which has never joined an online community. Convert people interested in the topic to the internet, rather than internet users to your topic. Go outside of the internet and existing online communication channels to find them. They're easy to reach.
Second, convert a skimmer to a diver. Set a rule, members can participate in no more than 3 online communities. Celebrate members that make difficult choices between which communities they spend their time. Ask members what other communities are offering which yours doesn't, and adapt to it. Flip the problem, specifically ask for veterans of other online communities willing to use their experience to help make yours the top community for it's topic. Aim for the type of people that are bored of the skimmer approach and want to become divers.
Second Life is a fantastic example of how not to develop a community. The creators put too much thought into persuading people to join the community and too little in keeping them.
They spent money on marketing, advertising, PR and not a penny on community management. Nobody was helping build boundaries, develop groups, highlight the common purpose, document and spread the shared experiences.
Once the novelty and the PR died, Second Life died. Nearly. What now survives in Second Life is a the same tiny Second Life community that existed before the PR wave.This community isn't about the novelty of virtual worlds, it's about the other people that enjoy the game.
Second Life is an easy target. There are lots of communities that fail to think their community through.
Why will a member visit your community for a second time?
The first time was easy. Promise a big benefit, spike an interest and a member joins. It's the second visit which is usually overlooked.
You must persuade a member to do something in their first visit which will cause them to return for a second visit. e.g. Invite a member to give an opinion on an issue, the member returns to see what others thought of his opinion. Or invite members to send welcome messages to new members of the day. The member returns to receive the messages.
Ratings work well too. Encourage people to rate, critique or make suggestions on new profiles. HotOrNot thrived on this.
You can also take a mass-approach to this. If you host a newcomer of the week/month column/box, a new member is encouraged to visit again to see if they won.
These are a few ideas amongst many. It's not important that you use them, it's critical that you consider why a member will visit for a second time. Don't leave it to chance. Don't hope a member will suddenly think "hey, I haven't checked out that community I joined last week". Proactively plan the second visit to take place.
If you're abroad and hear someone speaking your native language there
is an excellent chance you will talk to them. Strange, you don’t
introduce yourself to many strangers on the train back home.
The context changes everything, even in your community.
People in an elevator work tirelessly to avoid eye-contact. Until it breaks. Then they're going through an experience together.
Did you become friends with your college buddies because you liked them or because you were in a context that gave you shared experiences, common purposes, insiders, outsiders etc..?
You can plan the context. You can make people feel they are in an experience together. You need insiders, outsiders, boundaries, common purpose, shared experiences. Plan these in advance. You can't force people to become friends, but you can make it difficult for them not to become friends.
Plan the context in advance. What are the shared experiences your community will go through? What seperates insiders from outsiders (beyond registration). What is the common purpose? Why do people need to talk for that purpose?
Don't just launch an online community, plan for it to be a success.
If your community had a waiting list, what would it be like?
Have you considered creating a 1 in 1 out policy? Each month a few dormant members of the community are removed and the community gets to choose from a list of applicants.
Each applicant gets to provide a few details about themselves, what they would bring to the community and explain why they should be chosen.
This would work especially well in tight communities, with paid subscriptions with less than 150 members.