Nothing really beats ethnographic research for getting valuable insights.
Years ago, we forced a video game developer (who wanted a strong community) to get his customers in the room and sit next to them as they played the mobile game.
Every time they got stuck or had a question we created a link back to the community.
“Stuck here? Check out this discussion!”
“No luck? Ask a question?”
Every time they felt a sense of achievement, we encouraged them to share it.
“You just tackled [level], share the reply in the community and help others in the future”
Then there are the teachers who didn’t have enough time to participate in the community, until we made it about teachers who share time saving tips.
Most recently, a client building an internal community struggled to get people to participate. The discussions and activities they were initiating were completely removed from what staff talked about. We advised him to spend time with his audience, see what they spoke about, and build activities around that instead.
You should absolutely take $2000 and go travelling to meet as many of your members as possible. Watch them use your product or service. Get to know them personally. See what their daily challenges are and what their problems are. Then start seeing how the community can be relevant at the day to day level.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is creating and trying to develop communities around big, noble, goals which have no relevance to the day to day frustrations members face. Do the ethnographic research.
If Mark Zuckerberg can find time to meet Facebook users in every state, you can certainly find time to visit a few dozen of your members.
Great post and speaking as a video game developer, very true. One of the first things I did when starting my current role was to organise for the game creator to come with me to a games conference and show off what we were working on. He had never done this before and never interacted with the people that played his game. I was able to prove so much in a couple of days and this experience just reinforces how important it is to actually speak in person to your community.
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