One of our clients is building private communities in a very technical and highly regulated field.
Our research noted two contradictory themes.
The first was members wanted to know who else was a member of the community. This suggests building out a good member directory where people can browse profiles and contact one another if needed.
The second was members often held back from participating because of strict regulations within the industry and the potential ramifications of being seen to speak officially on behalf of the company.
At first, these two issues seem impossible to reconcile. We couldn’t allow members to use pseudonyms and still make it possible for members to see who else is in the community.
But diving a little deeper into the data, we realised even though members want to know who else was a member, they didn’t need to know specifically who was replying to their posts. The desire to know who else was there was simply to know they’re in a group of trusted peers (i.e. we’re letting in the right kind of people).
Discourse, the platform we’re using, has a little-known feature called ‘anonymous mode’. This mode enables any registered member to reply anonymously. This means they can share advice and ask questions without their reputation being on the line.
The problem with this mode, as you can see here, is Discourse buries this option 3-clicks deep (after you ask them to enable it) where no member would find it.
So we hired someone to develop a simple button positioned next to the very place where people would usually post a new topic.
This makes it almost impossible to miss as you can see here.
I really like the balance of this. The community is private. Everyone has been approved to join. So the anonymous mode is unlikely to be abused to spam or troll members. Yet, at the same time, it opens the door for everyone to participate without putting their reputation on the line.
This is one of the data-driven solutions which combines the best of user research and technology to create something unique. I’m not sure any other community offers this right now. It’s a feature I’d love to see offered by other platform vendors.
p.s. If you’re on Discourse, you can now pull the component from here for free.