If members can only interact via the platform, it will take far longer to develop the community.
This is because the level of social presence (awareness of an intelligent other) in the discussions are low.
See the hierarchy of communication mediums below (1 is highest).
- Members communicate in person.
- Members communicate by phone.
- Members communicate by voice-chat.
- Members communicate in IM/SMS.
- Members communicate in chat-rooms.
- Members communicate by social networks.
- Members communicate via Twitter.
- Members communicate by forums.
- Members communicate by blog posts/videos/UGC.
Notice that forums, videos, and blog posts rank last. You have no idea if and when anybody will respond. This is a big problem. By driving and confining communication to a platform we’re deeply restricting the ability of people to feel a sense of community with one another.
It can happen, sure, but it takes much longer.
We want our members to interact in mediums with the highest levels of social presence. As a general rule, the more real-time the better. Here are some simple tips:
1) Create a list of your members’ Twitter accounts and encourage members to add their own twitter account and follow other members. Introduce a hashtag and encourage interaction via Twitter. Live discussions also work well here.
2) Add community members as FB friends. Host an event and send out an invite via Facebook. Ask members to add people they met as friends on Facebook. Let members invite others they are friends with to attend the event.
3) Host regular, live, chat sessions to discuss a common problem. Use a time-limited chat-room format. Alternatively, simple use a Twitter hashtag. You can do this once per week.
4) Create a large number of small groups on WhatsApp. Make these groups problem orientated, local in nature, or simply sharing a commonality. Build lots of these sub-groups. Skype groups, Telegraph and many other tools work well here.
5) Have calls with members. Personally try to schedule calls with members. The more calls you have, the closer bonds you have with each member of the community. Send an invite to 8 members who participated in a discussion to join a skype call about the issue.
6) Faciliate offline events. If your company has a few hundred dollars to spare per month, put it behind a bar in a different city each month and encourage members there to meet up. Host one annual gathering per year for all members.
You want to drive your members up the hierarchy of communication. This increases the sense of community they feel with one another. Better yet, it makes the community resiliant to platform changes (or downtime) and encourages members to particiapte through ever newer communication tools.