The Peril of Top-Down Approaches To Community

We should know by now the evils of taking a top-down approach to a community.

If you come up with the idea for the community, develop the platform, and begin sending out invitations without having spent 40+ hours engaging with prospective members first, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

This typically leads to ‘life support’ communities kept alive by the occasional pulse of activity from an increasingly frustrated community manager.

It often leads to technology that members find fiddly, confusing, and far less convenient than email.

It often leads to staff who struggle to initiate engaging discussions because they have little idea what members find engaging.

It often leads to dull, templated, content filled with articles members really don’t find interesting.

And it often leads to the community manager sending out invites that fail to spark any excitement or interest.

The better approach is to begin with a blank slate.

Spend time with members and notice what comes up. What do members find frustrating and exciting? What kind of people do they want to connect with? Who do they admire and respect? What kinds of words/language do they use to describe their problems? What technology do they tend to use?

Now you can begin with the platforms members already use. You can invite people to connect with the very people they’ve said they want to connect with. You can use the words and language they use to guide their contributions. Better yet, you won’t need to start new discussions, you can simply continue discussions you’re already having with members.

If you’re struggling for activity, the problem is probably not spending enough time engaging with your members.

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