Imagine someone you’ve never met walks up to you, shows you a copy of a magazine article, and says:
“I’ve recently read this article about [widget]. What do you think about [widget]? Do you think [widget] will be the future of our industry?”
If you’re cornered, you might give a quick reply and then try to move on. The approach just feels a little weird.
The obvious catch with an online community is people aren’t cornered. If the approach is off and there’s no real benefit of replying, people don’t reply.
A lot of newcomer community managers, in their haste to initiate activity, will try to create discussions like this. They will share a relevant article (or raise a topical issue) and ask “what do you think?”
These are the worst types of discussions for almost every community.
People reply to discussions for an emotional payoff. They want to feel useful and know they’ve helped someone. Giving opinions on random topics doesn’t create that feeling. This is why initiating a bunch of discussions to ‘get activity going’ usually fails.
It’s also why in the very early days you need to be very careful how you structure the question.
For example, if you ask the question as:
Subject: Would you set aside a budget for [widget] in 2022?
“Next week I need to submit my budget for the coming year. I’m trying to work out whether it’s worthwhile setting some money aside for [widget] as this article seems to recommend.
Does anyone have any experiences or insights into whether [widget] is likely to be important without our industry? Any examples or case studies would be really useful”
Now we have a question which lets members both give an opinion and feel they’re helping. It’s clear why the person is asking the question and the value they will get from the answers.
The challenge in the early stages isn’t to start discussions to ‘get activity going’. It’s to find people who need help and persuade them to ask questions in the community (or, last resort, ask them on behalf of the person).