Predictability is not predictable

13 11 2009

One important lesson I have learned as a community manager is that no online community is the same as another.

Sure we have learnings and teachings which we refer to as industry standards or ‘normal’ indications of community health – but depending on the audience, the topic, the platform – all are factors in making your community unique.

One community I manage has grown to be a star example of a fully functioning online community. It adheres almost perfectly to the 90-9-1 rule, has several recognisable top contributors, and members regularly communicated with each other. This community is a organically (and continually) growing,  self functioning community.

Another community has an audience of fierce brand advocates, but however they can become disengaged very easily. The members need fresh and new content, and techniques such as newsletters and EDM prove to be successful reminders and incentives for members to revisit the site. While they love leaving their suggestions and ideas, they prefer not to interact with other members, or comment on others ideas. This community has developed as more of a sounding board where members easily give their opinions and thoughts on the brand they love.

But what to do if your community content is difficult to engage with? Is every subject area suitable for discussion in a community atmosphere? This community had the common struggle of recruitment and retention with a perceivably dry subject area – but with the incentive of a prize (non monetary), the ideas poured in. While I’m usually against using incentives for eyeballs, as quality does tend to suffer  when a prize is thrown into the mix, the high standard of ideas didn’t suffer during the promotion.

What if a community is private, only accessible by customer’s – subsequently engagement and recruitment is more difficult than a public, searchable open community?

Comparing the health and success of these different communities is almost impossible and you must remember to take each community at a case by case basis and never assuming that each will mirror the other. You must set objectives for what you see as a successful community – that may be number of members, number of repeat visits, level of participation, time on site. Different incentive, different content, different audience, different brand = different community.

Even factors such as whether or not a community is company driven or only sponsored by a brand (Ruby Connection is a good example of this), or even if a community is based around a passionate subject matter (such as Essential Baby), will influence the size, rate of growth and ongoing success of an online community.

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