||Our Community Answers:
What are the most common pitfalls of running online communities?
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Running an online community, like any other online endeavour, does have some pitfalls but there are also solutions which can be implemented to overcome them. Notably, like any other web site or web-based facility it requires people. People to run it and people to visit it, people be a part of it from the perspective of consumers or participants.
The number one pitfall is therefore not having that "people" element:
- a quantity of visitors to sustain your community
- a good set of core visitors who frequent regularly, are loyal and also exchange, direct and guide communications.
- good staffing and moderation.
- good communication between the site and all those individuals.
Communities that tend to struggle are more likely than not going to exhibit a lack in one or more of those areas.
We would like to briefly outline four additional pitfalls which are associated with online communities. These four key areas have been the subject of previous questions and answers so where possibly we have linked to those in order to provide you with further information.
A common mistake is underestimating how time-consuming online community development can be. Communities are a process of nurturing and encouraging, rather than setting up and walking away which means the demands on time are significant. With the proper tools in place and a good support team of trained moderators, the time spent by you can be minimized. Moderators can assist with the daily operation of the community, overseeing conversations, assisting members in finding resources, answering questions and helping to control the quality of content on the site. They can also help you to keep your finger on the pulse by reporting back to you any member feedback, technical issues, areas for improvement and innovative ideas or additions to make. Please feel free to visit this past Community Answer responses regarding moderation and what is involved;
Another trap is not thinking through the revenue generation that community provides. Put simply, the community does not provide enough return or that return does not come as directly or immediately as anticipated. Communities tend to act as important but indirect boosts to revenue, but there are means, however, of making community pay for itself. Here are just a few examples:
- Charging members a membership fee, which will provide them with special resources including access to the most important and ever-growing resource, your community.
- Provide guest appearances with a "celebrity" and charge admission to the event, similar to what a concert promoter does in charging for tickets.
For further information, please feel free to visit the past responses on the site:
Can Community Generate Revenue?
Building a Business Case for Community?
Revenue from Live Events?
If you offer services or products on your site, be sure that they are well promoted within your community, encouraging members to share their thoughts and experiences. Viral marketing of products, using community to do so is very effective in generating revenue.
Communities do require maintenance - whether that be attracting new members, retaining existing ones or simply dealing with the ongoing process of community.
So how does one maintain community? That is a question that is commonly asked and we recommend the following:
- Be in touch with the community "grass-roots" so that you know their needs and issues.
- Keep abreast of new features you might add to your community.
- Promote your community on your own site! Sounds obvious, but so many sites don't do it. It is important that access to your community is readily available and visible from highly trafficked areas of your site, as well as linked to content, such as articles. This will encourage people to join your community and discussions taking place, including rendering comments, suggestions or ideas on the content that they have read.
- Ensure that the content within your community is fresh and maintained and that you are providing the best quality material for people to share their thoughts on. Having a staff of well-trained moderators will assist you in accomplishing this.
- Spotlight members' comments from chats or message boards posts on the main page of your site. Not only will this help to spur conversation and pique interest, but it will place a member in the spotlight, thus encouraging them to return.
- Ensure that your site and community are listed with the major search engines.
The following past articles may be of assistance to you as well:
How Do I Attract and Maintain Visitors?
Turning Visits into Participation?
4) DIFFICULT ISSUES
Once you have the community and the members to fill it, it is a pitfall not to expect that with them comes the pitfall of public disputes, heated arguments or worse, legal issues. It is easy when thinking of the potentials to get a bit panicked, but we assure you that with a great moderation team or system in place, those pitfalls can be kept to a minimum or better yet, avoided. Please read the following responses to get a better understanding of how that can be accomplished:
Community Implications of Article 14 of the European E-commerce Directive?
Community Guidelines (TOS)?
Dealing With Conflict?
Dealing with Conflict (Part 2 Mediation)
We do hope that the information provided is of help to you. Should you have further questions about building community and/or need some assistance, please do not hesitate to let us know. We wish you all the very best in your community endeavours.
- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas