Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Last time I wrote about the common risks we share when we provide a platform for open discussion with our community. In today's post, I'd like to focus on one of the things that makes communities different from each other: your audience.

As with other products or programs you develop, you should spend time in the planning stage identifing the target audience and their characteristics. Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li refer to this as the People element of their POST method, which includes People, Objectives, Strategy and Technology. I would argue that the items above do not need to be addressed sequentially (sometimes objectives and strategy precede/drive the target audience, for example), but it is true that a successful plan should address each item in detail.

With the Lithosphere audience, we chose to focus on Lithium's customers and enterprise prospects: community managers, business owners and others involved with using online communities to accomplish business goals. Other possible targets include industry experts, partners and employees. These groups share some common characteristics, like:
  • The size of the Lithosphere audience is likely to be orders of magnitude smaller than many of our enterprise consumer communities.
  • Lithosphere members are likely to be more professional than, for example, a consumer gaming community.
  • Lithosphere members are likely to be familiar with Web 2.0 technologies and social software (RSS, blogs, etc.).
We were then able to apply what we learned across a range of decisions; for instance, the smaller size of our audience meant that our structure should remain very lean in order to consolidate the smaller amount of activity. At the same time, a significant amount of content would have to be public to increase the exposure and reach of our community. Practically every decision we've made to date has been informed in some way by what we know about our audience.

What did you know about your members in advance? How did this knowledge shape your community plans?