Thanks for posting Bryan! At the end I was thinking more about community managers who worry about leaving any posts unanswered (as opposed to actually driving the conversation). But your point is an important one as well. And often we are unaware how disruptive our well-meaning comments may be. Community Managers should save their interventions for where they are really needed.
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Glad to hear that worked so well for you Mark! And Chat/Live Forums is certainly one way to host events, but don't discount the idea of using a discussion board that you archive after a limited time period. Asynchronous events like that can help broaden the window of opportunity for your users, but still provide that focused time period. Definitely a great topic for further discussion in the Lithosphere. Modeling behavior is also a good topic for a later post and/or discussion. I completely agree with you on providing good examples for the rest of the community to follow.
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I hear a lot of questions from customers asking about the best ways to
seed content for their community. There is a common fear that if the
community site doesn't contain everything a visitor is interested in from
day one that the user will not return. What we try to explain is that
seeding a lot of content is not your most pressing need at the start;
it is really about seeding activity. I
don't mean to imply that content is unimportant. Your community site
will become an excellent source of content in the days to come. But the
real test of a community is not how much content it contains, but how
much activity is going on. People don't post questions to a community
site because of all the content that is there. They submit their
questions because they see enough people around who could answer them. Here are some ways you can seed activity for your community prior to your launch:
Plan to post any seed content over a
period of a week or two, starting just 2-3 days before you launch to
the public. This will ensure at least one steady source of activity in
the all important first days after your launch. If
you have identified a group of potential superusers, invite them in 2-3
days before everyone else to use the site and provide feedback. This
engages those members early on and helps to build the activity that new
visitors will be looking for. Prepare
an event such as "Ask the Expert" or similar to occur shortly following
the launch, and open up a temporary board for advance questions.
Limited time events focus attention and help members overcome the
procrastination barrier. A series of recurring events can become a
regular generator of activity in your community. Promote
your community! You can't influence members to participate if they
don't know you exist. Throw as much traffic as you can at this problem
to increase your odds for success. A last word
about seeding content: be wary of drowning out the voice of your
members. If a large part
of the content is coming from you, it usually means that you are not
getting enough traffic or you are not providing your members enough
time to respond. Nothing will kill a conversation deader than the
"voice of authority" stepping in. So pace yourself, and give your members
time to work through an issue on their own.
These are just some ideas for building activity in your community - if you have others to share, post them in the comments! Message Edited by scottd on 07-29-2008 10:16 PM
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Things are moving quickly on the Lithosphere roll-out, as we add the finishing touches to the site. It's been quite an experience on the other end of a deployment, as suddenly I have had to make choices about things like design and color scheme, blogger avatars, etc. But it looks like all that effort is paying off, because as we are putting the pieces together it is looking very cool (due to the skill of our designers and developers more in spite of my choices than because of them, no doubt)!
Coincidentally, there was an interesting presentation I was directed to from Jake McKee's blog recently, called Eye Candy IS A Critical Business Requirement, and I've been trying to figure out if I agree with it or not. I am not a expert in visual design, but it seemed to me that the premise was that you should not dismiss the visual design as a nice-to-have or optional part of your product; that visual design is critical to a product's success. Whether people like using your product ultimately has as much to do with the emotional impact of that product's visual design than its function (those better versed in the subject, please correct me if I missed or misstated an important point).
When it comes to community building, I have occasionally witnessed conflicts occur between the corporation's design and branding team and its community managers. The design team wants to ensure that the brand is protected and that the community site adheres to the style guidelines created for their corporate web properties. But sometimes the requested changes impact the ability for community managers to highlight and promote activity by their members.
I think the issue is that the guidelines were written at a time when the web designers had full control of the content that was being produced for the site, and the main goals at the time were navigation and search to locate content which users would consume and leave. Today's communities and community-enabled sites have different design goals:
Make it easy for visitors to find and post relevant content Demonstrate a reasonable amount of change and activity Provide a flexible, user-customizable environment to attract and retain super users
User generated content may not adhere to corporate style guidelines, it may not be of a consistent width for your corporate page, it may not be brief enough to fit in the box and it may not be pretty. But that content is the reason that your members show up, along with tools to create content themselves.
So do I agree with the presentation that visual design is as critical as functionality to a product? I would say that the best products have both. But if I had to pick between using an ugly car that quickly and easily gets me where I want to go versus a stunningly beautiful concept design car with strange controls and useless style elements, I would pick the former. The Model-T did not succeed because it was the pinnacle of style and beauty; it was reliable and available to most families. Its successors eventually improved design and style to differentiate themselves, but not at the cost of the underlying functionality. And you can have the most beautiful community site in the world, but if it does not do enough to attract and retain members, it will fail. Does this mean visual design is unimportant? Far from it. But it must compliment the functionality of a site, not conflict with it.
What are the sites that you actively participate in today? What are the first things about those sites that you notice when you go there?
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Activity is the lifeblood of your community. In a support community, recent activity represents the possibility that my question will be answered quickly (if it hasn't already been posted). For an engagement community, active conversations increase the likelihood that there are others like me in the community to connect with. One of the easiest ways to increase activity in your community is to place your links where the most people will see them, which will in turn increase the number who visit and therefore the number who are likely to post. Conversely, one of the quickest ways to kill your community is to fail to adequately promote it. You can (and should) do all you can within the community to encourage members to participate, but if no one shows up you are limited in what you can influence. The more of your target audience you can attract to your community, the greater your chances of success. Which leads to one of the key best practices we've seen for community success: Place persistent and prominent links to the community on your well trafficked web pages. Links should be persistent, meaning they appear on every page load in a consistent position to get penetration (i.e., not rotating banner ads). And the links should be prominent, meaning that they should appear above the fold of the page without scrolling, and are not buried within multiple sub-menus. The top 3 pages for most organizations should come as no surprise: Your main home page Your main navigation in a common header Your main support page/program page Other types of promotion are useful (email outreach, newsletters, in-product links and documentation), but none of these have been shown to be a substitute for those highly visible links of the main pages of your site. Obviously this is very valuable web real estate for the organization, so there may be a number of people you need to convince to place your links on all of those pages. But time spent early in getting that approval can pay very large dividends in the future for your community. Communities thirst for activity - make sure you are using the biggest pipes to get it there.
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