It is time for you to build “Community 2.0.” The singularity
of “Community” is important. It implies that you need to build a strong
community that unifies users from different backgrounds and interests, enabling
them to share expertise and socialize across the boundaries of location and
time. Clearly, there will be times when subsets of users focus on specific
interests, but they should still feel like a member of the overall Community
that you build.
To build Community 2.0, you need to learn from all of the
communities examined in this research and focus on maximizing the 3 key
Sense of Community
Let us look at specific steps you can take to embrace these
three key principles and create a community that produces passionate users.
Sense of Community
Almost all of the successful sites we looked at in our
research managed to build dedicated communities by fostering strong relationships
between users. On some sites that was done by providing a "friend"
system; on others it was done by enabling users to easily communicate. However,
it is implemented; a successful community site needs to enable users to be
Social enablement does not necessarily mean talking.
Enabling users to be social simply means providing them with tools to interact
that enable them to be individually expressive. In practical terms, several
things you can implement on your websites that facilitate this principle are:
Rich user profile support – User profiles
are a great place to enable users to “get personal” and share details about
their experience and background. If users are given the ability to create
personal profiles that are publicly available on a site, a new level of social
interaction will emerge as users discover people with similar interests and
backgrounds. Profiles can be further enhanced to provide better user
recognition, but more on that later.
Enable comments on everything – While
being social does not necessarily involve talking (or on the web,
"commenting"), it is certainly an important aspect of social sites.
You can easily transform bland static content into rich social interactions by
simply giving users the ability to talk about it. The value of comments can even
be enhanced by clearly highlighting items on your site that are actively being
commented on so that other users can join the conversation.
Share information with your users – Not
in the “secret” sense, but in terms of what other users on the site are doing.
How many other users are online right now? Who is online right now? Which blog
post/news article/picture is being viewed the most this month? The more users
feel connected with each other the more inclined they will be to become
involved in the community and contribute to its success.
Provide “befriending” tools – As your new
community grows and diversifies, users are likely to run into other users that
they have more in common with than others. Providing tools to users that enable
them to “befriend” one another is common on social websites today and adding
that to your community is a powerful way to create connected users that have a
real sense of belonging.
Facilitate community events – Whether
online or in the real world, the community experience needs to continue past
the casual interaction on your site. Occasional gatherings in areas with high
concentrations of users or live online chats are a good way to help people see
past digital avatars and connect with real human beings.
Most successful community sites need some hook to motivate
users to get involved. While many people are happy to participate in a
community expecting nothing in return, the human desire to be recognized by
peers always seems to help motivate people to go the extra mile. Recognition
can take many forms (as we have seen), from "points" to certificates
to publicity to actual prizes. Finding the recognition that motivates your
users is the key to making the system work.
To that end, it is difficult to suggest a one size fits all
recognition scheme. What motivates one community may do absolutely nothing to
motivate another. You must really seek to understand your users at this point,
which may not be as hard as you think if you are practicing embedded
observation. What would motivate you to contribute to your community? What
would motivate your friends? Answer those questions and you will probably have
a good version. But be prepared to respond quickly if you find the users your
site attracts to have different motivations.
Rather than provide concrete steps for implementing
recognition on your site, I will provide you with some ideas based on other
site systems to get the thought process started.
Promote user activity - People that time
contributing to a community tend to appreciate public recognition for their
efforts. They would continue to do their work without the recognition (for a
while), but for relatively little effort as a developer, you can give these
active members the boost they need to keep pouring new content and life into
This recognition can be a top users list, special "status" or
"rank" given to active members. Whatever it is, it makes these users
feel needed, special and encourages other users to strive for the recognition.
Create contests - Nothing gets people
involved faster than a contest with an attractive prize. You would be amazed
how much users will do simply to win something "cool" like an iPod
nano. For $150, you can jump start your community and capitalize on most people's
desire to win. Do not forget to publicly recognize the winner in your community
to maximize the benefit of this form of recognition.
Establish community "shepherds"
- Every community will sooner or later (probably sooner) attract some wolves
that do nothing but ruin the community atmosphere. A good way to handle this
inevitable problem is to promote your most active users to unique roles- like
MVP or Moderator- giving them some power to help keep the community running in
the right direction. By establishing this advanced form of recognition, you
give users an even greater sense of ownership of the site and help ensure the
community's continued quality.
Providing simple tools to users is as difficult to do as
it is to describe. Often, tools that seem simple on paper are more complicated than
they need to be and lack in areas that users really care about. For example, when
Facebook introduced its seemingly simple News Feed in late 2006, thousands of
users decried its existence and petitioned its immediate removal. What seemed
like a good idea on paper had somehow missed the mark with the large Facebook
community. Eventually the new feature was made optional and life returned to
normal, but it remains a cautionary tale about adding tools and features to
site consumed by an active community.
Choosing the right tools and features to support your community is clearly a difficult task. Often, these choices are what enable one
site or community to become more successful than another. Showing restraint and
choosing only the tools that are relevant to your community- especially in its
infancy- is the most reliable path to success. And before you think that you
can add tons of extra features and make them optional to your users, remember
that every option in your site represents a decision your users must make. As
author Joel Spolsky says, do not make your users make decisions about things
they do not care about or they will get ticked-off and leave!
While defining simple tools is a bit abstract, there a
few general things you can focus on when creating tools for "community 2.0."
Build tools that are fast – One of the
biggest differences between interacting with the ASP.NET forums and the Experts
Exchange forums is the speed. The lag between clicking “Reply” to load the
editor and then later submitting the reply often is the worst part of the ASP.NET
forum experience. Communities depend upon tools that reduce the barriers
between communication, and slow responses create instant barriers for time
starved users that cannot wait on a site to participate. Whether the issues are
infrastructure or design, community 2.0 should offer an experience that is fast
Enhanced tools for advanced users – Among
the things Expert Exchange does exceptionally well is offer special tools for
advanced users that are primarily trying to “give” to the community (instead of
“take”). Experts on that site have a set of tools that make it easy to find
unanswered questions and deliver fast responses. Superior tools can maximize
the time users are willing to spend helping the community and fully harness
users’ passion for your community.
Provide clear, simple instructions for tools
– Even if the tool and process for contributing to the community is simple, a
poorly presented set of instructions can hinder their effectiveness. Making
tools easy to access and understand is just as important as making them easy to