Getting the message out: 3 ground rules for an online community
Imagine a packed town hall meeting where residents throughout the town were not only present but engaged in a lively debate and discussion ran rampant throughout the pews. Now picture an art gallery where spectators and artists gather to throw out ideas critiquing and marveling at the work in one corner and in another a group of aspiring artists discuss the brush strokes. Now see a place where all of this engagement can happen 24 hours a day and in homes all across the world.
The goal of a successful thriving online community is to create a forum where people can come together with ideas and opinions and feel not only like they can make a contribution but also like they belong which keeps them coming back. So how do you make this happen? The three most important areas of focus are:
- Creating a forum that is original and that people are genuinely interested in
- Having a strong and clear focus for the page
- Providing enough content to keep them coming back
Discovering what people are interested in is a trade within itself. The probability of at least one person finding your website interesting is extremely good given the vast expanse of potential readers but you need more than one person to create a community. So you have to answer a few questions:
- Am I creating a forum for something I already know people are interested in?
- If not, what kinds of people are going to be interested in this idea?
If you are creating an interactive calendar for all the Ultimate Frisbee games in Nashville because players keep mentioning how much they need one then you can skip to the next step – there is already an interest. If you aren’t sure if people are interested than attempt to determine who your potential reader might be for example what their interests are and what line of work they are in. Don’t forget to do some researching online to make sure what you are hoping to create doesn’t already exist. If it does then see how you could improve on their approach or make some changes to yours.
Another helpful approach is to do some trial and error. When you are out and about, ask people if this is something that is interesting to them. Be open to rejection but also open to approvals and suggestions. You might get some great ideas just by talking to folks on the street.
Once you have determined that your idea is interesting, see if you can describe it in one sentence or less. The more concise your statement the more likely your web-page will have a strong focus which will translate to viewers. If you are still confused when creating the web page then there is a good chance your website readers will be confused and they will be less likely to know what to do when they get to your website. Be clear in telling users how to contribute.
Finally, it is amazing how quickly people can forget about a good idea. Without a constant flow of content on the website users have no need to return. In order to maintain feedback and the sharing of ideas there must always be new content to comment on. The more you can cross reference other information on your site and the more members can share their ideas the better.