Building Online Communities

Building a vibrant online community is more than putting up some forum, blog or wiki software and hoping that they will come, contribute and .collaborate. There’s a lot or psychology, social economics and of course technology at work.  

At WeThink, a wiki ‘intended to promote discussion of the rise of mass, collaborative creativity” there’s a series of articles on building online communities and open source collaboration. For someone starting out chapter 4 part 2 is a good introduction to some general approaches. They outline 8 rules for open organizations such as 
1. A community has to start somewhere  

2. Motivate and attract contributors

3. Low barriers to entry & easy to use tools

4. Crowds need meeting places – provide them

5. Self distribution of labor

6. Let people build on their ideas

7. Think of Lego – a community of communities 

8. Lead by example – norms not dictates

If you’re thinking of adding community to you media or business site – the first thing to think about is audience. Communities are driven by people contributing – and there are relatively few people who consistently do this. While I wouldn’t suggest hard & fast numbers because characteristics of the audience – such as the level of enthusiasm, and purpose of posting affect contribution – if you’re going to build a community you’ll want numerous posts daily – more as the audience gets more general. 

From the list above the biggest mistakes I’ve seen (and made myself) is not motivating and rewarding contributors and making entry too difficult – especially as you’re starting out. It’s conversation that builds community – and anything that stands in the way of that impedes community development. 

My belief is that online communities will be increasingly part of our social and physical interaction – and that media and businesses that understand this, and develop communities around themselves will find that it opens powerful new marketing an product development opportunities that feed both business and community growth.