Discussion: The Heart of Small Online Communities
The notion that discussion is the foundation of community is not a new one. In fact, it’s fairly consistent theme with the some of the most influential bloggers dealing with community management, including Richard Millington over at FeverBee and Patrick O’Keefe at iFroggy. Despite the fact that it’s a topic that has been written about extensively, it’s important enough that I think it’s excusable to be repetitious.
Beyond that, however, I think it is incredibly important for small online communities. Much of the excitement and attention in community management these days is focused on brand-related communities and particularly the B2C space. There’s a lot of discussion about user generated photos, art, and video. There’s a lot of excitement about contests and gamification. And there’s plenty of advice and strategy around content generation and planning. But as someone whose primary focus is on smaller online communities, and specifically communities run by associations or clubs, I often feel that much of this is not relevant, or at least is not where the primary focus should be.
The communities that I am most interested are more about sharing information and learning from one another. Discussion is clearly the most important type of interaction in this environment, but even I sometimes overlook it. At AssociCom, we think think we have some pretty good tools for content aggregation and social curation. These are necessary tools if you have a community in which information sharing is going to be a significant activity. So when describing AssociCom to people we often put a lot of focus on these. However, we sometimes fail to point out that even for information sharing, it is generally not the sharing itself that makes the community vibrant, but the discussions that spring up around that information. And this really is reflected in the way that we built it because content items actually serve as the locus for discussions; we just sometimes forget to point out to people how significant that is.
Coming back around to what this all means for small communities, I think the greatest challenge that small communities face is getting started. I’ve seen my share of small communities that were founded with the best of intentions and enthusiasm, but which have struggled and sometimes simply faded away. If you are thinking about creating an online community for your association, group, or club, you need to be able to answer these questions:
- What sort of topics are going to be discussed?
- Who is interested in discussing these topics? And the answer to this question needs to be specific people who you know are enthusiastic about those topics.
- How am I going to get those specific people involved in the community and starting those discussions?
- How am I going to make others aware of those discussions and encourage them to participate?
If you have good solid answers for these questions, I feel fairly confident that you can create an active online community that will be of tremendous value to your organization.