Nothing is worth doing unless it’s fun. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.
How do we make online communities fun? By introducing gaming mechanics for each activity a community members performs. They’re already baked into today’s online community platforms but may not be that obvious to you. They come in the form of points, status ranks, badges, progress bars, virtual currency and leader boards.
By making things competitive, you encourage members to engage in the desired behaviors and goals of your online community that would otherwise seem dull and unfulfilling.
Which gaming mechanics have you deployed on your community? Did you see an instant uptick in user-generated content and activities?
Soapboxers can be a tricky bunch to manage. They often carry extremely strong personalities within online communities, often replying to every post – possibly multiple times, to really drive home their point of view. Note: They are not to be confused with power users.
Based on my observations, ‘boxers post just to hear himself talk. They feel that they are the resident subject matter expert (which may be true) and all other opinions that oppose theirs are simply incorrect.
If not managed early, ‘boxers can spiral out of control. Often times, they begin to bully other members and use explicit or derogatory language towards them. The obvious outcome? Your members will be stymied (believe it or not, first time I’ve used that word) by this behavior and you’ll see an instant drop in return visits and member contributions.
Be cordial at first. Have one on one communications with the ‘boxer asking them to tone it down and respect others’ opinions. Point them to the community guidelines as a reminder of accepted behavior.
If they continue in their ways, it’s time for some moderation. Have all their posts immediately hit the moderation queue to be screened for a probationary period. This may cause more work for your moderation team, but in the best interest of the community, it’ll be worth it. What if your community platform doesn’t allow such targeted moderation? Suspend the account for 30 days. This will send a clear message that these are serious offenses and there’s no place for it in your community.
Ok, so you’ve tried everything by now and their still right back at it with their antics. It’s time to ask yourself, is it worth all the time, effort and resources to keep this member? And if you are asking yourself this question, you’ve already answered it. NO, it is not worth it. It’s time to cut this member loose and move on. I understand your hesitance, but believe me, more good will come out of banning this member than bad. New members will begin to emerge. Why? Because you once again created a non-threatening environment for all community members to enjoy.
Do you have soapboxers in your community? How did you manage them? What was the outcome?
Having clear and defined community objectives will help guide your members’ actions. They’ll guide your members to the type of content you, as a company, are looking for and the type of actions that are acceptable from your members. Basically, the objectives will define the tone and personality of your community.
These objectives should take the form of verbs to indicate a call-to-action, much like marketing messages do. But these verbs need to be more descriptive than “Start a blog,” “Collaborate on a wiki” or “Upload Photos.” Members ultimately need to know why.
Take a look at these successful communities that designed with this verb-driven engagement model. I purposely left out the “why” so you can view it in context with the respective communities.
iReport: Share – Discuss – Be heard
my Health Communities: Connect – Share – Support
SolidWorks: Discuss – Search – Learn
PlanetPTC: Showcase – Network – Inspire
Topliners: Imagine It – See It – Do It
LinkedIn: Stay – Find – Control
Foursquare: See – Learn – Unlock
Intel: Share – Collaborate – Innovate
Are you using this verb-driven engagement models? What three tenants are driving your community’s participation?
Lithium, a provider of social software, set out to standardized how to measure the overall health of an online community using what they call the, “Community Health Index.”
To cut through all the fluff, lead-ins and background, I’m going to give you the run-down of the contents of the paper Lithium published in December of 2011.
Lithium analyzed a decade’s worth of proprietary data that represents billions of actions, millions of members, and scores of online communities of varying types, sizes and ages. Based on that analysis, Lithium identified common set of characteristics that most accurately represent a healthy online community.
Those common characteristics are growth, usefulness, popularity, responsive, interactive and liveliness
Growth refers to an online community’s members. Depending on where you are in the community lifecycle (newly launched or mature), continuous membership, or registration count, is an indicator of good health.
Usefulness refers to an online community’s content. In support communities, members need to find answers or get their questions answered. In energizing communities, content attracts and engages members. In listening communities, it provides indispensible input about a company’s products and services.
Therefore, “a steady infusion of useful content is essential to the health of a community.” The metric used to measure content is normally the number of posts. However, volume does not necessarily indicate usefulness, so factor in page views as a secondary metric to gauge demand for that content.
Popularity refers to page views or eyes on content.
Responsiveness refers to the amount of time in minutes between the initial post and the first reply. Lithium’s research indicates an average response time of 1,000 minutes (~16 hours) or less is healthy. They also indicate an average of 50 posts per forum per week.
Interactive refers to the average number of responses a thread/topic would contain. This is all dependent on the size of the community, but four responses per thread indicate excellent health.
Liveliness refers to the distribution of posts across the community. Between five and ten posts per day in each community segment is considered healthy.
Again, these common set of characteristics are to standardize how overall online community health is measured. I’m sure you’re wondering why certain other characteristics aren’t part of the formula like conversion of lurkers to contributors, return visits etc. My guess is that these six characteristics were strong enough indicators of health and that most, if not all, community managers have readily access to these data points.
The full report can be downloaded here. I recommend a full read. There are quite a few other nuggets of gold in there.