Can you afford not to offer community features?

by Martin Reed on 24 June 2008 in Articles

Website community features

According to Forrester, consumers that visit media websites are increasingly looking for community features. I have written before about whether communities add value to websites, whether you should add a forum to your blog, and whether your website is ready for a chat room. In all three articles, I argued that whilst communities can add value to a website, they can only do so if you have the time and commitment needed to make the community succeed. With the growing demand and expectation of community features though, can you afford to ignore this trend?

Reasons to avoid community features

Creating a successful online community is not easy – particularly if you have no previous experience in community development. If you don’t keep an eye on your community and take an active role in its development, it will fail. Not only that, but a failing online community can actually damage your reputation and brand.

A community cannot just be tacked onto an existing website and be left to its own devices. Sure, you may get lucky and add a forum to your site and see it become an overnight success – this happening would be close to a miracle, though. Even more unlikely would be a forum that becomes a hive of activity without any arguments or undesirable content being posted from time to time.

Developing successful online communities requires a lot of effort. I believe that all websites can benefit from some community elements – if you aren’t ready to invest the effort into developing a forum, consider starting off with a blog; this will save you time as you will not need to actively encourage user-generated content – you have full editorial control and can foster a community feeling through the commenting system.

Deciding against adding community elements to your site because you don’t have the time or expertise will only result in you losing your competitive advantage as others embrace online communities as a key element of their business strategy. If you feel that you don’t have enough knowledge in this area, consider reading up on how to manage online forums. You could even consider consulting a community builder.

Reasons to add community features

As already stated, visitors to websites are increasingly demanding community features. A site without community elements risks failing to satisfy the wants and needs of its visitors. Successful communities help develop a relationship between your users and your brand. They help create loyalty to your website – after all, sites on a similar topic to yours are easy for a competitor to develop. Creating a carbon copy of your community will be nigh on impossible.

The Internet is becoming increasingly interactive – people aren’t just looking for information when they go online. They are also looking to interact and develop relationships. By offering community features, you will be well-placed to ensure your site’s continued success into the future.

Online communities put you in touch with your audience. They help you learn about your audience, and they help your audience learn about you. Humans are social creatures and actively seek interaction with others. Unless you offer community features on your website, you will soon be left behind.

The final benefit of online communities that shouldn’t be dismissed is the fact that users generate content. If you have no experience with community development, you should know that this doesn’t mean communities can be left to their own devices – they still need to be nurtured and moderated. However, when online communities reach critical mass, your users will be creating a large proportion of your website’s content, giving you more time to tend to other areas of your website’s development.

Your thoughts

What community features does your website have? Do you feel a website can still be successful in the long term if it refuses to incorporate any community elements? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Reverse Mergers June 24, 2008 at 8:46 pm

I agree with you. I have a website dedicated to a band. In the first year there was place for the interaction, forum and other opportunities. After a while I became fed up with the group of fangirls and closed the forum, and now there is also no opportunity to comment on the site at all. There are less hits on the site now, but I am still satisfied and not planning to take back the forum, because the site itself is much more mature in this way, and is still the most reliable source of the news and all in our “business”, so I am not concerned about the number of the hits, especially while I see quotes from us all over the net.

Patrick O'Keefe June 24, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Thanks for the mention. :)


Mr Woc June 25, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Hi there

Some good common sense points on there, hard to say if its important to keep introducing community features, as myspace and other sites have hardly changed in years.

Personally I like to keep adding things, to keep people interested, but its really a trial and error thing, some things i add dont capture peoples imagination and some do.


Amish Made Furniture June 25, 2008 at 3:32 pm

I personally do not intend to start a community and I really do not have the time to get involved with even popular ones like myspace. I however see your point. For instance, a personal blog meant for family can grow into quite a community blog with members wanting facilities.

I should however imagine that it will be demand driven and not something that one can plan ahead for.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Reverse – Well I guess that so long as you are satisfied, you made the right choice. I personally feel it is a shame you closed the community which seems to have been thriving simply because you didn’t want to address the issues you were having with some of your members. Although your site is being picked up in the industry, I can’t help but feel your site would be richer if you still had the community aspect.

Patrick – You’re welcome. I am looking forward to reading the book in July.

Mr Woc – This article wasn’t about continually introducing community features; I was talking about merely introducing a community feature. If you keep adding features just for the sake of it, you’ll soon have a site that is impossible to use and navigate!

Ramana – Not everyone has the desire to start a community, and it’s a good thing that they recognise this fact. The worst thing that can happen is someone that can’t really be bothered to develop a community but goes ahead and introduces one anyway!

Nicole Price June 27, 2008 at 8:08 am

Absolutely. You should make the commitment of a forum or a chat room only if you have the time or the resources to devote to that, and as of now i certainly don’t think that it is merited in my case.

UptakeInOH July 3, 2008 at 2:27 am

I think a lot depends upon the focus of your forum. Some topics lend themselves more to a community than others.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 1:26 am

Nicole – It’s better to recognise the fact now, than further down the line when you have already invested in setting up the community and laying down the groundwork!

Uptake – I guess that is true to a certain extent, although I would argue that pretty much any topic will find an audience these days.

Ray April 1, 2009 at 7:38 am

This is all true, but I am looking at ways of building communities, without a forum such as Twitter, Facebook and chat rooms. For me, I found forums to be incompatable with my ‘city site’ and I am in the process of removing the forum from my site. My research from other area based communities showed to me that communities based around a location frequently wanted to discuss local issues. I found that these discussions were frequently negative, political, critical of municipal services and so on. Discusions reflected the unusual, the extreme and the injustices of city life. I wanted my site to create a positive spin on life in the city and having a forum that discusses the harsh realities actually damages my brand.
I’m not rulling out trying again in the future with a more restricted range of discussion topics, but I think, at the moment things like Facebook and Twitter, and the comment sections on my site offer me a lot more control.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 2, 2009 at 8:06 am

Ray – Am I right in understanding that you removed your forums because you didn’t want people to discuss topics in a negative fashion? If so, that is a real shame. If people want to be critical of local services, why is that a bad thing? As long as the discussions don’t descend into abuse with individual members attacking one another, then this should be seen as a positive; nothing gets people more passionate than criticising local government!

How are people going to communicate in your community now you have removed the forum? If you are going to move the discussion to blogs, how is this going to be any different? If people start blogging about ‘negative’ issues, are you going to remove blogs from the community, too?

If you want discussions to be more positive, lead by example and encourage your members to do the same. Don’t remove the communication medium altogether!

Sean March 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm

The current site I am working on does not need a community element… why? Simple, because of the niche area it covers does not lend itself to active members impassioned about the company. Without this you really have nothing.

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