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.
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.