You can’t develop a strong online community overnight. Online communities need time to develop – behind every username is a real person. People don’t build strong relationships with others at first sight – it takes time. Just as real world relationships take time to develop, so do those that form online – and arguably they take even longer.
Online community is a more challenging communication medium
Most of our communication takes place visually. Even when we are involved in a deep conversation with someone, we get more information from their behaviour, expressions and body language that we do from their voice. The challenge with online communities is that this huge communication medium is eliminated – we can only communicate through text (and some rudimentary images or text styling).
People online are pretty much anonymous. This is both a benefit and a curse. When it comes to online communities, it can allow people to be truly honest and open. But it can also allow people to be abusive and offensive with little fear of any repercussions. Your members will probably have experienced at least one of these types of members, if not on your community then on someone else’s. If not, they would have heard of them. Depending on their previous experience and perception, members take different amounts of time to come out of their shell and really open up and get involved in the community.
Those that have only ever experienced open, honest members in an online community will open up much faster, will engage more frequently and create more content. Don’t forget about your quieter members, though. Indeed – you should think about focusing most of your efforts in getting them involved. They may have had a bad experience in the past and aren’t yet ready to trust your community or its members. You can improve the situation by running a professional online community. Develop and enforce rules and guidelines. Act professionally at all times. Have moderators that are the very best representatives of you and your community. Over time, even the most hesitant member will begin letting their guard down and will get involved as they feel more comfortable (as long as you don’t forget about them).
All online communities are should be unique
Some subjects are more sensitive than others. Expect these communities to take longer to develop.
Some online communities may make being anonymous more difficult. Members may therefore be hesitant to post or ‘make mistakes’.
Some online communities are pretty hard to use. Those that prefer style over substance may find their members take a while before they get involved because the learning curve is too steep.
How to develop online communities faster
3. As I touched upon earlier, make your online community easy to use. Don’t ask for too much personal information when members register.
4. Post questions – get people talking. Create posts that mention specific members. Thank your members for their contribution.
5. Get your best members involved in the development of your community. The more cheerleaders you have, the better.
6. Create a safe, secure community environment. Ensure you have community guidelines and that you enforce them professionally, impartially and consistently.
7. Earn the trust of your members. Don’t harass them or spam them. Be professional, tolerant and approachable.
8. Don’t bring in too many new members too quickly. A sudden rush of members will damage your online community. Slowly does it.
9. Encourage and thank members when they contribute. First time posters and contributors will be worried they may have said or done something wrong. Reassure them.
10. Create a buddy system. For every new member that joins, one of your trusted members becomes their buddy. They introduce themselves, make that member feel welcome, offer support and encourage them to get involved.
Never rush an online community
Rushed online communities are those that throw huge resources towards getting huge traffic and huge member counts. These aren’t strong online communities – there aren’t any relationships involved. As soon as you forget that online communities are built on human relationships, you’ll lose focus and your online community will suffer. Relationships take time to develop. Therefore, so do online communities.
Do you think it is possible to rush the development of an online community but still develop strong member relationships? What are your tips for speeding up online community development without neglecting relationship building? Perhaps you think strong online communities can be developed overnight. Whatever your opinion, please share it by leaving a comment below.