Some people still seem to think that the more features and options they offer in their community, the easier it will be to attract members and activity. This is not true.
We need to get rid of the popular mindset that offline communities and online communities are different. They aren’t. Regardless of the medium, a community is a place where people with similar interests come together. It is all too easy to get distracted by technology and lose focus on what really matters: people. Too many options can be confusing and distracting.
The technology distraction
There are so many community platforms out there, we are spoilt for choice. There are even more plugins, extensions and modules. There is a very real risk of being distracted by all this technology and adding everything and anything you can get your hands on.
Corporate press releases that announce the launch of a new online community often prove this mistaken mentality. They’ll announce the purpose of the community (fine) and all the features it will offer (irrelevant). What they should be doing is telling us why people will want to join the community and what type of members are already there. Bells and whistles are pointless if nobody wants them or uses them.
Keeping up with the Joneses
This problem is further compounded as people see others loading their communities with features, so feel the need to do the same just to keep up. The result is a mass of websites that claim to be communities, but are anything but.
Stand out from the crowd. Cut back on the features. Strip your community website down to the bare essentials. When you find yourself thinking about adding a feature, stop and ask yourself why it’s needed. Work hard to justify the addition. Don’t ask your members if they want the feature (most will just say yes). Instead, ask them if they will use the feature, how often they will use it, and why they will use it. You’ll get much better feedback that way.
Just because your community consists solely of a forum, it doesn’t mean it can’t be successful. You only need to provide a single medium for people to communicate in. You may never need to add anything else. Less work for you, and happier members. What could be better?
Technology doesn’t encourage activity
Don’t be tricked into thinking that members demand certain features and functionality. Members aren’t really interested in the technology behind a community – they are far more interested in the people and human activity taking place there.
A huge number of features can actually reduce and discourage activity – especially when a community is new. You risk making the community overly complicated and you can end up overwhelming new visitors and existing members alike. When your community is just starting out, you will often simply be emphasising how new and quiet it is – this isn’t the best way to encourage new members to join!
Remove features that members aren’t using (you can always try reintroducing them in the future). Don’t introduce new features unless there is already evidence of demand – for example, people posting a lot of links to images may suggest demand for member photo galleries.
Be a technology sceptic. Focus on people instead.