Your members are the most valuable asset your online community has. Therefore, it is only natural for you to seek their opinions before any changes are made to the community or the product/service it supports. Likewise, it is also important to listen to the unsolicited opinions of your members. Acting on their suggestions may not always be the right course of action to take, though.
Your community is not one huge group of people who all share the same opinions. Some people are louder than others. Some people are naturally shy and hesitant to voice their ideas. Be careful who you listen to. Just because your community’s most active member voices an opinion or request, it doesn’t mean they speak for the whole community.
Your community will form groups – whether you specifically cater to them or not. Each group will have its own special interests. Let’s say you manage a gaming community like City of Heroes – there will be groups of people who prefer certain archetypes, others who prefer certain powers over others, and players that support different gameplay strategies. All of these groups will be looking to further their own interests. They may argue that a certain archetype or power in the game is flawed – that doesn’t mean that it is, though.
You need to dig deeper. Why are they suggesting this? What’s in it for them? Does this further the product for them, or for everyone? Don’t just canvas the thoughts of one group – cast a larger net. What do fans of the archetype or power being criticised think? Do they agree that it’s flawed? Make sure you’re always getting the full story.
Power members are both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, they can help lead your community in a positive direction. On the other hand, they can wield excessive influence and actually be a distraction. They can also make quieter members less likely to voice their own opinions.
Be careful when influencers in your community offer their opinions. Even if their suggestion is met with a chorus of approvals from other members, you still need to be cautious. Often, people will support a suggestion simply because everyone else is – especially if that suggestion is coming from an influencer.
It’s great to have a community of individuals who are passionate about your product. However, passion can cloud one’s judgement. People can lose all sense of reason and logic when they are hugely passionate about a subject – just take a look at some communities based on religion or politics to get an example of what I mean (sorry, no examples).
Passion is good, but take it with a pinch of salt.
Features do not make a community
Good community managers know that features do not make an online community – it’s the members that do that. However, many of your members won’t even realise this; they’ll often ask for additional features that they have seen elsewhere. Don’t add everything they request. Force yourself to justify every additional feature – the more you add, the more of a distraction they can become.
Don’t ask your members if they want a feature – ask them how they would use it. If you’re met with uncertainty and silence, you can safely assume that the feature isn’t really needed.
Filter, dig and consider
So, how do you decide whether or not to act on suggestions put forward by members of your online community? Here are some ideas:
1. Who is making the suggestion?
2. What is in it for them?
3. How much influence do they have within the community?
4. Who supports their idea? People in the same group, or a wider demographic of members?
1. Ask ‘why?’ – Why do you want the change? Why would it be a benefit?
2. Ask ‘how?’ – How would the change affect them? How do they see the change affecting others?
3. Ask them if they think the community or product it supports can survive (and continue to thrive) without the change.
4. Ask other members from another demographic what they think (privately).
1. Beware of special interests, groupthink and instinctive resistance to change.
2. Are you getting the whole picture? Are all your customers members of your online community?
3. What do you think?
Don’t introduce a feature or change your product just because a few members of your community suggest you do so. Online communities are a great way of being in touch with your audience and reducing your market research costs. However, you need to see the bigger picture. You still need to use your own judgement.