Believe it or not, not every website is an online community! There are millions, if not billions of sites out there that have absolutely no community aspect to them whatsoever. Many of these will be successful, many will not.
If you have a website and are toying with the idea of incorporating some community features, you need to think carefully before you act.
The benefits of community
One of the great things about online communities is the huge amount of user-generated content they are capable of creating. Unlike a static website where the site owner has to create all the content day after day to keep the site fresh and interesting, successful online communities generate their own content.
A strong, close-knit community can also help you retain visitors and earn their trust. There is no stickier site than the one where people go to meet existing friends, find new ones and talk about the things that interest them.
Successful online communities appear to be far more visitor focussed – community developers are often seen directly interacting with their visitors, getting involved in conversations and asking for new ideas and feedback. By fostering a great sense of community, you (as the site developer) will come across as far more approachable and personable – there will be far fewer perceived barriers between ‘you’ and ‘them’.
Do you have the time and resources to develop a community?
This is the question most people tend to ignore – they install some forum software and expect the registrations and new posts to magically appear. Even if you have an already popular static website, this will not necessarily be the case.
Developing an online community is hard work – it requires motivation, enthusiasm, patience and persistence. You will need to continue creating content for your site and the new community area; all before you walk the tight-rope of being a successful moderator. Are you ready to more than double your current workload?
Does a community add value?
I believe that an online community can add value to every single website – but only if executed correctly. A failed community can damage a visitor’s perception of your entire website. Your visitors may have a high level of respect for you and your site right now, but these views may change for the worse if you tack on a forum without investing any effort in developing it.
If you decide to make your site more of a community, be prepared to be held even more accountable to your visitors. They will now have a way of communicating their thoughts about you and your site, on your site! You will need to work even harder at keeping them happy, and you will need to work even harder at developing this new and vitally important area of your website.
Get it right, and the rewards are immense. Get it wrong, and your reputation (and site) could be ruined.