By Jim Storer, Co-Founder and Pricipal of the Community Roundtable
Community is subject to the old adage, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” But simply planning isn’t enough. We often discuss that simply building a community is not enough – sadly, the average community is not the Field of Dreams. To define community requirements that scale, organizations need to examine their user segments and account for the external factors which affect community development, both of which influence the optimal design of their communities. If you can successfully understand both your organization’s and your users’ needs in terms of these areas, you can offer the right tools to ensure successful launch and adoption for the long term.
COMPLEX HUMAN SOCIAL INTERACTIONS ARE NOT EASILY CAPTURED IN SOFTWARE
In the early stages of community (the first six to twelve months), users’ requirements are relatively simple; throwing a kitchen sink of features at them when they first join will put off most people because of the complexity and your adoption will flag. But within that first year, most organizations will graduate to what The Community Roundtable refers to as the “One Year Club” (Thomas Vander Wal coined the term), where simplicity is no longer enough, as the community’s requirements will evolve rapidly once it begins its adoption and engagement ramp, and different user types begin to emerge. Start by understanding your four main user types:
Pointer/Gatherers – These users point and link to areas outside of the community, gathering information and bringing it into the community for others to benefit from. This might be anyone from an employee who shares the weekly corporate softball team schedule, to a member you can count on to share interesting and relevant news stories.
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) – These are your community’s experts whose insights are rebroadcast by the community. SMEs rarely engage with the social tools outside of the organization because they already feel overwhelmed and don’t want to add to their workload.
Gardeners – Some curators “garden” by discovering information, insights and content and then “plant” it where it will be most likely to be easily located by those who will benefit most from it. These members also tend to be good connectors – both of people and of ideas.
Doubters – These members are always questioning and challenging assumptions of the community. They are particularly useful in innovation systems as they are adept at identifying capability gaps.
Make sure the structure you create balances those who do the questioning with those who contribute. The framework should be designed with an understanding of the different stages at which these groups interact; don’t try to force-fit the community to the tool. Don’t forget though: individuals may play one role in one group and a different role in a different group. Make sure they have the capabilities available to them to switch between roles as needed.
In addition to these roles, users will also come in at varying depths of use and contribution:
Outsider with no accountability –lurkers who consume the content generated by the community but don’t contribute. Once they create a profile or account they transition from a non-contributing user to a non-contributing member and begin developing an understanding of the breadth of offerings of the service.
Realizing the service has a selective interface – At this stage, users see that they can self-select a way to consume the content in the community and explore their areas of interest.
Light Contributor – This phase begins with high-level contributions to the community such as commenting. Users in this stage are not yet contributing content to the community, but rather are responding to content posted by others.
Heavy contributor – At this stage, the person actively curates content from the outside to share with the community.
A well-designed community will help people feel comfortable moving along the journey from anonymous lurker to full heavy-contributor. The more users you can get to graduate to the sharing and curation stage, the more likely you will realize your ultimate goal of a vibrant, self-sustaining community that benefits both your organization and your users.
How far along the path to maturity is your community? Have you run into similar challenges as a member of the One Year Club or are you still in the initial or planning stage? We’d love to hear about your successes and struggles in mapping out your own requirements for a successful community.
Note: Check out Part Two of this post over on Enterprise Hive’s blog. There we discuss two other critical factors for designing communities that scale: the importance of outside influences and mapping community to your organization’s culture.