What's your experience in getting an online community to grow?
September 8, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of developing an online community (for a fairly specific industry/group of people) and was hoping to hear from others about their experiences during the early months/first year of getting an online community to grow.

I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who initially had problems with participation but were able to make changes to the site that increased participation. What were some features that you thought would be used but never garnered interest from users? What were some features that you ended up adding in response to user requests?

We're not trying to be the next Facebook or anything. The goal would just be to offer a very good experience for our target audience and a place they want to keep coming back to. Ideally it would be more than just a place that gets a five-minute scan each morning, but instead become a hub for discussion and action for the target audience.

So far we've implemented discussion boards, a news feed, a kind of events system, a simple messaging system, profiles, and a way to add friends. We'll probably add some kind of reputation/reward system in the future.

And yes, I've read mathowie's piece on the subject
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend:


you could wrap them all into one by interviewing someone well known in the community, designing a poll around the topic of the interview, doing a contest where commenters on the interview are entered to win and the giveaway is something related to the interviewee...maybe they made it? or designed it? or owned it.

of course, you could do them all separately as well. but I think they are good ways to get people to return to your site.
posted by morganannie at 8:52 AM on September 8, 2010

The best way to find out what your users want is to ask them.

Use non-intrusive context-sensitive feedback forms to ask specific, easy to answer questions. Provide a "Suggestions?" form on every page, highlight it with some contrasting color; the form itself should be a single field and should be submitted with AJAX so it doesn't negatively affect the user's experience. On your side, tie the feedback to the user account, and get the URL from which the form was submitted so you can use the same form and data model to get suggestions for all parts of the site, but still have a little context for what the user was talking about. Thank specific users for their feedback if it becomes a feature.

When you've implemented a new feature, announce it via a one-time site-wide message, like the "first time here?" message on stack overflow, so your users know you are responsive to suggestions them and are working to make their experience better.
posted by beerbajay at 9:31 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd make sure to surface new content "on top", in a very visible place when you visit the website. Many people love to check on "what's new" and join those conversations.

It's also nice to give people something to talk about — morganannie's interview idea sounds great, or seeding conversations with related news articles.

Probably the best way to do this, though, would be to ask the people you want to actually use the site! Ask them in detail what they want to talk about, sit behind them and look at how they use the site, etc.
posted by dreamyshade at 9:33 AM on September 8, 2010

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