Communication formatsThere are seven key elements I believe must be considered when building an online community. Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored five of these elements in a series of posts designed to help you build the best community possible. For this post, I am assuming a recruitment campaign has kicked off, and the people joining your online community are active contributors – though don’t be too concerned if members are a little slow off the mark, do these three things well and member engagement is likely to improve. So, what’s the best way to reach out to your community members? There are three communication formats that I have found most relevant for online communities. These formats – listed in order of increasing audience reach – are:
1.Chat – this is quite a nifty tool for moderators as it enables the initiation of one-on-one conversations with members who are logged into the community. It works like instant messaging, and it is particularly useful when a moderator wishes to converse with a member without other members seeing as it’s not relevant to them. For example, when there’s an exclusive activity with specific details of where to go, what to do, and the incentive rewarded.
2.In situ – this is when a member posts a question, and a community moderator replies to that particular post. For example, a member might be searching for a specific activity to complete, and a moderator addresses this by replying directly to the post with navigational guidelines on where to find the activity, or if an activity is already completed, letting them know this is the case and thanking them for their interest – recall that acknowledgement goes a long way!
3.Announcements – this is by far the most commonly used format for communicating with members, and there are three channels in which to distribute information:
- The first channel is on the platform, so when a member logs into the online community, it is the first post they see – effectively it works like a message on a noticeboard. This is particularly useful in getting information to a large group of people, whether it’s to everyone or a subset of members in the community. For example, an introduction to new moderators to the community, or a congratulatory message to monthly prize-winners.
- The second channel is via push notification to members’ mobile and tablet devices, so that members are the first to know when there are new activities to complete. This is great when combined with geo-locations and tagging because activities can then be targeted and reported based on specific regions and catchment areas, enabling the drawing of deeper analysis and insights.
- The third channel is one that almost needs no introduction because it forms the very foundation upon which communities are recruited – it is, of course, email. From the expression of interest in joining, through to receiving an invitation and activation of an account, email announcements are used. Once a person becomes a member, emails are used to provide information about the community, to ensure members understand how the community works, and to encourage members to actively participate in activities. Just like cashflow is considered to be the lifeblood to a business, email communication is almost certainly the lifeblood to an online community
Next week’s post – my final in this series, will be about the tenure – building an online community for a limited period or long-term program as part of your research suite.Part 6 – Empathy Part 7 – Tenure
Fei is Head of Communities at Evolve, and is passionate about building online communities that bring colour and texture to quantitative research.