There are seven key elements I believe must be considered when building an online community. Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored the first six of these elements in a series of posts designed to help you build the best community possible.
This week, I will cover the seventh and last element in the series – the tenure of an online community. Even though this is the final element, it by no means should be the last element considered. The period of time in which an online community is operational very much provides guidance on the set up of all the other elements.
Typically, there are two timeframes for consideration:
Short-term – this is when a project is of limited duration where the timeframe is typically between one and four weeks, and a fixed number of people are invited to join knowing when the online community opens and closes.
Often these projects will have one main objective. For example, in a community we built for a world leading retail property group, it was a psychographics study seeking to gain an understanding of people’s activities, motivations, needs and wants.
For short-term communities, activities are setup to address specific requirements, and members are incentivised appropriately for the time commitment envisaged. When the community closes, access to the platform is restricted and members will no longer be able to login – not that there would be an expectation nor reason for them to.
Long-term – this is when a project is set up to run for 12 months or more, where typically an online community is integrated into a business’s research suite. Here, people are invited to join and encouraged to actively participate continuously, and the close date is less definite. Being an always-on community means that multiple research objectives can be addressed at different points in time, for example different days, weeks, and even months, which allows for a wide range of topics to be shared and discussed.
With the longer timeframe, it’s important to review the recruitment campaign in terms of how often to refresh and replenish the sample of people in the community, and ensure the content is relevant, so that over time, members get to know each other and the online community becomes a place where people want to ‘hang out’. In turn, this means that there is always a group of people readily available to answer quick questions, provide rich comments in conversations, and complete surveys to provide robust results.
Deciding on the most appropriate tenure for an online community comes down to what the business research needs are – if it is to address one main objective, then a short-term community is the way to go; and if it is to have answers at one’s fingertips to future questions, then a long-term community is perfect.