What is Online Community?
Community on the Internet can mean different things to different people. However, when you are talking Web sites, there are just a few elements that you need to add to have the makings of a community.
articles, information, and news about a topic of interest to a group of people.
- forums or newsgroups and email
so your community members can communicate in delayed fashion
- chat and instant messaging
so your community members can communicate more immediately
There are also two types of management styles for your community elements:
these elements are usually maintained by a staff member on the Web site or a contractor hired to maintain the community.
- user created
user created elements are often more anarchistic, but they allow the community to evolve to fit its needs more directly.
What Does Community Do For Your Site?
Community adds a sense of belonging to a Web site. This can encourage repeat visits and more interest in the site as a whole. Often, there is richer and more varied content, as you don't have just one moderator creating content for the site, but rather many people joining in with their opinions and feelings.
If you are marketing a product, you can get more instantaneous feedback with community. You can find out how your product is working in the real world. And you can also better respond to your customers' needs.
Online communities create personal relationships with the members. This can help get information rapidly disseminated, as well as increase page views or product use through word of mouth.
How to Keep Up Your Community
Creating online communities is a lot of work. If you hire a contractor or just use community members to do the work, you should listen to their advice. They are usually on the pulse of what the members want and need from a site.
Once you've created an interface for your community, stick with it for a while. Even if you decide that it is not working out, give your members a chance to adjust to the idea of change before converting to the new system. And don't change your system more than once a year.
Develop relationships with your members. They are the ones that make or break a community. They are the community. Never forget that.
Community is a great way to add value to your site. For more information about adding community tools to your site, you can read my article Building Online Communities or check out my communities netlinks section. There you will find valuable links to forum/bbs sites, chat software, and more information on how to build a community.