This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report blog.
Key Factors Establishing an Online Community’s Culture
One key area we wanted to understand was the short list of factors that community managers thought were most important in establishing a communities culture. We asked: “What are the three most important factors in establishing and maintaining a community’s culture?”
The top three responses (in order) were:
- Quality, up-to-date content
- Have a clear objective / value statement 11% (12)
- strong moderation / facilitation 12% (13) of the community site was a critical factor.
Key quotes from the respondents:
“Listen, and treat others as you’d expect to be treated. Be there – 24/7 coverage. Show gratitude to earn respect”
Director / Community Manager, Media Company
“Active moderation with a well informed host, participation at all levels of the organization and support by the executive level”
Director Internet Marketing, Tools/Service Provider
“Platform, (if you want the conversation to occur on a 1st party site, if not it may very well occur on a third party site), Recognition (supporting the achievements of the community members, and enabling through various interactions including events, content, and feedback interaction opportunities. Listening Mechanism (ensure that community members voices are heard)”
Community Program Manager, Software Company
“The community is open to all (even competitors. Speak your mind but respect everyone. Clear policies and guidelines dictate the rules/expectations of the community”
Social Media / Community Manager, Hardware / Software Company
“1 – Focus: Managing expectations from the outset as to what users can and cannot experience in the community 2 – Prompt response & closing the loop
3 – Rich & engaging content”
CEO, Online Community / Social Media Company
“1 – establish ground rules at the get go and enforce them even handedly 2 – respond to the evolution demands of a growing community by evolving your offering 3 – remember that you are not one of them, you are their advocate to the company and the company’s advocate to them”
Senior Community Development Manager, Hardware/Software Company
“1- Always ensuring that the community comes before the brand behind it. 2 – Let the community create the culture and make tools and communications to enhance that, instead of trying to impose a culture. 3 – Prevent the community from going stale”
Online Community Coordinator, Non Profit Organization
“1) Providing differentiated and relevant tools, features, & content (why engage with ‘product X’ here, vs. anywhere else?) 2) Lower the barrier to participation / access as much as you reasonably can 3) Provide self-moderation tools”
Director, Online Marketing, Entertainment (Video Games)
Steps to Establish an Online Community’s Culture
Another area we wanted to explore with this project was the set of key actions taken by community hosts to support the establishment of a community’s culture.
We asked: “: What steps have you taken to establish a new community’s culture?”
Respondents highlighted the following key actions:
- Recognizing positive participation
- Soliciting and Responding to member feedback
- Communicating with Members
Key quotes from the respondents:
“Active participation of internal staff – Reward programs for active participants – ongoing moderation – News and announcement on landing pages.”
Community Manager, Software Company
“For our upcoming community redesign, we are limiting the amount and importance of “standard” community features (friends, forums, “favorite books”, etc.) and focusing more on making the resources, our organization’s knowledge and user’s generated knowledge, as a visible and social part of the site. All articles and content can be rated and comment upon. Users will have access to a Yahoo Answers style tool. Users can contribute stories and best practices in a community blog. The “standard” functions are there to help make relationships made on these new functions easier to keep, but the knowledge and resources people create will be the most important part of the community.”
Online Community Coordinator, Non-Profit Organization
“Instituted simple but comprehensive rules and codes of practice. Engaged community members directly rather than leaving them to flail without response. Demonstrated that by following, new policies results happened.”
Community Development Manager, Hardware / Software Company
“Actively soliciting feedback from members. Publicly acknowledging and acting upon the feedback received. Clearly identifying desirable behavior as a model for others to embrace. Setting a positive example when posting as a member (not as a moderator).”
Analytics Country Manager, Agency
“1. Designed our primary social media platform to emphasize and reinforce our targeted audience — business professionals interested in an exchange of information on business oriented topics. This includes, look and feel; community standards, user added content, involvement with other business oriented social networks. 2. Individual responses to feedback submitters, within one business day, from me or my team, providing information as well as our real names, e-mail addresses and office phone numbers.”
Director, User Participation, Media Company
“Listen, learn and adapt. It’s important to remember that company’s can participate in the community discussion, and provide a “the company’s” perspective or view”
Community Program Manager, Software Company
Netting It Out
Based on synthesis of the respondents’ answers, key activities and factors for establishing a desirable culture for an online community are generally:
Create a clear value statement for the community that includes all stakeholders (host and members). The host must offer a unique set of content, features, and access to personalities as part of the value statement. The value statement should be clearly communicated within the community overtly (via the code of conduct) and subtly through branding, user experience and moderation / management cues.
Clear Code of Conduct
A clear and concise code of conduct should be available on the community site, and should clearly describe the expected behavior of community members, and the consequences for behavior that is out of bounds.
Open Lines of Communication
The community host must be easily accessible, and responsive. As noted in the comments above, some organizations have an internal SLA (Service Level Agreement) for response times.
Host plays a visible (but different) role
Members of the host organization should play a visible role in the community. Being present, interacting with members and often times leading community initiatives or activities. It is important to note that the role of host is one of attending, not just participation. Just like the host of a good party doesn’t just mingle, and good community host participates with intention, and keeps an eye on the overall mood of the community.
User Experience / Feature Set Should Be Tailored To Audience
If you subscribe to the design principals of the Bauhaus, then “form follows function”. This means that, from the baseline information architecture of the community presence, all the way to feature selection and visual design, the community’s online experience is shaped to be appropriate for the desired audience. A community designed for 3D artists working in the film industry (more visual, to share images) has a much different form factor than a site designed for application developers (more text-based, to share code samples).
Quality, relevant and up to date content is key to many online communities. Unique content from the host organization is often one of the key “Why are we here” factors to attract community members. Ensuring that quality member content is highlighted on the community site (and elsewhere, if possible), helps with participation incentive and helps foster a sense of engagement.
Acknowledge Positive Contributions
Highlighting positive contributions and contributors helps encourage content contributions, as well as reinforce positive member behavior.
Create a “Welcoming” Culture
When new members are welcomed in to a community by the host or other community members, that member is more likely to come back, and to contribute.
For More Information
The full report “Online Community Culture: Establishing, Maintaining and Changing” (Published 11/08, 40pgs) is available to Online Community Research Network members, and includes additional information on:
- Factors that have a negative impact on culture
- Processes for collecting ideas, memes, and “stories” from members
- Managing external factors effecting culture
- Managing a negative culture
We have found that the best source of information about community best practice and strategy comes from the collective experience of real-world practitioners.
If you would like to participate in the study, you can find the research survey here:
Again, the survey is intended for experienced community managers and strategists only, please.