The quest for engagement and participation is never-ending, and just getting people to show up is often the biggest challenge.
Sometimes you can create a burst of excitement, and the flywheel of one channel or program really starts to spin. And that’s great!
The risk, though, is that sometimes we create 'solutions' or 'spaces' and become so invested in them that we fail to see what else we could or should be doing.
Perhaps the easiest mistake many communities have made over the years is not truly putting themselves in the shoes of all members, including those who aren’t actively engaging today.
When we create in community, activity often begets activity. Whether it's member feedback, forum discussions, or a talk someone has given, there’s tangible proof of what we’ve been working on.
We can take that proof and show it to our bosses with pride and justification for perhaps doing more — we might seek to get approval for more budget and community experiments.
Perhaps your biggest channel right now is a chat space, like a Discord or Slack. Or maybe it's a forum, like Discourse or Forem. You see it growing. You find all the positives and the proof that it's all fine and dandy. Then you ask for budget to make it more. More members. More discussions. More comments. More...!
It's tempting to go all in on a single tactic and try to grow your community in that direction. Of course, this could be a great strategy, but before you do that, take a step back and think about who you aren't serving.
I actually explored the forum questions a few months back (there's always a tweet related to what I write):
Here are the responses, with edits and my own additions.
People are overwhelmed:
It's a safety thing:
It's a diversity thing:
It's a confidence thing:
It's a theme thing:
The community user experience is questionable:
It's a value based thing:
It's a preference thing, they:
It's a habit thing:
And ask yourself — what's stopping them from ________?
If you have a forum, then it would be what's stopping your members from participating in forums?
Asking members whether they like your forum and if they would use it, ala Mom Test, they would probably say yes to both. In reality they are unintentionally lying. Not on purpose, of course. It’s just that most folks have trouble giving direct and honest feedback, so it’s really important to ask the questions in the right ways.
To experiment with trying to figure out what people actually want, ask them:
Your goal is to seek understanding and have empathy for the lives other people live, and questions phrased like this will help you dig deeper than surface-level questions.
Focusing on who in your community isn’t showing up also taps into diversity. Historically society “hasn’t done so well” at addressing the needs of everyone, especially the underrepresented.
As community builders we have to work smarter to find a better balance. We all have different needs and things going on in our lives. All of our backgrounds are not the same. As community builders we need to design support for that into our communities.
The power of this, for me, is learning to design community with member’s needs in mind.
The reality is that yes, you may have a central hub of community activities (perhaps a website, forum or chat space), but to truly move forward and advance in the world of community we need to get better at serving a wider variety of needs.
Community builders need to listen, ask the right questions and then design community activities and rewards accordingly — with everyone in mind.