If you’re running a project there are loads of great reasons for establishing an online community - generating enthusiasm and a sense of community among volunteers and project-participants, keeping your stakeholders informed, even sharing your successes with the wider world and showing your impact to funders.
But creating your own web community from scratch can end up being time-consuming and possibly expensive... so what can you do if you’ve got minimal budget and resource?
If you’re looking to get an online community going with minimum fuss then a Ning could be the solution. The following steps can help you build yourself a great online community.
1. First things first - think about the purpose of your Ning
Keep it to a small group of approved members only if you want to create a very-focussed community - for example volunteers may want a place to share their experiences with each other away from public eyes. Keeping it private to just a few known members can encourage more honest and in-depth sharing. If this is the case, you should set your Ning so that you approve every request to join.
Alternatively if you want to get everyone talking about your project then make it public to the world! Start off with few core members (maybe people who are helping to run your project, or involved members of the local community) and then share, share, share!
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is about quantity versus quality though - whether your Ning is private or public you’ll need to make sure that content and communication is up to scratch and reflects well on your project or organisation.
Which leads us to our next point...
2. Keep it tidy
Appoint at least two moderators who will regularly be online. These aren’t the big bosses of the Ning, more like friendly guides who can step in if things start going a bit pear-shaped.
Moderators will need to respond to questions at first if no one else does, though as your community grows you’ll probably find that members are more than willing to help each other and to share their own knowledge.
Remember, you don’t have to be able to answer all the questions yourself. If no one else is answering, try suggesting where the answer might be found or nominating someone who could help.
3. Don’t be an online desert
NO ONE wants to be the first to post on an empty forum page (seriously, no one).
The best way to combat this is to create a content strategy from the very beginning so that you have at least one or two posts each week that your moderators can add to keep the conversation flowing. Think about recruiting some enthusiastic members right at the beginning too, people who are already part of the offline community you’re trying to reach. Make sure these people are active, engaged and above all, friendly!
Online communities do take a bit of effort to get going but invest the time at the start and in time you may be able to step back and let the conversation flow by itself.
4. Give them something to do!
Although you want your community members to add their own content, it’s up to you (and your moderators) to guide them along the way with a friendly hand.
When members first sign up, send them a welcome message and include a short summary of what your Ning is all about and what actions they can take immediately to get involved.
Include things like
- starting discussions
- adding blog posts
- leaving comments
- sharing photographs
Tell them HOW they can do all of these things and make a few suggestions of things you’d like to see from them.
Have some community rules... but don’t be too strict! You want this to be a community website so set out some guidelines and then trust your community to stick to them. Keep the rules simple, sensible and all about respect.
Moderators will have to step in if anyone breaks the rules and might even have to ban members if a initial warning doesn’t work, but don’t be too ready to banish members for mistakes. On the flip side, keep an eye out for spam accounts and delete these immediately.
This isn’t The You Show. If you’re after a website where you control all the content then a community site isn’t for you. In an online community, you’re just the facilitator, helping all your members share their own particular expertise and experience. Still think it’s for you? Then get started now.