How To Manage An Online Community

I’ve been setting up, managing and administrating forums since about 2004. Currently, my work includes the management of two online forums, both devoted to professional issues. I am also a member of several others, and have a vague plan to maybe set one up within the next twelve months.

So, with a view to making these forums more likely to succeed, I did some research on things that work well. Here’s what I found.

How To Manage An Online Community

General suggestions:

  • Have a ‘Feedback & Suggestions’ forum
  • Share milestones with the community
  • Messages stressing the benefits of contribution & using inclusive language
  • Challenges and competitions work well
  • People feeling like they’re contributing to something is important
  • Importance of user profiles: expanding them to include posts, extracts of blogs etc. where possible
  • Having a “Don’t Bite The Newcomer” policy to decrease snark
  • Run polls for quick feedback re. what’s working
  • Create a “Visitors’ Centre” or guide for new members
  • Host chats from time to time (IRC/Twitter/etc.)

More in-depth suggestions:

Facilitating offline communication kept coming up. For example, have an “Events and Meetups” subforum, where users post about events in their local areas and ask if others are going along.

An Introductions forum or thread is good, for people to say hello and tell others a bit about themselves. The Building Successful Online Communities book was particularly interesting because it was based on loads of academic studies, and it was talking about how it’s important for members to feel some kind of connection with one another as well as with the subject matter if the forum is going to thrive.

One frequent setback is that people join forums, then don’t post because they assume their input won’t be interesting/necessary due to a number of expert users already being on the forums. Off-topic communication is particularly useful for these users, as it gives them a place to start out and they can lurk on the ‘expert’ sections while they get to grips with things.

Adding your forum to web directories is also a good idea.

Sources: various online places; Grouped by Paul Adams; Managing Online Forums by Patrick O’Keefe; Building Successful Online Communities by Kraut & Resnick; Community Building On The Web by Amy Jo Kim.

See more in-depth reviews of each of the books here.

Have you run a forum or online community? Do you agree with the above advice? What else would you add? 

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