Is Your Online Community a Ghost Town?

February 25, 2015
90 Views

This is the last post of 4 in preparation of the #hccmty flipped panel by Colleen Young, Community Strategist. All 4 panelists will be presenting their ideas and sparking conversations on this blog so that the on-stage event at the February 25 #hccmty meetup will be but one more link in the chain, not the start or end point. Read the #hccmty flipped panel by Colleen Young, Community Strategist. All 4 panelists will be presenting their ideas and sparking conversations on this blog so that the on-stage event at the February 25 #hccmty meetup will be but one more link in the chain, not the start or end point. Read the first blog by Colin Hung, the second blog by Blair Ryan and the third by Robyn Sussel

“Well it’s discouraging to find that after three months and 126 views of my post, not a single person made the effort to write a single supportive word.” ~ posted by patient community member

What a heart wrenching post to see on an online patient forum. Nothing spells the demise of a community more clearly than unanswered posts and lack of activity. If you want to build a thriving community, focus on the people, help them connect and get them talking. To be successful, a community needs activity.

Forget about producing content.[1]
Instead, foster connections between members and stimulate conversations.

People seek community online to connect with other people. They want to learn from other people like them, put the information into context of the experience, share what they know and have discovered, ask questions, find support, collaborate and problem-solve.

Information seekers scour the web. Lurkers read community posts. But when someone actually posts to an online community, then they want to talk. They want to connect. So the community manager’s job, especially in the inception and establishment phases of the community life cyle[2] , is to

  • Make sure posts get a response
  • Introduce people, especially first-time posters, to other members
  • Direct people to relevant activity, to people talking about the topics they are interested in

A lot of this work the community manager does behind the scenes. We build relationships with core members [3], who help respond to new members, generate conversations and model community etiquette and behaviour. For patient and caregiver communities, this means making a safe space that welcomes open and frank discussions.

Read more about how self-disclosure conversations create stronger connections and deepen the sense of community among the members in the post I want my sex life back! TMI? Or gold for online communities and their managers?

Forget about a huge launch.[4]
A big launch may attract a lot of eyes to your online community. A bunch of people may even register. But if no one posts, all you have is a dead settlement – a gathering of people, akin to mayflies, who live but a day or two, and then they are gone forever.

The Mayfly metaphor was an a-ha moment during the flipped panel at Stanford Medicine X 2014. Watch from 23:03 to 26:15.

As Richard Millington says in his article 7 Things a Successful Online Community CAN Live Without, “The only element a community can’t survive without is activity. No activity, no community.

Flipping the #hccmty panel

Let’s get the conversation started before the #hccmty meetup on February 25.

How have you successfully generated activity on your community? What challenges have you had? I’d like to hear about those too. Add your thoughts in the blog comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #hccmty.

References
[1] Millington R. Information Needs and Why Content-Driven Community Strategies Are Flawed. Feverbee. Oct 2011 http://www.feverbee.com/2011/10/content.html
 [2] Iriberri A, Leroy G. A life-cycle perspective on online community success. ACM Comput. Surv 2009 Feb 2009;41(2):1-29.
 [3] Young C. Community management that works: how to build and sustain a thriving online health community. J Med Internet Res 2013;15(6):e119 http://www.jmir.org/2013/6/e119/
 [4] Millington R. Big Launch Syndrome. Feverbee. Sep 2011 http://www.feverbee.com/2011/09/big-launch-syndrome.html