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Measuring The Success Of Your Online Community: A Qualitive Approach, Part 1
Guest190829
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by Guest190829 25 Aug 2011

ABOUT

In this series, we will first see how we can broaden the perception of an online community by paying closer attention to its social architecture.

Next, we will explore how this new framework can help you gauge the "success" of your online community and help in the decision process when faced with new technologies and prospects of change.


1. INTRODUCTION


Very often forums are evaluated solely on the basis of certain quantitative measurements. For instance, the amount of users, the number of threads, and even the average amount of online members at a given time are all metrics commonly used to gauge how well an online community is performing. Using this type of data, it is common to generate further knowledge with some deeper analysis.

If we find the ratio of post count to thread count, we can surmise how well a community actively engages in conversation. For example, if a forum has one hundred threads and only one hundred and fifty posts, that is an average of 1.5 posts per thread, which signals a rather weak level of dialogue within the community. It is no doubt that this type of analysis is important and fruitful, but its makes the mistake that all online communities are created equally, with the same goals in mind.

When I first began to participate in managing online forums, I always assumed the end goal to be simply more: more members, more posts, more threads, more views, more guests, more hits! I believe now the notion that more is simply better is a fallacy that can have potentially profound consequences on the success of one’s community.


2. COMMUNITIES HAVE DIVERSE NEEDS, GOALS, AND OBSTACLES.

There is an excellent novel by Chinua Achebe called Things Fall Apart which explores the tragic circumstances following the intrusion of a tribe in Africa by European missionaries. I’m not trying to make an analogy of running a forum to western imperialism; however, the novel is an intricate display of what happens when two very different communities attempt to understand each other through the lens of their own social mores. In this case, the Europeans attempt to accelerate the tribes’ agricultural market to levels familiar to their own country’s rate of production, failing to realize that the tribe has its own developed economical system with which it succeeds.

The point I’m trying to connect is that more is not always better. In fact, trying to get more from your community could be detrimental to its future success Our own ideas about success are so saturated with language of "more": excellence "to excels, to rise above others", premiere: to be 'chief, leading, foremost.'

I think its important for forum owners to resist this mentality and not be afraid to look inwardly at your community before gazing outwardly at your competition.

A big consequence in the wake of social media is a shift away from the old adage that content is king. There’s a new, more pivotal, layer you must now consider: how you can balance content with interactivity, a metric which we will call sociability*. It’s important to make sure your community can prosper before it can grow. This means carefully analyzing the social mechanics of your community, which is the true niche of your community, not what theme or topic your forum focuses on! How do we do this?


2. DISCOVER THE CHEMISTRY OF YOUR COMMUNITY

Stop worrying about growth for a moment. Take some time to really analyze how your community interacts. If you are starting a new forum, this is an excellent time to consider how you envision your forum developing into a sense of community in the future.

Preece, in her article, “Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and measuring success,”offers an exciting framework for evaluating your community that is not interested solely in numbers. She outlines three factors that contribute to good sociability:
Purpose. A community’s shared focus on an interest, need, information, service, or support, that provides a reason for individual members to belong to the community.

People. The people who interact with each other in the community and who have individual, social and organization needs. Some of these people may take different roles in the community, such as leaders, protagonists, comedians, moderators, etc.

Policies. The language and protocols that guide people's interactions and contribute to the development of folklore and rituals that bring a sense of history and accepted social norms. More formal policies may also be needed, such as registration policies, and codes of behavior for moderators. Informal and formal policies provide community governance.
Again, it is within these terms that your community is truly unique. Think about your community in relation to these three factors. It’s here where you can begin to fully realize the potential of your community.


4. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR FORUM?

Purpose goes beyond the scope of topic or theme. If I ask you what is your online community, how will you respond? Of course, you will probably include what your community is about, but the truth is it is (and should be) so much more than that. How does the policies and people within your community promote the discussion of your community’s topic?

Consider the huge difference between the two hypothetical communities that revolve around the same issue of global warming.
  • COMMUNITY 1:
    • Purpose: To discuss and elucidate the countless inaccuracies of recent studies promoting the idea of global warming and their political ramifications.
  • COMMUNITY 2:
    • Purpose: advertise go-green initiatives, discuss tips to reduce carbon footprint, create new campaigns to fight the effect of global warming.
These two communities are both technically about global warming but have radically different purposes. Take some time and consider the purpose of your forum, and how it contributes to a unique and personal atmosphere.

It will help to recall the specific impulse that made you desire to start a forum, what experiences or self attitudes made you feel you could offer an environment that was not at the time available to you?


NEXT UP

We’ll continue with the idea of sociability and explore how it offers a more in depth framework for you to assess the current state and future growth of your community.

SOURCES

Preece, J. (2001) Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and measuring success Behavior and Information Technology Journal, 20, 5, 347-356.

Last edited by Guest190829; 29 Aug 2011 at 02:28.. Reason: Added a final paragraph to the Introduction paragraph summarizing the intent and scope of the article.
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Old 25 Aug 2011, 15:33
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Princeton Princeton is offline
 
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Real name: Joe Velez
Thanks for the article - good read.

(It's great seeing you around again.)
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Last edited by Princeton; 25 Aug 2011 at 15:38.
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Old 25 Aug 2011, 19:17
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Thanks Joe! Yes, I'm hoping to be a bit more active these days .
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Old 15 Oct 2011, 18:48
Spearmax Spearmax is offline
 
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Thumbs up

Originally Posted by Danny.VBT View Post
A big consequence in the wake of social media is a shift away from the old adage that content is king. There’s a new, more pivotal, layer you must now consider: how you can balance content with interactivity, a metric which we will call sociability*. It’s important to make sure your community can prosper before it can grow. This means carefully analyzing the social mechanics of your community, which is the true niche of your community, not what theme or topic your forum focuses on!
Excellent Point!
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