Member-Centric Community Design

“If you build it, they will come,” says the voice from the cornfield. While the voice might be right when it comes to building a baseball field in Iowa, the directive doesn’t hold up when it comes to creating a community.

It seems everyone is trying to build some type of community – online or off – for their company or their cause. After all, the idea of community is a compelling one: it brings people together and gets them working toward a common goal. But it’s not as simple as carving out a space and getting people to come. They might show up, but they’re not likely to engage.

Without engagement, a community is just a mass of people gathered together without a shared connection … lurking. Imagine a cocktail party where no one talked to one another.

For a community to work, its members need to be engaged in it. The experience has to be as valuable for members as it is for the host. And herein lies the rub.

Most communities are set up with the host’s interests at their core. The community is designed for the host’s objectives with little consideration of the guests’ collective or individual benefits.

Most communities start with the idea of “what do we want to accomplish with this community?” While it’s an important question, it can’t be the only one asked.

Perhaps there should be three other questions, central to designing a successful community:

  1. “Who would want to participate in this community?”
  2.  “Why would they want to participate?”
  3. “How can we best maximize their participation?” Because if they’re not going to participate, they’re not a community; they’re an audience.

To build successful communities, you have to design, build and manage a community from the member’s perspective – as much for your benefit as for theirs. Because it’s not about whether you build it and whether they come; it’s about getting people to participate – and engage – while there.

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