Starting a new online community is a hard job. Before doing anything else, I always suggest to ACCESS your TARGET AUDIENCE. Spend your time on this exercise because it is very, very important. This is one of the key to avoid further problems. It is the prerequisite to analyze the needs of your future users and find the best way to address them. If you want more suggestions about it do Lesson 2.1 of the IMARK e-learning module on Building online communities.
After that, it is much easier to verify the NEEDS of the group. If you know what kind of people you want to address then you can discover their needs. And this is the best way to create a useful service and a long life community.
We have to start from people’s practice, from their habits, from watching what is going on among potential members. We have to discover who they really are and what they need. In this way, it is easier to understand what kind of use they do of a network and understand the key of success.
Then, we can think about consolidating the system and make it grow. Not before. Relationships among users have to be real and well established before thinking about enlarging the volume and the possibilities of a network. The chart describe this process:
On the contrary, most of the people willing to create a new network are focused on the idea itself. Their will to make it real is so strong that they loose contact with their potential group of users and do not focus on their needs. The focus is on “planning” rather than on the “practice”.
As a consequence the group has very few possibilities to grow and be successful and is likely to be abandoned pretty soon after its creation. The managers spend their time thinking and not watching what’s going on. They tend to be sure that their creature will be accepted by the end users but this is not sure at all. In this case, the risk that the process of consolidation does not take place is very strong. If users are not so fascinated by the new network, they won’t repeat their experience and the new “house” will be empty in a while. Consolidation of the relationships among members won’t take place and the network will fail pretty soon.
So, the lessons learned are:
- Observe people and their habits;
- Assess your group;
- Assess people’s needs;
- Spend time on creating relationship among users.