In the second and third weeks of my internship I have been learning about the stages of growth of an online community: emergence, development, and establishment.
Each stage of development for a community involves its own characteristics, objectives, and activities. The members of an emerging community will not have developed habits or group rituals, often discussions must be stimulated manually by the community manager, and frequent visits to the site must be actively encouraged. The main objective is to create a sustainable critical mass of returning users by personally engaging individuals at a micro level, sending out personalised invitations, and posting interesting content.
Once this community is fully in the development stage, more than 50% of growth should come from user referral and word of mouth, and more than 50% of activity should be generated organically by members. It is in this stage that the focus should be on fostering a sense of community, as well as establishing standards of good conduct and behaviour. Both of these things, however, should develop naturally from the practices of the users themselves, rather than being proclaimed by the community manager. Every community needs a sense of history that existing users can relate to, as well as giving new users something to refer to in order to understand the purpose, standards, and spirit of the group.
The final stage – establishment – allows for the community manager to take a step back and focus on macro tasks. Both activity and growth will be happening organically through the users, it is the community manager’s job to focus on scalability, to be sure that the community spirit, standards, and even the platform itself, can keep up with the rate of growth. At this point in a community’s growth there is an opportunity to create new layers in the form of subcommunities, if this is relevant, as well as a time to document the community’s achievements and goals.
While reading through these stages may make the task of building a community seem easy enough, it is anything but. Possibly the most daunting task, in my opinion, would be that of developing a sense of community. Though this does not fully rely on the community manager, it is still something that requires a certain degree of care and attention. It seems as though it is the community manager’s job to create an environment in which a sense of community has the opportunity to grow organically amongst the users. Finding this delicate balance seems to be the most challenging task of all.
In order to create a platform that fulfils certain needs and provides relevant services, you need solid data. One way of achieving this can be through user research. The BraveNewTalent team is in the process of recruiting both members and non-members to test site usability, practical functionality, and ease of using the platform. This will involve deciding the exact issues that need to be addressed, and matching those with appropriate the questions. Our hope is that these tests will allow us to make some key improvements to the product for our users.
If you are interested in coming to our London office to take part in user testing, please send me an email (see below).
Samantha Rosenthal is a Community Management Intern at BraveNewTalent, and a recent graduate in Social Anthropology from SOAS, University of London. Samantha will be writing two blog series, one exploring sociological debates on the functions of online communities, and one documenting her experiences at BraveNewTalent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.