Launching a collaborative online community: Really Tough. Nearly Impossible. At the very least, ceaselessly challenging. Collaborative communities rely on great content that everyone can discuss and develop. The content represents ideas. These ideas are put forth to the community, and if it’s an active community, an evolution of that idea takes place. It becomes better than it was before. That’s the ideal anyway. Think about this evolution of ideas in terms of a Hegelian Dialectic: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.
But, before you can get there, you’ve got to have some content that provokes thought, compels opinions and spurs dialogue. For most communities that is a tough nut to crack. It gets even more challenging when your community content is 100% user-generated. How do you get your users to furnish amazing content that moves ideas forward and pushes the community closer to its collective vision?
It starts with nurturing your members. Every member needs a certain amount of hand-holding when they first arrive: learning the tools, navigating the site, understanding the guidelines. But the type of nurturing I’m talking about is deeper than that. You’ve got to identify members who have promise as star contributors. Who are the thought-leaders? Who has something worth saying? Who has strong or even divisive opinions? Who has notoriety? Who has something at stake?
Think through these questions as you go through your member rolodex. Once you’ve identified these folks, put them to the task. Ask them to contribute! But frame it in a way that gives them something to win. Gamify your proposition with recognition, visibility, points, rewards, or whatever it takes to motivate them to contribute.
Case in Point: One thing we’ve been experimenting with in our community is a “Blogger” program. With a capital B in fact. This is an official program for our star contributors. They commit to one 500+ word blog post per month. In exchange we feature them on the home page of the community website and in the weekly community newsletters. We also elevate their status in the community by giving them a special badge that displays on their profile page and on any of their official Blogger posts.
The hard part with this is motivating them to generate that first post. To assist with that, we created an editorial calendar that they all have online access to. It details each blogger, their monthly topic and the date that it will be published. This shows them that they’re part of a team. They see the stature of their colleagues as well – everyone here knows that the other is a well-known figure for their company or cause. Giving them a specific date will do wonders for 90% of the bloggers too. Nearly all of us love (hate?) a deadline. Once we’re given one, if the stakes are appropriately set, we’ll stick to it.
The second hardest part is getting them to do it again. To help with this we used the concept of a dashboard. Every couple weeks we email the blogger group and list all the recent posts. We also list out the number of views and the number of comments that post received to-date. This gamification tactic gives them social validation (if they’re numbers are highest) but also gives them motivation to either keep their game up, or to try and beat out the top posters for that period.
Good community managers and social strategists know that content is crucial to a successful community. But when you can’t fully control the content creation, you’ve got to get creative. I believe collaborative communities need a solid blogger program to keep the ideas evolving.
What do you think? Have you had experiences with your own “blogger” program? What other ways are there to facilitate *good* content development?