Understanding the community life cycle

I liked this article by Ron Howard, CTO of Telligent. I have a minor quible with the title of the original post (How to manage a sustainable community) which infers some form of hierarchical control, whereas my experience of on-line communities is that they are peer driven and sustained through light-touch nurturing by community facilitators or moderators.

However, I agree with all the key points that Ron has identified, and which I’ve witnessed (and learnt from) as part of the development of the local government CoP platform http://www.communities.idea.gov.uk (now 65,000 users and over 1,300 on-line communities). I would only add that understanding the community lifecycle extends to the cyclic nature of the community activity.These communities are rarely full-on, and conversations and other on-line activities ebb and flow dependent on external infuences – e.g. post-conference chatter, or an ‘expert’ invited to take part in a webinar or ‘hotseat’, or maybe a controversial but relevent issue in the news. Understanding the cyclic nature (oscillation of activity) of the community is necessary in order for a facilitator/moderator to know when some form of intervention is necessary, i.e.the ‘nurturing’ aspect of commuunity facilitation. Some of the local government communities can remain fairly quiet over a a long period and then suddenly burst into activity before settling down into a period of ambience. Others have a steady stream of low-level activity. Understanding the community behaviour is a key part of of the facilitator/moderator role in maintaining and sustaining the community and helping it to achieve its goals.

Amplify’d from mashable.com

A 2008 Gartner study on social software noted that “about 70 percent of the community typically fails to coalesce.” While the measurement and the statistics behind this statement raise questions, there is an element of truth.

There are detrimental effects of over-hyping the technology and then committing the three cardinal sins of running a community:

  • If you build it they will come. This is probably the best known online community fallacy. The premise is that if I roll out a given technology set (blogs, forums, wikis, etc.), users will automatically appear and congregate, forming a robust community. This can be attributed to the lure of “social software” that companies repeatedly bite at, as opposed to seeking to extend or create value for their customers.
  • Once I’ve launched it, I’m done. Many communities launch successfully, only to fade out and disappear. This is due in large part to a failure to assign ownership of the community and to have a strategy that lasts past “launch.”
  • Bigger is better. The assumption here is that the overall size of a community is indicative of its success. This is challenging for most community managers and businesses to understand, as it is contrary to what they’ve usually been told.

All three can cause a community to fail, and there are plenty of examples. Understanding the community life cycle can help you avoid making these mistakes.

Understanding the Community Life Cycle

The image below is representative of the different stages of the community life cycle. It’s important to recognize that this is a macro-view, and that within and between the stages are smaller life cycles (learning, innovation, etc.).

Community Life cycle Image

How Do You Apply the Community Life Cycle?

Understanding the life cycle is key to building a comprehensive community strategy, specifically when it comes to moderation and management. A few of the components impacted include: Content creation, group formation, engagement tactics, expert discovery efforts, knowledge sharing practices, and employee participation. Once the strategy is clearly defined, goals and objectives can be identified, clear measurements for success (return on investment) are marked, and the community life cycle becomes the map or playbook for understanding how to reach those goals and objectives.

The three cardinal sins can be avoided if you understand the life cycle of your community, and thus where and how to apply resources and strategy to running it.

Read more at mashable.com

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