Rowse was speaking about how your site or blog should aim to build a community. Whether this is through social media, blog comments, or forums, it is important to have your users engaged with you and your site. At ChooseWhat, we invite our users to interact with us in a plethora of ways, especially through our forums, which are lovingly maintained by ChooseWhat’s User Liaison and Assistant Research Analyst Reece Freeman.
“If you have a community, users will develop a personal connection and stay on your site longer,” he explains. Read on to learn why building a community is important and what you can do to help foster one on your site.
Why are online communities important?
Basically, an online community is a group of people with mutual interests who use the Internet to communicate, collaborate, and pursue their interests over time. The tools used in a community, such as forums, blogs, message boards, etc., are actually not the community; they are the tools used to interact within the community.
So why is it important to build a community?
“If users have something to say about your website, then they are already having that conversation with friends, social media websites, or other online communities where you have no control over that dialogue,” Freeman says.
With your own online community, you’ll have better control over what people are saying and how they’re using your site. Not only do community members tend to stay on your site longer, but according to an eBay study in 2006, community users spend 54% more than non-community users, so that online community could eventually lead to a higher conversion rate.
Implement simple conversation tools
To start a community, use features like comments on blogs, forums, and other types of threads to get a dialogue initiated on your website. “One of the hardest things to do in developing a community is getting the first person to talk,” Freeman says.
During his lecture, Rowse recommended that you “be the community that you want to have.” In other words, you need to start the interaction for others to follow. He suggested that you start with your comments section by allowing others to respond. You can garner more responses if you ask for advice or tips and post polls in your blogs or forums. Rowse also advised using social media wisely; don’t just post links to your site and make sure you interact with people.
Freeman’s tip regarding forums is to create general forums so that new users can find out where to post without having any prior knowledge of your site or products. “Also make sure no one is hung out to dry with a question,” he says. “Keep the conversations going even after you’ve answered their question by asking follow-up questions.”
Turn your website users into community members
“If implemented correctly, an online community can create a dedicated user-base that has a personal attachment to your website,” Freeman says.
You can reinforce the value gained through interactions with the community members. Because of the personal attachment created by an online community, time spent on community-related has been shown to be exponentially greater than websites that don’t have these tools.
Keep the conversation focused and useful
One of the biggest issues you might run into with building a community is what Rowse referred to as “trolls,” which are mean-spirited users. Trolls, along with spammers, can create unwanted posts that deter the conversation you’re trying to have with your members. Rowse recommends that you think about your policies and standards before you need them, and, above all else, be firm, calm, and polite with troublemakers.
Freeman agrees that you need to have policies in place when trying to create a community that all users must abide by. He suggests implementing anti-spam filters, such as CAPTCHAS and double opt-in forms, to help keep your community free of unwanted members.
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