Many community builders make the mistake of setting up their ideal community site before a single member joins. This may seem like solid preparation, but it lands you in the difficult position of developing a community on a stagnant and potentially restrictive platform.
People will pay more for better services, providing the income necessary to invest in improving or expanding those services further.
Modern, innovative, web based businesses have become masters at implementing this feedback loop via smart monetization of their services, whether it's subscriptions, micro-transactions, one-off payments, sponsorships, advertising, or (more often) a blend of any number of those. It's generations ahead of the traditional product/service -> payment model. This is due, in large part, to the hugely competitive market for web services, where competition isn't restricted by physical boundaries.
Community 101: Your small core community is equally as valuable as your large peripheral community. Seriously, this has been an established and observably important principle of community management since the dawn of time. Every marketing exec. wants to say 'But it's impossible to quantify how that impacts sales figures!', but anyone experienced with online communities knows exactly the impact it has, and how important it is.
If your community seems directionless or inconsistently toned it's probably because you haven't done enough to encourage the formation of a hierarchy - and you should. It allows you, as the administrator or community manager, to much more effectively shape the community. One person can't effectively influence thousands on their own, which is why you grow a chain of influencers to proliferate your message.
- Give some visual recognition to senior members who are particularly helpful and constructive. It rewards their efforts and contributions, and it makes them immediately apparent to new members as role models.
They really do. As a discussion platform they are fundamentally flawed, and in this era of 'social media' they feel more and more like a clunky anachronism. Over the years we've developed methods to compensate for this, from advanced moderation/administration strategies to utilizing various clever plug-ins, and the functionality we've come to expect from a forum package basically limits us to expensive custom builds or high-end commercial solutions. But still, they suck.
Unfortunately there's nothing better right now, and forums are still the backbone of pretty much any large online community. How else do you provide a method for hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of people to get together and enjoy structured discourse?
It might be obvious to some of you, but it's something that I can't stress enough: The report function is an essential part of running a large, healthy community.
Unless you can afford to hire a dozen extremely competent moderators providing around the clock coverage, community self moderation is key. This is one practical application of that, and a vital one, for a few reasons:
1) It eases the workload.
On the larger of the two communities I run there are one to two thousand people online at any time. There's no way I can guarantee complete coverage, even with forty volunteer moderators. Even if only one in ten of the online members uses the report function I immediately have massively improved coverage and response time.
2) It gives the community a healthy way to fight back.
There is some satisfaction in hitting the report button on a post if you know it will be dealt with. Without that healthy form of retribution people might resort to returning fire - doubling the problem and the workload.
3) It spreads responsibility.
The life of a moderator isn't easy, as they can occasionally be the target of complaints. The majority of complaints we see are about issues not dealt with in a timely manner, most of which can be countered with a simple question: 'Well why didn't you report it?'
Do whatever you can to encourage use of the report feature. Even over-enthusiastic members who report dozens of posts a day are still doing you a favor if only a couple of those areworth dealing with.
The 'One Man Army' balance issue in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has caused a lot of strife amongst their veteran community recently, which is lucky for me, as it has provided the perfect case study for this post. For anyone unfamiliar with the MW2 world, MuzzaFuzza of Machinima (who make a lot of great MW2 based content on YouTube) put up a video a few days ago called 'A Message to InfinityWard', outlining and demonstrating the issue:
If you can ignore the ranting and the drifting off-topic at the end (I understand the frustration, but it doesn't really help his case) this is a really strong example of how to give feedback: It's a compelling argument that doesn't drag on too much, it demonstrates the issue entirely, and a handful of reasonable solutions are suggested. It also splits the issue away from the snubbed feeling community, onto more approachable neutral ground.
Traditional forum based feedback has its place with providing a platform for debate, but there are tendencies towards band-wagoning, trolling, and ridiculous walls of text, all of which can cause many developers to shy away from drawing conclusions there - and rightly so. Community managers can and do filter a forum more effectively, and it's probably the most common avenue for feedback, but it's not the only one.
I don't want to sound like I am advocating that fans strong-arm developers with viral 'OMG UR GAME SUX' videos. The point I'm trying to make is that 'community' is much bigger than forums these days, and you throttle your ability to communicate if don't grow with it.
Unfortunately this exciting update (making their forum do things that forums everywhere have done for over a decade) will require wiping their current forum entirely, and asking everyone to re-register and start again...