Sunday, November 2, 2008

Keeping it Human

Another consideration is regarding the community as a unique resource built upon a wealth of knowledge both online and off. Each new participant brings fresh ideas and perspectives to the table which serves to increase our understanding of how it all works. Experience teaches us that communities can be constrained by both internal and external factors so it is necessary to effectively regulate those pressures. Conversely, those same forces may reinvigorate stagnant communities so they must be examined with a critical eye. As a rule, negative dynamics can be ameliorated with modest assistance from staff if they focus on the human elements of exchange rather than the specific content. Promoting special events or flagging group efforts go a long ways toward creating value for member driven initiatives and for the users themselves. Recognizing that everyone has something to contribute helps staff develop opportunities where individuals can be brought into the whole.

The members are also curious about who works for the company so sharing small vignettes about one's life is appropriate. Discussing a hobby, asking people to identify an unusual collectible or sharing a recipe gives staff a human face. Instead of merely representing a corporate monolith, members soon discover that employees have lives very much like their own. One caution is that too much information may prompt curious individuals to find out more. Some users may make use of this information to manipulate or discredit staff or as a means to promote their own agenda. Staff interaction should enable a role within the group but should not cross over into expectations that the group will meet employee's needs for acceptance, safety, affirmation or success.

Narrowly focused forums may also create problems for both members and staff. Off topic discussions frequently prove to be an irritant to some members and the amount of dedicated time increases exponentially when employees are called upon to maintain a specific direction. If the intent of the interface is to improve site stickiness then this issue bears closer examination. In all communities people develop a sense of the other by informal communication such as getting together for coffee each morning. Posting silly or random thoughts increases the human elements of the forum and points to the similarities between people rather than the differences. Social networking also adds to the user experience by building friendships and enhancing trust.

A final observation is that off topic discussion provides a diversion to folks who volunteer their services. A board that allows discussion on only one topic may attract participants but they are just as likely to go somewhere else to meet social needs.

No comments: