What is an online community? Why Build it?
When we discuss community building, we need to first define what a community is and ask ourselves why we want to build one. A community is perceived differently as well as used differently depending on whom you talk to.
I wanted to make a couple simple points for consideration if you are thinking of building an online community with Joomla, JomSocial or Community Builder and some of the many other Joomla Extensions.
A real community stands on its own and is not tied to a web portal.
Every web site is in essence a vehicle for communicating and connecting with a real world community. For example, I lived in St. Paul MN for most of my adult life and moved to the east coast in 2000. I was active in many communities back in Minnesota since I was an active musician and businessman. When I updated my Facebook profile after 10 years of being away, I was almost instantly reconnected to my communities of friends over a weekend of “friending” folks. The community was already there and I just used the web tools to connect with it.
How can a web portal benefit your targeted community?
I will take the story about Facebook above a step further. My wife is from Brazil so we have a lot of family and friends there. I have also met so many wonderful folks from around the world with my involvement in the Joomla community. What Facebook did for me was provide a place where I could organize and communicate with a variety of my personal and professional relationships. It is clearly a benefit this community provided for me. Make sure you think through the benefit your web portal or community will provide to the folks you want to attract or interact with.
What are the needs or pain points of your targeted community and how will you fulfill them?
With any successful business, you need to sell a product or service people want or need. If you are going to have a web portal, and especially a community, you need to make sure you are fulfilling a need that will keep your visitors returning and hopefully engaging with you and others in your community. There is a lot of competition these days for time and attention, especially with online activities. Offering value to the people you want to attract will mean they won't feel like they wasted their time.
Who will benefit from your community portal?
One of the things I have noticed from my musician friends on Facebook is they use this community for a variety of benefits. When they are performing someplace, for example, they get a note out to folks asking them to join them at the gig. Another friend put out a note a while back announcing that someone broke into his truck and stole all gear and was asking his circle of friends if they could loan him some gear for that evening. This community offers these folks an outlet and a clear benefit for participation in these and many other cases. It will be important if you are going to build momentum and success with your community that you open the door for beneficial opportunities to your users. Many of which you can not anticipate while others you need to plan.
Remember all web portals are part of your community’s experience regardless of community building tools. It is important to know understand that you do not need to have Facebook-like community building tools on your portal to be a community. While a site like Craigslist.com would not be considered a community in the social network sense, there is a community of folks that regularly interact with common interests of selling stuff or finding stuff. This could be true for online learning portals and other websites where there is a community of likeminded folks that are interacting with your site. Even a portal selling a business service or product provides something to a community of likeminded people or companies with common needs or interests.
If you know of a community of likeminded folks, think through how you can best tap into this and create a compelling reason for them to interact with your web site. If you have an idea, you may just have a community.