If you as a product manager would like to build a user community that will self sustain, here are some tips based on my experience building the foundations of a user community on 3D ContentCentral website that currently has close to 450,000 registered members.
1) What is in it for them? – Have a dead simple value proposition for the users to join your community. I repeat again – It has to be dead simple to understand. In the case of 3D ContentCentral, product designers got to download free 3D models of supplier components such as cylinders, motors, gears, electrical components etc. that saved them valuable design time that they would otherwise spend modeling these purchased components.
2) Enable sharing – Allow users to contribute to the community whether this is through discussions, add content to the website. Make it interactive. Tap into the wisdom of the crowd. But make the sharing process super easy to use. You need to act as the catalyst to start the interaction and then step out of the way. In the above case, we created a user library that allowed users to easily share 3D models of the purchased components between themselves. All we provided was free disk space and a website.
3) Enable peer recognition – Humans value peer recognition a whole lot more than monetary compensation. Who would not want to be recognized as an MVP by their peers? So enable it – allow users to recognize people whether it be via ratings and reviews or just by allowing people to say send a Thank you note via your community site.
4) Spotlight high performers: Recognize the high performers yourself. Have a spotlight section and recognize them. 3D ContentCentral has a spotlight that recognizes those users that contributed the maximum number of models. But don’t allow this to stagnate. Keep changing the user who gets spotlighted so that everyone knows they have a shot at it. Also ends up to be peer motivation – if he can do it, why can’t I?
5) Listen: Allow users to tell you how you can help them interact better. Listen to their ideas and the make the experience better. User community will use the site in ways you never predicted. But don’t put up a front and say – this is the way you shall use it. Forgo ownership (as long as the site is not being hijacked in illegal or unethical ways), play the role of the catalyst. You will be surprised as to how well the community will police itself and kick the bad guys out – all because of the tremendous value the community is providing them. Stand on the side and watch and step in only when absolutely needed. Again, provide a mechanism for the community to notify you so that you can take action. For example, we had a simple “Report inappropriate content” feature which allowed users to flag bad stuff. And guess what, such reports were not that many. When you do get valid reports of inappropriate stuff, thank the person who notified you and immediately take action whether it is to remove such stuff or kick out the repeat offenders. But use the feather first and the hammer only if absolutely needed.
Image source: RTPI (rtpi.org.uk)