Social collaboration can be a mysterious process to new users who are trying to figure it out. But, social collaboration is entertaining and even engaging to others who have spent a fair amount of time participating in online communities. Whether for business or pleasure, what’s the formula to engaging with others?
While there is no formula per se’, community owners seem to agree on a consistent set of actions. And to provide examples, I turned to participants and community owners in active communities.
1. Moderate and nurture your community.
Liz Ryan, career coach and HR consulting business owner, is an avid community builder. In fact, Liz founded over 100 communities, including the former WorldWIT online community of 60,000 members in 85 cities, Ask Liz Ryan, currently 20,000+ members on Yahoo! Groups, and more recently Career Altitude Club.
Responding in an email, Liz suggested, “Moderation is what requires the most attention. And the tricky part is striking a balance between encouraging people to post and watching if people are posting rubbish.”
So how do you encourage civil conversation? As we can see from this example in a 3D design professional community, Victor Solano, Sr. Manager of Learning Experiences and Framework at Autodesk.com, offered, “Sometimes users are finicky, and throw us a zinger. We see this as an opportunity to be responsive.” Autodesk has a staff of community moderators and user experience curators who lend their support.
Acknowledging users’ responses in the online community goes a long way in nurturing community support and gives users the credit for contributing in the community.
2. Create interesting content people “like” and give feedback.
Communities draw interest by showing content of value to the community. Many collaboration tools provide the placement of widgets to flow current content of interest. But how does the content become interesting or popular in your online community?
I observed a conversation thread regarding the use of the simple “Like” button in the Jive Software public community that may be helpful. Tracy Maurer, Collaboration Systems Manager at United Business Media, offered, “People are cautious about content. Getting a few “likes” can give them the positive feedback they need to venture another post.”
Although people will use the Like button as a way to gauge the content’s usefulness, Tracy added, “Having an easy way to find content that gets liked gives participants more reason to actually use the feature. Engagement is a virtuous circle.”
3. Contribute regularly and support what others need to know.On Social Media Examiner, host to three networking clubs, Facebook, Blogging, and Small Business, there is an incentive to contribute. According to founder, Mike Stelzner’s introductory video, participants are awarded points and may have a chance to join the Networking Club Leaderboard, visible on all the pages of the site. Points are awarded for checking in everyday, for spawning discussion that creates replies, and for connecting with others and making friendships. The friendly networking communities offer an opportunity to learn and contribute while networking.
In a research paper conducted by students at the University of Indiana, the authors wrote, “People will be more likely to contribute to a group task if they think their contribution will not duplicate what others can provide and is thus needed for accomplishing the group's goal.” So next time you think your comments are not needed, why not give it a try and give others a chance to learn from you.
4. Invite and include others in conversations.
Billy Wilson, Canadian photographer has a commanding community on Google+. While he is engaging with fellow photographers, he is also building a community of mutual responsiveness.
In a post, Billy writes, “As soon as people started commenting on my first post I made on Google+ , I circled (friended) these people. They obviously had an intention to reach out to me for whatever reason… if I go through a stream made from these people and comment and +1 their content, they will most likely reply and come over to my posts and do the same.”
The growth of many sub communities, as cited in this example on Google+, demonstrates the visibility of your conversation and including others who join in.
5. Trust other participants’ interests and opinions.
Social collaboration is about trust. We don’t always have the answers. And more importantly, forming a social trust among others will stimulate interest. What comes with trust then, if you’re still skeptical, is the ability to enable others to express their interests and opinions.
In the words of Liz Ryan, “I don’t think anyone gets enough acknowledgement. Sharing thoughts and opinions via online community is one tiny way for people to connect.”
Social collaboration in public social media channels or private online communities will show credibility and value we convey through our opinions. It is possible what you say may actually help others to express themselves, too.