How To Beat Online Community Summer Doldrums - InformationWeek
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Karen Beaudouin
Karen Beaudouin
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How To Beat Online Community Summer Doldrums

Summertime is usually down time for user communities. Here's what you can do to re-energize your participants.

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How do you escape the summer doldrums?

I am fortunate to work with the CA Clarity Global User Community, a vibrant user community more than 5,600 members strong with strong global participation. Although our affiliation with CA Technologies provides support for the group, we operate independently as a user-managed and -governed community.

As with most communities, the summer months usually see decreased member participation. However, that decreased user involvement should not be the reason a community goes silent for three months of glorious fun. Surprisingly, this might be just the time when you need to recharge and re-energize your community.

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So, where do you start? The Community Roundtable offers a wealth of information and support. While culling through its wealth of presentations, I came across the Community Maturity Model. What I discovered was a great resource to help me understand where my community is positioned in its defined model, plus what I needed to do to ensure our community's growth and membership support. I think the same careful review will help you re-evaluate your community and provide an action plan upon which your community can mature.

Leaders And Followers

The Maturity Model consists of four levels staged on an XY axis. On the X axis: Stage 1, hierarchy; stage 2, emergent; stage 3, community; and stage 4, networked. Within the four levels are the eight Y axis points of measurement: strategy, leadership, culture, community management, content programming, policies and governance, tools, measures and metrics.

Try it out and see where your organization ranks. Were you surprised? I was -- if you had asked me previously, I would have said that we were completely "networked." As it turns out, we still have some work to do.

<div itemscope itemtype="" style="background-color: #eee; padding: 10px; width: 590px; font-style: italic; margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px;"><img itemprop="image" src="" alt="" title="" height="481" width="590"><br />Community Maturity Model</div>

In being honest about this model's results, our user community does have some strong points, including strong community management, leadership and culture. Our board meets bi-weekly with some 80% participation and enthusiastic discussions. Like many other user communities, we fall into the 90-9-1 Principle of Internet culture: 90% lurking (or more nicely, viewing content), 9% editing content, and that amazing 1% who are the active content creators. Of course, I can name our five leading 1% contributors off the top of my head. It's always important for me to seek them out to hear what they have to say. They might represent a small portion of my community, but their contributions are the foundation of our community.

What about your team? Do you know who your 1% contributors are? It might be a good idea to use these summer months to identify and reach out to your key supporters. Also, take the time to evaluate your leadership team:

-- Are they engaged?

-- Are they willing to take risks?

-- Do they come to the meetings ready to take on the big issues?

-- Are they truly leaders or just followers?

Strategy And Content Programming

These two points have been continuing issues for our community. It's not that we don't have the fundamentals mastered, but we do have a lot of room for growth. We could plot out our year, our planned presentations and our community goals with more foresight. For example, we schedule quarterly webcasts that give our users a venue to present their successes and lessons learned. You would think in knowing that we have those webcasts, we would be more proactive in planning them in advance. However, as I write this, I'm noting that at our upcoming July board meeting, we will be just starting the discussion of topics for this fall's webcast schedule. My point is this: you can choose to fly by the seat of your pants, but why? Long-term planning takes much of the stress out of community management.

So what do you do? Do you have an event schedule, speaker series or yearly user conference? If not, now is the time to get these developed and on the calendar. The Maturity Model is a great springboard to employ to accomplish just that.

In short, use the quiet time you have now to engage your board, your sponsors, your 1% creators and 9% editors. Together, you can plan how to transform some of your passive viewers into more active participants. After all, that's we do as community managers: leverage our collective talents for the good of all.

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