5 Best Practices of Online Communities

Looking to engage developers in your online community? Try these tips we've gleaned from our clients over the years.

If you’ve decided to use an online community as an internal or external developer relations platform, one central question remains: How do you do it right? In other words, what are some of the best practices for online community management? We work with online developer communities and their implementation across a variety of clients all the time at AnswerHub. Here are a few best practices when trying to engage developers in a community:

1. Appoint a community manager
This is important in terms of technical support, member engagement, analytics tracking and general health of your online community. If a community manager is not identified, it can come across as a less-important aspect of your overall business model. After all, we’re very used to projects and programs being managed by someone; it’s a key element of establishing responsibility and authority. Within our knowledge management (KM) solutions, you have the ability to identify community managers and moderators from initial launch; you also have the ability to increase the moderation ability of certain users based on their reputation score. After all, what good is a garden if there is no one to cultivate it?

2.  Designate topic experts

It doesn’t help if questions and knowledge are routed to the wrong people (i.e. those who don’t have the specific answers necessary). The community needs to be able to designate experts on a given topic, either via the voting of other users or the community manager’s input. If information and questions are flowing to and from the right place, the entire community will run much smoother.

3.  Real-world ties to gamification

Gamification has been a notable business topic of late — essentially, can you motivate employees by turning certain tasks into a game where they can win badges, honors and other prizes? There are differing views on gamification — some view it as a fad, and some view it as potential wave of the future (especially for the millennial generation) — but the limited research thus far is pretty clear on one thing: for gamification to truly take hold as an organizational staple, it must be tied to potential real-world rewards. Interest can fizzle if the rewards are only online. We’ve seen customers of ours offer iPads to the first user to record 1,000 points in a forum setting. We’re not necessarily saying you need to give away an iPad, but tying it to tangible rewards can be helpful.

4.  Reputation scores

Making sure reputation scores exist is a common best practice and an essential one. You’ll often hear the idea that online, your reputation is everything; that’s perhaps even truer in online communities. If you become a trusted member of the community, your moderation privileges will rise in AnswerHub. That’s similar to one small tactic that made Reddit so popular among its initial users.

5.  Analytics

Ah … one of the biggest business buzzwords of the moment, but also an essential one. Analytics are definitely important in the online community space. Question is: What exactly do you measure? You could start with unique visitors to see the broadest level of engagement — who is actually visiting your community, that is — but uniques won’t capture the entire picture. Some companies measure “experience share,” or word-of-mouth and other ‘alerting other people to this content’ measurements. Dell has a strong online customer community, and while it relies on page views greatly, it also evaluates its communities by the number of ideas generated. That’s hard to fiscally qualify, yes, but should be a metric to consider since the lifeblood of an organization is the ideas that emerge from it. With AnswerHub, there are several analytic approaches built in, including monitoring community health, tracking trends and growth, and identifying experts.