The importance of Q&A communities has quickly been realized by Fortune 500 companies, universities, small and midsize businesses (SMBs), and non-profits. Within an online community, people are able to learn and succeed through shared knowledge. They can post questions, provide answers, build expertise and engage with one another – but who exactly are the “users” that visit a Q&A community?
There are several different constituent groups in every healthy Q&A community, and the community provides different motivation and benefits to each group:
1. Anonymous searchers. These folks usually come from a Google search, and they’re really just looking for answers. They don’t typically log in, and most don’t even participate when anonymous voting and commenting are allowed. In public Q&A communities this will generally be the largest group, by far.
2. Question-askers. Most people who actually ask the questions also want answers, but they have decided that it is worthwhile to take time to submit the question. They aren’t just knowledge seekers, but rather they are willing to go a step further and participate. Some question-askers are site owners and subject matter experts asking QWWPWAs (Questions We Wish People Would Ask).
3. Subject matter experts. Subject matter experts (SMEs) are knowledge providers with deep insight into and understanding of specific topics. They may be site owners who have some vested interest in the health of the community, or they may be people who just enjoy helping others and sharing knowledge for its own sake. In systems where gamification is used, some of these SMEs may want to be recognized for their knowledge. For example, at DZone, we have our very own subject matter experts. Zone Leaders are topic experts and excellent writers who share content in our DZone.com community.
4. Regulars. This group is often vital to set the overall tone of the community. Regulars may be question-askers, subject matter experts, or site owners, but they come back to the site frequently and generally contribute with comments and shared insights when they can. In some communities, there are even trusted regulars who help clean up and moderate the community. We believe these people are motivated by the good feeling of belonging to a community they care about. Many also hope to connect with other like-minded people who share their interests.
5. Site owners and admins. Someone operates every one of these communities, and these site owners and admins have a variety of different motivations for doing so. For some, it is their job, and they get paid a wage. For others, it is an investment, which they hope will provide valuable returns at some point. For still others, it is a labor of love, and they hope to provide a service that makes life better for others. Site owners and admins are often also subject matter experts.
No matter what the user group, understanding your community audience, as well as user motivations, is critical to success. This insight will give the community more validity and provide users with valuable experience.