Thinking about Purpose & Beyond...
Defining the Purpose of Your Community
Purpose helps you form your community which helps attract and draw members in. It sustains interaction and interest. Without purpose you have nothing.
What do you want to accomplish with your forum? Is it fresh or important enough so that people will wish to join, participate and return to again and again? How will participating in the community benefit them?
These are some of the questions to ask before you create your online community. By having a clear purpose that makes sense to you, the owner, and the members, you can give yourself a head start in designing & managing a thriving online community.
The purpose of your community helps you decide both its structure and what resources you will need to support and manage it. It helps put things into perspective.
Most communities have at a general purpose to support a product, discuss certain themes, some are merely discussion based (general forums). Some have a specific focus. These different purposes require different tools, facilitation and design.
Due to the increase in popularity of forums many resources are avaliable to the 'new admin' to help him/her build, manage and maintain their community.
For free help, advice, contests and resources.
Online communities are set up to meet purposes such as:
- Gathering places where people chat, meet, get to know each other and form friendships. (range from small spaces for families to large spaces for a wider public)
- Discussing topics such as books, current events, news, sports, webmastering, graphic design etc
- Planning and organizing (community groups, scout groups, sports clubs)
- Work spaces for group meetings, interactions etc.
- Learning spaces via tutorials or sharing knowledge (eg:students forum)
- Information sharing- a place to share files and ideas.
- Game playing - just having fun!
Got you thinking now huh?
Here is a list of questions to help you define your community purpose. It won't apply in every situation but it's a start.
- What is the desired outcome for the group? What is your intentions?
Does it have a mission or a vision that you can communicate to potential members?
- Are the benefits measurable and visible to members and potential members?
- Is the outcome determined by the organizer? Group members? Both?
- Is the group's purpose something that can only be done/accomplished online? Will it replace something offline? Or is it some combination?
- What kinds of participants (target audience) do you want to draw in or need to participate?
- How would you describe them?
- How motivated are your participants to participate? What is "in it for them?" How can you express your commitment?
- Do you want your community to be public or private? If private, how will you ensure this?
- What is the ideal size for your group? Is there a limit to how many members can participate? Do you have a sense of how your community can expand if there is greater interest? How do you propose to promote your forum?
- Where might you find potential participants?
- How might you communicate with your participants to market your online community? (Remember: If you build it, they may not come )
- Are you building from an existing pool of participants? Or drawing in new people? Again- how and where will you promote?
Type of Member Interactions
- What kinds of discussions/interactions do you want to promote?
- Are they intellectual? Social? Sensitive? Controversial?
- Are they focused around information?
How long do you want the online interaction to last?
Can you commit long term?
As you can tell there is alot to consider when thinking about starting your own forum and i hope this article helps you onto the path of other forum admins that have found it to be a most addictive, fruitfull and pleasurable experience.
- Will there be strong and defined rules, or more general and/or casual guidelines?
- How will you communicate this to your members?
- Will there be problem resolution processes? How will you share that process?
- Do you plan on having a team? If so who? will they be paid or volunteer their time and effort?
- Do members have to agree to a "Terms of Service" or other form of agreement before becoming members?
- Who makes decisions in the community?
More to consider...
Research well before you begin. Seek articles that your peers have written, they are more than willing to help the 'new' admin.
- Staff: Moderator Handbook & Manual
- Have a forum? Make it a community
- Exploring the true impact of online communities
- How to build a community from scratch
Once you have considered your purpose and researched the basics of forum building you then need to consider your communities foundations and this begins with forum software, layout and cosmetic design.
Software mainly comes in three types;
where your forum is hosted for you, hassle free but in return ads are placed on your forum. Usually you can pay for a free ad version but as membership increases so does this cost.
Some remotely hosted options:
Free software Scripts
You host these yourself. (Knowledge needed with ftp)
some free scripts;
Hosted yourself. Extremly popular amongst experienced admins and webmasters
When you have decided on the software you wish to use it will come with a default skin. Customization of your community will give it both character and originality. Many admins have a choice of skins for their members as preference relates to personal taste.
Check your forum software's support forums for design resources, tips and tricks.
The layout of your community must emphasise your theme and be well organised to ensure there's no navigation problems for members. Less is more to begin with. Rome wasn't built in a day
There's alot to think about here and i hope this helps you develop your project.
Remember, you decide how successful you are in this field. You get out what you put in and some deep thought, research and a professional conduct will help you along the way.