5 Best Practices of Online Communities

If you’ve decided to use an online community as an external developer relations, external developer support, or internal developer collaboration 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? Here are a few best practices to consider.

1. Appoint a community manager

This is important in terms of technical support, member engagement, analytics tracking, and the 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. One person doesn’t have to do it all. Within developer community solutions, you can identify multiple moderators and give enhanced access to community members who achieve a certain reputation score or are identified as subject matter experts.

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 more smoothly. Engage those topic experts ahead of the community launch by asking them to write articles or ask and answer questions that come up over and over.

3.  Consider gamification

Gamification has been a notable business topic of late — essentially, can you motivate people 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. Others believe it works best with tangible rewards (like gift cards). Our DZone community manager believes engagement is better than rewards. Check out this blog post to learn more about gamification.

4.  Calculate reputation scores

Bad answers can hinder a community’s usefulness. Along with encouraging members to upvote or “accept” the best answers, having an expert identification engine is critical. Tieing reputation to increased moderation privileges is another feature that can help your community grow.

5.  Analyze what’s working 

Ah … one of the biggest business buzzwords of the moment, but also an essential one. Analytics are definitely important in the online community space. The 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 unique visitors won’t capture the entire picture.

Some companies measure “experience share,” or word-of-mouth and “alerting other people to this content” measurements.  Quali has measured the success of its community by the ideas created, Dynatrace measured it by a drop in support cases, and SAP Hybris looked at how long it takes to secure an answer.

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