Update – this post was written about a year ago.
This article is to some extent based on a white paper written by Lithium Technologies called “Community Health Index for Online Communities”. Lithium has development a technique to measure the health and assign a score of an online community based on membership, content, traffic, responsiveness, interaction and liveliness. Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research reviewed the Community Health Index for Social Network communities.
What do you need in a healthy online social network community? In general
- Members and word of mouth – happy members forward your brand by invitation and other means.
- Content – content is king. You need to ensure that there is fresh useful content on the site at all times. The content can be created by others and shared on your site (digg.com), or created and published by your members (flickr, youTube), or it can be simple social setting on your site (mySpace, facebook). The main point is that the content has to be fresh and useful. Take a look at your bookmarks on your browser and ask yourself, why do I like these sites? Most likely, most of the sites that you like are also sites that a lot of other people like. So what is it with these sites that makes people coming back to them. Content, content, content – content from where you learn, that is humorous, that you have to think hard, or not hard at all, to understand and so on.
- Well-organized content – without good organization, people cannot find it.
- Community Responsiveness – there has to be a certain responsiveness behind the site. Lithium argues that 1,000 minutes (16 hours and 40 min) is the longest that a post or a comment should go without a response.
- Site/technical Responsiveness – the site needs to be quick to view (quick download) and quick to move around with. Delays cause membership drops.
- Interaction – as a site owner, you need to be responsive to you members but you also want your members to interact with each other. You need to think hard on how you can make your members to interact with each other.
- Interaction and visual design – if the site is impossible to use, your members will go to a site that is easier to use.
- Happy site – you want your site to display a positive attitude where members and you converse in a civil manner. You need to build trust between members by building trust between you and your members. You need to ensure that no antisocial behavior is allowed. You need to have your Code of Conduct easily accessible at all times and also make sure that the Code of Conduct is written in simple language. Ensure that the Code of Conduct is read and approved by a lawyer but the it can not be written in legalease.
- Communication – ensure that all posts, comments can be commented upon.
- Offer you content instead pushing your content.
- Keep the site simple and intuitive – good visual and interaction design is key components of a simple site.
- Freshness – keep the site fresh with new content and new design.
- If you need to advertise, do so but in a non-annoying way.
- Credibility – without credibility, you site is void.
- Members – always remember that the site is about users/members and how to make your audience feel welcome and to give them a place to hang out.
- User preferences – store user preferences to make the site easier to use for users.
- Well-organized content.