What do members want?
If you want to start a community (or improve an existing one), you might begin by asking members what they want.
Members will say they want interesting, relevant, information. They want advice. They want entertaining content.
The brand then works overtime to create this interesting, relevant, entertaining content.
If it works well, members will visit frequently to read this content.
Can you spot the problem?
There is a MASSIVE gap between providing interesting information which people read and hosting interesting discussions in which people participate.
Sure, some communities like Mashable, Techcrunch, Mumsnet, and many others are driven by content.
But only a minuscule number participate.
These sites have audiences in the millions and responses in the hundreds.
They also took years to generate anything resembling meaningful discussions.
If you want to wait years to having any meaningful interaction, then be my guest.
If you want to waste most of your audience’s potential, then be my guest.
If you want to compete against the news sites you want to support you, try to change a user’s consumption habits, and work overtime to compete in the internet’s most competitive field (content), then be my guest.
Just be aware that news sites don’t like promoting the competition, people rarely change their reading habits, and creating the best content is almost impossible. It’s a winner-take-all game which you will probably lose.
What members really want
I recommend you follow what the academics say about what members want.
Members might join for a clear benefit (e.g. receive advice), but they participate for a very different reason.
Members want to find a place they can fit in. Be themselves. They want to find a peer group. They want to impress other people. They want to feel appreciated.
But they wont tell you that.
This is why content-driven community strategies are so tragically flawed.
They rarely succeed and ruin the potential of their audience.
Giving members what they want
From the moment members join a community, you need to give them what they really want, not what they say they want.
Fortunately, most of these things are easier than creating content.
Members want to give their opinion on topics they feel passionate about.
You need to identify the topics your members care about, initiate discussions on those topics, and invite these members to participate in those discussions.
Members want to feel appreciated. They want to be mentioned by name, receive responses to their own posts, be given a level of distinction unique amongst other community members.
Members want to feel influential. They want to be invited to write guest columns about topics they feel strongly about. They want admin powers. They want to provide feedback directly to you. They want to know that they make a difference within the community (however small).
Members want to feel like they belong. They want to be referenced as part of the group. They want to feel that their group identity matters. They want to see their group succeed. They want to see the group they belong to mentioned elsewhere. They want to share a common group identity.
Members want to make friends. They want to really become familiar with each other. They want to build relationships that matter beyond the platform. They usually want to meet people in person. They want to participate in self-disclosure discussions.
You can give members all these things. It takes time, but not money.
It’s easier and more effective than any content-driven community strategy.