Holding a consultation on an online community

2 November 2009

Before the launch of the Online Community, ISEAL used a number of standalone tools for online consultations.

These included a wiki, a WordPress.com blog and the isealalliance.org website, used to advertise the consultation.

However, there are a number of issues with using standalone tools:

1. They can only be customised to a limited degree. The Online Community was built from scratch for ISEAL, with a technical specification sent to our developers Rechord.

2.  Users often end up only visiting one of the tools. Even though we clearly linked all of the tools from each website we used, some people only visited the blog or the wiki.

3. It took time to customise the tools to the way we wanted them.

4. It cost money to purchase upgrades enabling us to obtain the required functionality

5. Instead of having to explain one tool to our members, we had to explain several tools.

Using the Online Community:

The new Online Community makes things much simpler.

We are able to create a group for each online consultation, ensuring that all the information is contained in one area.

This group allows us to upload posts,resources, documents in progress and events.

Members are then able to view these items and leave comments.

Tips for holding a consultation on an Online Community:

1. The consultation should be as accessible as possible. Try and have links to important documents on the front page of the group as well as in the resources section. Some people may only have time to glance at the front page.

People should not have to login to read documents, although they will need to login to comment on documents and edit documents in progress.

2.  Those that you want to take part in the consultation need to be aware of the existance of the Online Community. They also need to know how it is accessed (for example, the login procedure) and how they can take part in it.

Therefore, it is important that the help section of the Online Community is clearly visible on the front page, and if possible linked on the front page of the group as well. We actually decided to make our help section a group so people could ask questions.

3.  It is important to have regular updates, just as with a blog. Posting on the comments recieved so for makes those who have left comments feel valued and those that have not yet left comments are spurred to do so.

Avoid link spamming in your online community

15 April 2009

While most internet users will mainly suffer from email spam, one of the most common forms of spam on online communities is link spamming.

This takes the form of a number of weblinks in a single forum post or blog comment.

It is important that these are removed as soon as possible. Clicking on the links may open adult or unpleasent content, and in some cases malware or adware may be present.

There is also the possibility that some of the products being advertised may be scams.

Some members may try to enter into a dialogue with the spammer, which will usually not be replied to and will distract from the topic at hand.

Although most link spam posts will consist of a series of links and no text, some posts may be sneaky and have some text, but be written for the sole purpose of promoting a site.

Many link spammers also use specially written programs or scrape content off blogs to make their spam appear more interesting (this has happened on my personal blog recently).

Spamming is a massive industry, but there are signs that some countries are cracking down on this practice.

The US Can-Spam Act of 2004, which the excellent mailing program Mailchimp adheres to, was used last year to award Facebook US$873 million against the owner of Atlantis Blue Capital, which sent 4 million spam messages to Facebook users.

However, online community managers still need to be vigilant. Regular moderation of the community will enable link spam posts to be removed rapidly.

Once the Online Community has been completed, tested and ready for launch, I will be in charge of making sure that spam is removed rapidly and that users have an excellent experience.

At the moment, we are at the rapid prototype stage, meaning that an incompete version of the Online Community has been created for testing.

Five online community tools (and what to use them for)

2 April 2009
Oneblackbird via flickr

Tools of the Trade

There are endless possibilities for online learning and interaction. Here’s a list of five tools, and what you can use them for: Read the rest of this entry »

Feeling at home in an online community

27 March 2009

Is your online community welcoming to members?

The clue’s in the name. If members don’t enjoy interactions they won’t come back.

This week I’ve been examining how online communities such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Ning create a sense of community for their members.

Keeping members happy:

Those in charge of the community need to make their members feel valued. When a change occurs, it is important to obtain feedback from members.

An example of this is the blog promotion and blogger networking site Entrecard’s close consultation with its members over advertising changes to the site.

Entrecard has a clear area where members and those in charge of the site can communicate (the Entrecard blog), and this has proved to be very fruitful.

The site’s owner, Graham Langdon, has made some significant changes to the new advertising rules as many community members were concerned about the initial terms and conditions.

You don’t have to refuse to implement a change because users are unhappy,

Running an online community is a balancing act.

While some changes are vital to its smooth running, it is also important that members are listened to, so they feel happy.

Unhappy members may leave the Online Community, which defeats its purpose.

Members will also feel valued when their contributions are highlighed. Angela Connor has started interviewing community members for special profiles. While this may be time-consuming, another possibility is to have a post rating system, where useful comments can be highlighted.

Richard Millington of FeverBee highlights the importance of members feeling appreciated by the community in a post on nonprofit online communities.

What do you enjoy about the online communities you visit? How are you made to feel part of the community?

Rules for your Online Community

19 March 2009

This week I have been drafting a privacy policy, terms and conditions and terms of use for the Online Community, a task I have enjoyed.

There are big differences between the three documents.

A privacy policy explains to visitors how their data will be used and how secure the site is.

When drawing up the privacy policy, I referred to the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent authority created to improve access to official information and to protect personal information.

Terms and Conditions are a contract between the user and the site administration that the user agrees to abide by when he progresses beyond the landing page.

Like the privacy policy, this will always be linked on the front page of an online community.

Terms of Use cover how users use the site. These include not impersonating other users, not posting spam and not breaching copyright.

I have also been researching the laws of copyright using the Intellectual Property Office website.

So why are all these rules and regulations needed for an Online Community?

A Privacy Policy is needed to ensure that users are aware of how their data will be used, and so they will feel comfortable with visiting the site.

While the huge majority of the time users will contribute to the site in a positive way, there may be an occasion where a user does something that will offend other users or cause the online community to be brought into a legal dispute.

Spamming can also be a problem. For example, Scope web content manager Alex White has told the Media Trust that the charity’s web forum receives between fifty and sixty spam messages a day.

These issues can be avoided by a well written Terms and Conditions and Terms of Use.

Use statistics to be more aware of your audience

6 March 2009

During the next two weeks I will be gathering statisitics from Google Analytics about the ISEAL website to endevor to build up a better idea about the users of the Online Community.

Areas that I will investigate include:

  • The languages people have configured on their browsers, to find out what language they would prefer to use to read the community.
  • The browsers people use, in order to make sure the Online Community as compatible for as many people as is possible.
  • How people currently search for the site, in order to help with search engine optimisation.

In many cases, people creating a new website or online community from scratch will not have data that they can use when creating a concept. So how do you gauge your visitors’ requirements? Read the rest of this entry »

Recommended reading on online communities

24 February 2009

My colleague Wiebke has lent me a couple of books which I have found useful in understanding online communites.

The first of these, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising within Organisations by Clay Shirky, I have just finished reading. Read the rest of this entry »

Opening links in a new page

17 February 2009

Websites with outbound links are a useful source of information for your readers. They enable you to link to articles relevant to the blog post you have written.

Some blogs, such as the Official Google Blog, have trackback features on posts that will increase traffic to your website.

However, external links can entice visitors away from a page. If you write a blog post on a topic and then link to an external blog, visitors might stay on that page and not click the back button when finished.

Making links open in a new page:

An easy solution to this is to make all your pages open in a new window. Read the rest of this entry »

Embedding forms into websites

15 February 2009

Forms are the first step towards more interactive websites. Without them, no comments, no sign-ups, no ratings and no feedback. If your website doesn’t allow for easy integration of forms, you can embed forms from external services. We’ve looked into Google Docs, Jotform and Wufoo. In addition, we’re integrating our Mailchimp lists and Surveymonkey surveys with the ISEAL Alliance website. Read the rest of this entry »

Fancy formatting, now also in blogs!

9 February 2009

Writing a quick blog post? Great! Write it down, press publish, and you’re done!

But think again: How easy did you make it for your readers to read what you just produced? Clearly, a second reading to check the flow of the text always helps, but there are also a couple of very simple tricks to make a text more accessible. I’m talking formatting here.

Read the rest of this entry »