Building & Sustaining Vibrant Online Communities

Answering foundational questions early in the process will:

  • Set you on the right path
  • Help you sift through technology decisions, especially giant feature lists
  • Support you if a crisis arises

Questions to Answer

If you don’t answer these questions sooner, you will answer them later.
An answer is better than no answer
It’s about process, research, analysis, discussion, alignment.


Clients? Donors? Advocates? Activists? Volunteers?
Who are they in terms of age, gender, profession, social technographics (how they participate online)?
If your potential community members exist on Facebook, but you have something to offer more than Facebook and you don’t want to be locked into that particular tool, it’s perfectly okay


Where are they online? Offline?
Who will the community NOT serve?

  • Age
  • Country

It’s about setting expectations. You can still welcome those outside direct service (diversity is good).


Why are we doing this?


What is our mission, vision, purpose, focus, goals?

What values do we hold? What are your areas of distrust? What does success look like?


How does change happen?

How is our organization limited?

  • Budget
  • Time
  • Development resources
  • IT support

How involved do we want/need to be in the community?
How will we sustain the community?
How will we support diversity/dissent?


When do we expect results? When should be expect results?
Don’t expect any results in first 3–6 months.
1 year = hint of results
2 years = solid results


  • Start with a purpose in mind
  • Slowly build your audience/collaborators
    • the first 10 members set the tone
    • recruit people who set the standards for participation and achievement
  • Experiment and get the tool mix right
  • Understand and nurture your community
  • Segment your community
    • Heavy contributors
    • Intermittent contributors
    • Lurkers

Community management

Empower your super users
Make it easy to find, join, and act: welcome your community members
Engage with your community
Learn from your mistakes

Wrap Up

It’s about people and processes.
Hit as many of the big questions as you can.
Reflect back on your answers while reviewing technology options.
Be flexible — experimentation is okay!
Review your questions and answers and update as necessary.

Session wiki:

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