Let’s say you have a blog, website, or a product that is useful for a certain niche community. You post quality content as often as possible. People read the content and share it on social media if it’s good, entertaining or useful. At some point you also want to decide to build a community, but how do you get people to engage in the community? Social networks are great for sharing and growing the reach of your content.
But wait, everyone uses Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, what’s wrong with it? If I follow a certain community, you can easily see who posts the most, right? Even if you don’t remember the name, you remember the profile image on Facebook of a person who comments a lot, leading to ‘Oh, I saw that guy comment before’ moments.
If you follow someone on Twitter, usually you can easily get a sense who is engaging with who after a few tweets. How many times did you see a cool post on Facebook page you like and saw a wall of comments where someone tagged one or more of his friends, and then the comment chain becomes an internal joke between them. If you like to comment blog posts, how often do you start a conversation with a random stranger that ends up really heated, maybe you argue, maybe you learn something new, but don’t you sometimes wish you can talk with that person more. I don’t mean that Joe or Jane Doe specifically, but in general, if you care about some topic – wouldn’t you like to talk with someone about it? On Reddit, every thread get’s upvoted, same with any comment, and best content most of the time gets your attention because people choose what they think is relevant. It’s a great idea in theory, but the problem is that Reddit is too big, comment chains often end up as memes, or get sidetracked.
So what’s missing?
Maybe nothing, if I’m being completely honest, this is probably completely subjective. But I think it misses some kind of reputation building system. Facebook pages, Instagram profiles, and Twitter profiles do build community, but not in the same way. A lot of information easily gets lost in all the chatter and noise of hundreds or thousands user posts. I remember when I was a kid, a lot of time if I was interested in some topic, I would go to the forum for that particular subject, and I could always find loads of people who liked to talk about what they were interested. But since we are talking about the Internet, and you definitely can’t trust everything you read on the internet, forums were great because they had some sort of reputation tracking system. I remember those badges or stars under the nickname of the user, I remember the post count below the profile picture of the user. We can definitely say that those two things are arbitrary and subjective. A badge can be easily given if you are on good terms with the Admins of some forum. Post count is – well your ability to spam constructively.
But if you came to a new site in 2018, glanced at forum topic, saw a post of 100 to 200 words, from user who has a good profile picture (not even his picture, just something that is memorable), saw he wrote 5000 posts on that forum, had a badge that said ‘Legend’ and that he joined the forum in 2006. Even if it’s all subjective and doesn’t guarantee anything, wouldn’t you be a little more inclined to read what that person had to say, or in general visit that forum? I personally would, of course, IF I’m interested in the general topic. I think that feeling of talking to someone who at least seems (we can never know for sure, that’s just the nature of the internet) to know what he’s talking about, and the types/talks with passion – isn’t that worth reading? Of course, we now have likes, thumbs up, upvotes, karma associated with posts, but those are just numbers, they are missing – to me at least – that human element. Do you ever feel like you are the only person on Reddit who is not a bot?
Which brings me to the cons of implementing QA sections. First one is definitely that you need to put a lot more time into engaging and moderation of community. There is no way around it, it’s the cost of doing business, but it’s mostly upfront, at the start where you need to build the community right way, and then at a certain point, if you did a good job – people like to contribute to moderation. Second one is that you don’t control the content if something is getting visibility on your page, even if you didn’t write that content, people will associate that content with your page. That’s where moderation comes into play. Third one is kinda optional, for example, if you build QA section for your products, and people contribute, and then at some point, you change the product, previous questions and answers can still be associated with a new product, even if they aren’t the same product. Just to be clear, I’m sure there are more cons that I haven’t thought of yet.
And what are the good sides?
First one is the most obvious one, if you have a community, you always have a certain base of people that will read, buy, or somehow bring value to your business. Second, it’s that it brings value to everyone involved, the person asking the question will most likely get an answer to his question from someone. Someone who knows a lot about a question will get the satisfaction of helping, or at least feeling smart. I mean, we all like to talk about ourselves and what we know. If there are questions that show up a lot or are unanswered for a long time, you get a free content inspiration. A strong community will always have people that are willing to contribute back, either through moderation, writing content, helping with tech stuff or whatever is needed.
Title of this blog post is kinda misleading. What do questions and answers have to do with communities? Well, I think they both operate on the same underlying principles. But since I’m a developer first, so we need to talk about implementations of QA sections, so the difference between QA section and general community building become blurry. What the section is called in the end is not really important, it’s only important that it brings value to everyone.
Facebook groups are the easiest solution for building community. You can get a fully working group in 15 minutes or less. Most people already have Facebook accounts, so the barrier of entry is low. Probably the best thing is that people use their actual names and most of the time use their actual images as profile photos. But the biggest problem I see is that you can still easily get lost in the comments of some post.
Subreddits are also really easy to create. Reddit already has a big user base, people can directly upvote or downvote both threads and comments which makes it easy to use as QA section. But the biggest takeaway is that you only see the username of account, which definitely takes away from the feeling of community, you are not sure who you are talking to.
Old school forums
Old school forums are the most flexible off-the-shelf solution. But you do have to know how to deploy it, and you have to take time to design(or simply buy) a theme, create the boards, engage in community in the early stages. Which does take some time. But a strong community built in old-school forum stays there. There is always that off topic thread where people talk about how the car broke down for no reason, football games or simply share videos. End users have to create an account to post and set up their profile, but you can always use social login features to speed up that process
The most time consuming and possibly most rewarding solution. Most expensive because you need to invest at least time, and also resources if you can’t implement it yourself. But it’s most rewarding because it’s most customizable and could better fit your already existing web. We did it for a long time client of ours, for his biscuit industry web.
Take a look at it in the photo below, or check it out live at biscuitpeople.com:
How does it work?
Very simple, end users have to have an account to post, you can open a question or answer a question. People who opened a question can close the question and select one answer to be shown as the accepted answer, which is shown after the question. There is a feed of new questions as well as resolved ones. And the best feature in my opinion – on the right side of the section, there is a list of seven most active users, it’s calculated depending on the number of questions and answers they have given. So just with a glance at questions, you know who is most active in the community. It’s not feature-rich, to be honest, but it gets the job done.
So, what’s the point of this wall of text? Communities are good for your product, people like to talk about what they know. It isn’t easy to implement since it takes time to build a community, but once you get there, it will all be worth it.