Online communities are incredibly effective at fostering collaboration. An environment designed to engage various perspectives, skills and ideas in one place is key to ongoing engagement and lasting productivity. Below are a few key considerations to take account as you build your community.
1. Shared purpose and goals
Why show up? If your members don’t have an answer to that question, then it will be nearly impossible to create a collaborative environment. People can have individual reasons for participating, but everyone needs to share the overall purpose and goals for the project or community.
Make sure the team’s and community’s goals are well articulated and easily found. Although this isn’t a new trick, keep in mind S.M.A.R.T. goals—specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound. S.M.A.R.T. goals keep everyone on the same page, eliminate confusion and hold everyone accountable since they allow you to articulate expectations so clearly.
Just as you have community guidelines outlining how members should behave (and not behave) within your online community, create guidelines outlining proper behavior for building collaboration within the community, for specific projects.
Instead of making people figure out what collaboration looks like on their own, create guidelines that explain the types of behavior you’d like to see, how to navigate conflict if it comes up, and what type of behavior isn’t productive. Many of the points may seem obvious to you or other community minded individuals, but won’t be obvious people new to online collaboration.
As important as it is to have community guidelines and written rules outlining how you want members to behave, nothing beats leading by example. The best people to do that are executives and team leaders. People naturally look to leaders, and positive leader participation can do two big things for your community and projects:
Leader and executive participation validates the community and projects, showing members and participants that your organization thinks it’s an important investment and place to spend time and energy. Because of that, leader and executive participation can inspire more members to participate and to take the platform seriously.
People naturally emulate leaders. If leaders show up, connect and collaborate online, they teach members it’s important to do and, importantly, show them how.
According the the 2016 State of Community Management Report, 62% executives in mature communities participated regularly, demonstrating just how important executive and leader participation is.
4. Document sharing
Knowing how to participate in an online community is important, but if your platform doesn’t have certain capabilities, it doesn’t matter how well trained your members are. One feature to look for is good document sharing, where members can keep a clear system of record.
When collaborating, it’s important to know where your team is headed (i.e. what your goals are and what you want the end product to look like), but it’s also crucial to have a system of record to know where you came from, who did what, and what previous versions of documents looked like.