Community Learnings

Community Learnings

Virtual Community FTW: Lessons We’ve Learned So You Don’t Have To

If you build it, will they come? When we went live on the Wonder Community last month, that was a question we weren’t sure we could answer. Sure, we thought a virtual community of folks who clearly have great taste in online event platforms was a great idea. But if you’re bold enough to build a virtual community in 2021, then you’re probably naïve enough to think that people will be lined up to join it.

So, how would we answer the question now—a full month into this Wonder Community experiment?

“They will!” says Michael Paul, whom you might know as WonderMichael and who was instrumental in bringing the Wonder Community to life and now keeps things humming as its community manager. 

Since we’re all about knowledge-sharing here, we asked Michael  to share a few lessons he’s learned so far about what it takes to build and nurture a virtual community. Here are some things he’s discovered along the way:

It’s totally unnecessary to reinvent the wheel

For better or worse, the internet is not lacking in the online community department. Between the social media giants to the Reddit discussions ad nauseum, the world doesn’t need another fill-in-the-blank. For example, if you’re crazy about photos, go link up with a like-minded network on Instagram and call it a day. 

So, why did we create a Wonder Community, then? 

We knew we didn’t want—or need—another channel for customer service or sales. Been there, done that. What spurred us was a gap in knowledge about how to run better meetings online.

Enter the Wonder Community. By bringing Wonder users together, they suddenly have a platform for discussion and learning, for curiosity and connection, and for all sorts of things that we know they have in common. (Take that, Instagram.)

“We also recognized that the new virtual world is such an undefined space,” Michael says. “And while that’s a little scary, it’s also exciting in an endless-possibilities kind of way. We get to create this world together.” 

Go with the flow

The thing about online communities—as opposed to a blog post that has the comments turned off—is that they’re living, breathing things. 

While the name would suggest otherwise, the Wonder Community was never supposed to be about Wonder. And yet, Michael says, the conversations taking place here often seem to come back around to the topic we never wanted to showcase in the first place.

Some of the most active conversations start as user-led “asks”—features Wonder users would like to see added to Wonder. And although we never intended it to be a product development forum, we’re happy to make it a part of our community for as long as the community members want to talk about it. 

So be open and address the needs of the community if it makes sense to do so. 

Take your code of conduct seriously

Because Wonder users are proving themselves to be Wonder-ful humans too, we haven’t had to enforce the code of conduct—yet. But there’s bound to be a questionable post that will require us to consult said code and take swift action. Whenever that happens, Michael is ready.

When he’s not online, other community managers are. A few active users also have been designated as citizen moderators on the lookout for the weird, offensive or inappropriate. Because, again, if that’s what you’re looking for, there are plenty of places to find it, weirdo!

Resist the urge to go for the easiest wins

Nothing gets a group of podiatrists loosened up faster than a few good memes poking fun at their work. Sure, you’ll get some fast likes and chuckles, but then what? Silence, that’s what, because there’s only so many ways to poke fun at podiatrists. Plus, to Michael’s first point, that content is already out there.

“I see too many online communities trying to capitalize on meme culture,” he says. “It’s death by a thousand memes we’ve all already seen somewhere else. I think people who are here for the right reasons see through that.”

Other easy wins include giveaways and gamification that allow users to level up the more they participate. Michael says to really consider whether the pros outweigh the cons on these kinds of moves. Yes, you may get more users and more posts, but are they the users and posts that you’re looking for?

Here’s a little of what we’ve learned about virtual communities (so far). How about you? What would you add to this list or what new questions does this article bring up for you? Let’s keep talking about it in the comments below.

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