What Does it Mean When a Community is Drawn to Scale?
A community that is drawn to scale has the tools and the wherewithal to be able to grow.
There are little forums, and there are big ones. And there are forums with a very personal touch, and those without. It should come as no great shock to most people that smaller communities tend to have a more personal slant than much larger ones.
When you first start your community, like it or not, you will be building traditions. Perhaps your organization welcomes everyone personally, either in a topic or by sending a private message. Maybe you even mail out some swag the old-fashioned way, using the postal system. Or you write it up in a newsletter.
This is all perfectly fine when you’ve got a community of fewer than 100 users. But what happens when you hit 1,000 users? Or 10,000? Or, like Able2know, the site I’ve been managing since its inception in 2002, where you go from 2 users to over 1,200,000??? And of course there will be more to come.
Suddenly those nice personal touches become nice for everyone but you and your staff. Suddenly, they are nothing more than a burden, like a nest full of baby birds, constantly demanding a feeding. Yesterday.
When they don’t scale, they start to really stink after a while.
Hence you must start setting expectations early. If you want to welcome everyone, recognize that, if you can automate at least some of that (or delegate it), then it will be far more sustainable for far longer. Many forms of forum software allow the administrative team to send out a private message upon an event. One such event can be confirmation of an email address and/or a completed registration. Hence you can set up your software to send out a welcoming message.
What should your welcoming message say? Only you truly know your users. What you say to the members of a gun owners’ forum will probably differ from what you say to a board dedicated to people looking for international pen pals. But either way, there are a few messages you might want to get across, no matter what your audience:
- Welcome to the site!
- Here is a link to the site rules
- Come and introduce yourself (if you’ve got a specific topic or forum where people are supposed to introduce themselves, put the link here)
- You can find forum announcements/the site blog/major news here
- And here’s where you go for help or if you have an issue (this is where a link to your Help Desk, or the address for support, should go) and
- Here is how to get your account removed, if you allow that.
Scale and Respect Your Users’ Time and Interest Levels
Including all of that information will help to head off some newbie questions at the pass. But don’t make the message too long as no one will read all of it. All you can hope for is for a good minority (say, 30% of your users) to read or skim most of the message, so make it short and bulleted. Hence it should comprise more of a reference than a one-stop shopping place where your users can find answers to their questions. And that will help to assure it can fulfill at least some of its purpose. User-centered, information-centric design is key here.
The personal touch is lovely, and you may still wish to use it every now and again. Certainly if you bring in a larger staff, it will allow for some of that, or at least allow for it longer. But if it gets away from you, don’t be afraid to scale and go to an automated solution. After all, no one expects Facebook to send a personally tailored note whenever they join the site or make a change in their status or friends list.
May your site become that large, too.