How To Build a User Community

Kathy Sierra’s got another fabulous post, titled “How To Build A User Community, Part I” which draws on her experience with Java user communities.

She believes (quite correctly, IMHO) that the key to a successful user community is teaching and encouraging intermediate-level users to start answering questions.

Her “big six” tips for growing a user community are:

  1. Encourage newer users–especially those who’ve been active askers–to start trying to answer questions
  2. Give tips on how to answer questions
  3. Tell them it’s OK to guess a little, as long as they ADMIT they’re guessing
  4. Adopt a near-zero-tolerance “Be Nice” policy when people answer questions
  5. Teach and encourage the more advanced users (including moderators) how to correct a wrong answer while maintaining the original answerer’s dignity.
  6. Re-examine your reward/levels strategy for your community

Great stuff. When I think about the Plone community, I think we do a pretty good job on most of these things most of the time. We have a good number of folks who are comfortable guessing at the answers, and some really outstanding experts who can gently correct and build upon their sometimes-partially-right answers. We are very good at teaching people how to ask questions, but I think we could do more to explicitly teach folks how to answer questions better. And we do, unfortunately, have one or two sometimes-a-little-gruff “experts” who don’t always suffer poorly-framed questions as gracefully as we might like.

One thing we don’t yet have are very clear reward strategies for community participation. This is something I’d like to think about more in the next few months. Recognition, appreciation and love really make a big difference, and they’re what keep people around in the long term.