In the past five years, having worked on 10 different online communities on diverse platforms, with different community managers, audience, and types – B2B, B2C, and commercial – and with the number of community users ranging from about 4K to 4M, I have realized one thing for sure – if your community’s core isn’t strong, it won’t do well. By core, I mean the discussion areas of your community. They not only have to be well-structured but also should be easily navigable and clean. It is undisputed easy navigation always improves user engagement. Now, what I mean by ‘clean’, I’ll explain with an anecdote.
I once had to move over a 100 thousand discussions (took a manual effort of 10 days x 2 resources) to archive from several categories in a 9 year old community, just because those discussions were regarding the outdated products, which did not make any sense at the current time. This act of cleaning out any dead discussions around outdated issues/features/topics is what I call detoxification of community.
Detoxification of your community is as important as easy navigation and active user participation because it helps keep your community up-to-date and fresh. Imagine a naïve user is looking for a product issue, finds a 5 year old solution, and tries to apply the same fix to the new version. This is relatively important to the product based communities where you have to keep the product info up-to-date with every new release or a software based community where a 4 year old discussion does not apply to the current version.
Tips and best practices for community detoxification
- Revisit the community structure whenever there is a new product/software launch to analyze if a new discussion area is required or not. It may or may not be required to update the community structure or add a discussion area for every new launch.
- Sometimes, using labels would suffice and you can utilize the same discussion areas for all new releases. Trust me, adding a label is a lot more convenient and easy to manage compared to setting up a completely new area.
- Keep an eye on the ageing discussion areas, see if they are required or if they can be merged into new or existing ones or need to be archived.
- Also, keep an eye on the non-performing areas, the ones with almost no activity. I can give you another anecdote here; I had to merge a discussion area to another one because, in one and a half years after creating it, there were only 6 discussions in that area.
- As a community manager, it is also very important that you keep all discussion areas as distinct as you can. When a user is on a discussion area for tables, make sure there are no mentions of chairs. Yu don’t want your community users to have general discussions in a specific discussion area. This might sound a bit harsh, but you get the idea.
- Have a separate area for general discussions, and make sure it is the only one used for that purpose. I have been part of a community makeover; the community had one general discussion area per category, and overall 15 such discussion areas, all in the same community. According to the standards of a well-managed community, this means chaos.
- Have an active set of moderators if your community is big and has a lot of discussions. This might already be in place for your community; if not, keep it on your checklist.
- Keep an eye on spam, add throttling to the posts per minute to counter it.
Though detoxification is not required for new communities, as the time goes by, every community will need it.
Not to mention, I worked as an online community developer in some of these communities and as a technical lead in the rest.