Building Online Communities


Building Online Communities

by Firecat
July 31, 2008

Adding a community element to your web site can inspire customer loyalty, provide you with free content, and increase your traffic numbers. A lot more goes into facilitating community involvement than meets the eye. Spend some time learning about the basics – the perks as well as the pitfalls – so you can make the right community decisions for your site.


  • Community chat may well be the trickiest of all community elements to successfully implement. Although there are off-the-shelf chat products worth considering, even the best-designed chat interface imposes significant user-interface hurdles that you’ll need to help your users over.
  • Community chat requires critical mass. Don’t even think about offering community chat on your site unless you have tons of traffic. How much traffic? Let’s look at the numbersRule of thumb: 2 percent of total concurrent visitors participate in chat.
    Concurrent users 2 percent chatting.
    500 10
    5000 100

    Let’s say you have 500 simultaneous (concurrent) visitors. 10 of them might decide to use chat. That’s not really enough to sustain chat. At an minimum, you need 100 concurrent chatters to keep multiple conversations going. That means you need 5,000 people looking at your site at any given moment. Depending on how long people spend on your site, that could translate into 100s of 1,000s, if not 1,000,000s of daily page views to reach critical mass.

  • Community chat requires community management. Don’t underestimate the work involved in maintaining the peace in chat. There will be troublemakers. Chatters will complain vociferously about other chatters. People with no interest in your site will find your chat and join in just to harass others. You can’t watch all chat in all rooms at all times, but if your chat is successful, you’ll need to consider 24/7 moderation.
“Make sure to provide self-service, context-sensitive help right where it’s most needed, at key decision points or through tricky points of navigation.”


  • Customer service chat has become a relatively simple product to implement. There are lots of off-the-shelf products that can get you set up with customer service chat very quickly. Community management is non-existent, since your customers don’t interact with one another.
  • Customer service chat requires presence. If you tell your customers they can get support by starting a chat session, you’d better be there to answer the call. You can offer chat support during certain hours, but remember your customers maybe in a variety of time zones.

FORUMS (Bulletin Boards)

Forums are an excellent way to engage your customers in discussion about your products and services, and creates a record of your dialogs that can be used for site content, training, and analysis.

  • Keep general customer discussions separate from support discussions. Let customers begin their own discussions, but make sure you have a distinct area for support. This area should be 100% controlled by you. You start the topics, and let the customers ask questions. Of course, you’ll need to commit resources to ensuring that questions are answered in a timely manner.
  • Give your customers ownership over the direction of the community discussions. With the exception of the support topics, the more you try to make people talk about what you want them to talk about, the more quickly you’ll lose them. Let them discuss what interests them, even if it’s off topic ? good conversation of any type still makes for loyalty to you and your site.
  • Police the boards for spam and offensive material. Get interns, find community volunteers, do it yourself in your spare time. Find a way to keep the junk off the forums. Clean them up on a regular basis.
  • Consider blogging with comments. The comments capability of blogging software can function as a simple forum. You write the content, your customers offer their comments ? it’s a simple, elegant solution.


Firecat Studio can help you develop and manage a robust online community that propels your business or organization forward. Contact us to discuss your social media plan.

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