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Why do online communities fail?
Despite the tremendous value that an online community can bring to a organisation or business, it's never really true that “if you build it they will come”. There are all sorts of reasons why online communities may fail. Recently many commentators have been covering the The Wall Street Journal Article by Ben Worthen titled “Why Most Online Communities Fail?” including Mike Gotta and Patrick O'Keefe. Ed Moran comments that “A disturbingly high number of these sites fail”. While those of us who work in online communities might dispute the “high number” or “most communities fail” statements it nonetheless is useful to look at some of the reasons why online communities fail.
- The biggest reason for failure is relying on technology – whether it's websites, forums, Web 2.0, social media, social networks or any of the buzzwords. Too many businesses spend massive amounts of money on the technology rather than the plans and processes and people that are what make up a community.
- Lack of proper strategic planning and management typically comes before failure. Community strategising, management and facilitation are key skills, and they don't come from nowhere. Years of research and experience in community management have gone into Reach Further's community model for example.
- Getting the wrong people to run it. If you ask a web designer or developer to design a site that's what they'll do – design a site – they're probably not experts in running communities. Many companies then put their communities in the hands of an administrator or marketing officer. Again, these are not necessarily the people to run the communities successfully without the training and mentoring – the kind of training that Reach Further offers in managing and moderating communities, for example.
Of course, an online community is still one of the most potent tools for a business to connect with its customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders. Beeline Labs » The 2008 Tribalization of Business study and others show that
- Communities can increase revenue per customer dramatically, i.e., 50%.
- Communities will increase product introduction success ratios.
- Communities amplify everything a company does - increasing effectiveness and decreasing costs.
- If done properly, communities will transform the way marketing works (reduced costs, improved effectiveness, new opportunities).
- Communities can revolutionise working practices within and between companies and organisations.
A community can establish and maintain a brand, provide feedback from users and purchasers, generate ideas and save time and money. But anyone setting up an online community needs to be clearheaded: they will need to focus less on the initial technology and building of the site and much much more on planning and facilitating continuing community engagement.