How Do You Build Healthy Online Communities?

Updated: June 22, 2009

As exciting as it can be for you to connect with the world at large through social networking sites like Facebook or Linked in or Twitter, there comes a point where your audience may be tired of constant messaging on your product. It's partly an attention bandwidth issue. Your brain can only hold so much. This may be why the drop-off rate for people who have signed up on Twitter is over 50 percent.

I read a recent article by the New York Times that said that 95 percent of blogs are abandoned and left uncultivated on the Web. Basically, it's wasted hard drive space. A bunch of 1's and 0's, started with good intentions but ultimately ignored. It's sort of like my patio garden, where I wanted to create a lush environment but ended up just throwing some wild flower seeds on the dirt and forgetting to water them. Don't ask me about my cherry tomato plant.

So I got to thinking about my online communities versus my offline communities - where I live and the places I frequent. What are the differences? Why do these communities thrive?

There are two things that pop into my mind. First, it's much more difficult to ignore people in real life communities. I don't have the Harry Potter cloak of invisibility so I cannot effectively sneak around without people seeing me at the local Safeway, drug store or neighborhood gas station. Although I do see value in a cloak like that for sneaking into movies for free… Something I would never do, of course.

The second thing that comes to mind is that in my real life communities, there's much more at stake. There are consequences for non-involvement. If I don't go to city planning meetings and protest, the city could decide to put a new road through my neighborhood and create more traffic which may result in decreased property values. And when I protest in person, they know who I am as everyone identifies themselves and is recorded in the meeting notes as well as the city cable channel program.

When I think of online communities, it's easy to click delete or ignore others without being identified. You can deride a product or service and walk away anonymously. Damage done. No consequences except maybe being banned from posting or having your comments deleted. But if you get another online identity, you can do it again.

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