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Joel R

The Challenges of Online Communities

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Hi everyone

I wanted to open a wide-ranging discussion on pain points of forums and online communities (and yes, I know there are a lot) and solicit a broader range of thinking. There's no "right" or "wrong" here, only discussion on what's a challenge and how it can be improved. 

There are some areas where I think forums and online communities fall short.  These aren't modern challenges, they've been around forever but social media has raised the bar for all of us. 

1. Interest Discoverability

All of our forums contain multiple sections, forums, and interests that can be quite diverse.  However, when a user registers, he starts with 0.  This is a huge problem.  It requires the user to actively and manually go out of his way to follow, participate, or engage (which he may not do for a variety of reasons ... Overwhelmed, cautious, hesitant, doesn't feel like he can contribute, etc).  Our forums are totally passive.  

This is one of the biggest challenges that we haven't addressed.  When new visitors or members don't follow any topic (and this could be for a variety of reasons ... He feels overwhelmed, hesitant, cautious, not an expert, etc), this means there won't be any follow-up notifications on relevant content and our ability to re-engage with the member will be forever 0.  

If you could design a new app, how would you guide or lead users to interests during sign-ups? What other platforms have you seen that do a good job of suggesting relevant content and new content? How often do you think we should suggest topics, users, or content to follow? 

2. Notifications

On busy boards and for active members, they may be receiving dozens or hundreds of notifications.  For myself as admin of my own community, I've manually un-followed almost all parts of my community except for some limited feedback and content sections and I still get 30+ notifications every day.  

This poses some problems: 

1. Notification Overload - the delivery of notifications is "dumb."  If there's a new content, a new reaction, or a new reply, you get a notification in chronological order regardless of how relevant or engaging the post is to you.  This means you get flooded with notifications and you have to dig through notifications.  I was shocked when my superusers told me they actually go to the notification page so they could glance through the 100+ notifications they receive every day.   I was inspired by a recent article on Facebook and Instagram where they talk about how the average user can receive 1500 items if they see everything posted by everyone else, so they algorithmically condense the number to show. 

2. Notification Options - I highly doubt any users have adjusted their notification preferences (and certainly not the individual notification options for every topic).  Most users follow the default.  

If you could design a "smart" notification system, how would you prioritize the most engaging notifications? What's the most that you would show? 

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Hi @Joel R
 
yes, 1) is for me a pain point too. Our community is 18 years old and we have so so so much stuff. New users are overwhelmed by the many threads and other content. 
 
We're using "New Member Follow-up“ for short mails in the first days of membership.
 
A better lead during sign-up is needed too. If I remember correctly I saw such lead during my registration at Reddit or Pinterest.
 
But with a builtin better newsletter tool IPS would have a point. I am always jealous when I receive automated mails from other communities in my subject area. They have mails like:
  • Stuff worth talking about this week 💥 (= Popular right now; weekly)
  • Member suggestions for you (because they wrote about the same things or with the same keywords; monthly)
  • Say hi to others who just joined near you! (monthly)
In large communities we need a smart system for all those mails, I know. But I would prefer a builtin system because of privacy.

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I did not touch the notification settings of IPS because email level and on the site I do not find them disturbing.

Notifications are not disturbing I think when it comes to quality content that interests us. This is rather good news.

On fiverr, following the words typed in their search bar, we are sent an email with links likely to interest us, it's not bad because it is an email following a search on our part ...

it would be nice to be able to send a nice presentation of article suggestions by email

A community functions around users, so to function at best, it is necessary to make sure to know them as much as possible but also to master the domain of its community.

Why not ask registrants directly to choose after their registrations which are the 4 keywords (tags) that best respond to what they like?

and all that could allow an automation to recover the content likely to interest its members.

The most important thing is that the administrators know the problems of their members in order to propose the best solutions.

It is up to the administrator to prepare quality content, prioritize it, and then send it to its members.

Today our concentration is limited because we are inundated with what's app information, smartphone notification, ... and we no longer want to write or read discussions.

We just want to write a comment with a few words. (Twitter)

It's over I think the scientific exchanges on the forums ...

But it can come back with good tools ...

I see the evolution of forums no longer being based solely on a few large active members offering quality content, which other members would come to read, but on a team that knows each of its members well (placed in groups), and putting in place tools allowing each of its members to have specific content for him and of quality.

I also add prefer a scientific exchange on opinions of a product found in a forum than an article of 3000 words 2019 or 2020 with a lot of amazon link below.

It still happens to me today to type on gogole product + opinion + forum because it is a safe bet.

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  1. A lot of communities I visit do not have any welcome (landing) page, some words, what is the community about or what is the benefit to join it. There were literally some that I could not sort out what they about :huh: A modern landing page describing in short terms what it the community about - is important. It should not be a start page, at least something like "About Us". And I do not talk about this but something like this.  
  2. We do not want the user to register but talk. So adding something like "Ask your question and get answers from the communities experts now!" is better than offering "Post before register" below each topic. Adding a form with just a title field and pre-defined forum is the best way to get them to ask something. Very simple form, there should not be dozens of forums they should select from prior to ask. We can create a newbie forum and move those questions in the appropriate forum afterwards. But do not make it difficult for newbie forcing him to select where to post.
  3. Questions are what rules the web right now. Not the discussions unfortunately. Making content field in start topic optional would help a lot when using forum type "Questions". Redesign of the questions forum can be done to approach something like quora. Do not copy it, but make it light weighted like comments to the articles. 
  4. The profile page is a pane. Not only in IPS, in forums overall. In social media we have "me, me, me" and only me. In forum we have a technically looking profile pages with lot of technical internal info. Additional fields are displayed somewhere beyond the visibility. "About me" - should be found first to be filled and then it is even not displayed on the profile page first. The profile page is not personal, it is like a database record and nobody would like to be a database record :rolleyes:
  5. Tags on profiles that user can select could help to match the content, clubs (tags on clubs) and other users. We could use them for content suggestions or newsletter personalization.
  6. Writing quality content (articles) with Pages helps to be found in search engines as forum content is only served for long tail keywords nowadays. But the content should not be separated from community. Call to action: "Do you have questions? Ask us now!" and form for the Start new topic (not a comment form on article!) should be added. But again, without forum selection, and even without content field (or have it optional).
  7. Make it light, remove all buttons like "Follow" for guests, sorting for guests and tons of other unimportant things making a lot of noise.

Make it simple for users and allow them to start to talk fast, very fast :cool:

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39 minutes ago, Sonya* said:
  1. Make it light, remove all buttons like "Follow" for guests, sorting for guests and tons of other unimportant things making a lot of noise.

Make it simple for users and allow them to start to talk fast, very fast :cool:

Especially on mobile. make it simple and fast. 

As far as content, I'm waiting to utilize RSS more in 4.5. Its underutilized. I'd also like to see IPS  introduce a native newsletter app.

42 minutes ago, Sonya* said:

A lot of communities I visit do not have any welcome (landing) page,

You should look at this: 

Its coming along very nicely.

I would like to see more automatic moderation options and more enhanced group promotions to work with commerce/subscriptions. Reward more users for content.

I see a major challenge with FB groups. Would be very nice to see a facebook groups integration using Groups API https://developers.facebook.com/docs/groups-api/

Not sure to what extent, but maybe every new topic is posted to a facebook group and if you could shut off replies there and have them link back to the forum, more people may be drawn back from the group to post. Not even sure if its possible.

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Regarding notifications, I think we should give different default settings for each section of the site.

an option for silence 24 hours, 3 days, a week ....

Quickly, I would say:

Instant notification:

for customer support requests,

Private messaging.

The subjects that we opened

A daily report:

The forums where we subscribe

Weekly report :

Everything listed contains a high number of notifications ...

No need to send an instant notification on a subject regularly receiving messages.

If the notifications are poorly defined, the user risks from the start to deactivate them indefinitely.

Better start off slowly with the notifications then go up gradually and offering to silence.

I think that a large majority of people today no longer even pay attention to the content of notification messages. Better to use notifications only for quality content

Also remember to send personalized automatic private messages to those registered and who are not subsequently connected. These are subjects that could interest you, etc ...

We haven't seen you connected for a long time ...

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On 1/3/2020 at 6:49 PM, Joel R said:

1. Interest Discoverability

2. Notifications

If you could design a "smart" notification system …

My favorite blueprint to solve all of this would be YouTube. They do it the “smart” way. For every video I stumble upon, they save the channels, tags and other meta data and the next time I return, the home page and the sidebar will be full of content I am probably interested in. They keep me there in a seamless and organic way—not through auto-subscriptions, not through tons of emails and onsite-notifications—just through understanding what I like and offering it in a way that doesn’t require anything on my part. In fact, they actually make sure to NOT send me notifications for all my subscriptions so it’s not overwhelming. 
I understand that our PHP/MySQL-based system can’t be as powerful, but we could still go in that direction. The content already has tags. Content sections like forums, Pages databases and categories could easily get them. Storing the latest or most-visited tags per user and showing random content based on that sounds doable. 

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Posted (edited)

(UGH, it's so hard to read this small text on mobile. I can't be the only one who feels this way. ☹️)

I love this topic and great responses... (totally agree about Youtubes approach)

Interest Discoverability

Three Ideas...

1 ) I use Groups. (Custom setup)

Basically, I ask new members (in registration) where they best fit in (public groups). They select 1 or more options. This gives me an idea what interests they have. What "groups" they fit into. For example, I may offer the following options: Football, Baseball, Basketball, Soccer, Nascar. If they select Football and Baseball I now have the ability to target them.

I could use this information for onboarding, newsletters, advertisements, feeds, reporting (business goals), etc.

2 ) I use custom one-word Labels for my forums. (Custom setup) For example, on THIS site, I would use the following Labels for...

Community Administration Tips -  Tips
Client Lounge - Lounge
General Chit Chat - Chat

I could now track which forums (labels) they visit the most and use this information to target them (use as tags). I use Labels for other things such as hotlinking the label instead of the forum title. (Mobile first = Smaller windows) 🙂

3 ) Track recent search queries made by members. (Keep this to a minimum) You can use this information to display relevant information to them on sidebar, email, newsletters, etc.

Notifications

When I first moved to IPS (beginning of last year), I enabled ALL notification+email options. This was effective at first until the members started complaining. Plus, email costs went through the roof!

Lesson learned.

I changed all the settings to minimum. Enabled only the following notifications as default everything else can be enabled by members.

  • New Content
  • Replies to Own Content
  • Mentions
  • Conversations
  • Club Invite

At this point, we created a few howtos and videos to better explain the feature.

I believe the Notification Settings can be improved. The BIGGEST problem is the overwhelming amount of options. 

KISS. 💋 

If member doesn't do xyz than why show them the options? Clubs, Status Updates, Profile, etc

Anyway, I think a lot of these options could be hidden until needed. 

Also, the Follow popup (for anything) could be completely removed. Most people don't change this.

If I CLICK - follow. KISS.

It's not hard for people to go to the Notifications area if they want to change something.

Edited by GTServices

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3 minutes ago, GTServices said:

I believe the Notification Settings can be improved. The BIGGEST problem is the overwhelming amount of options. 

Yes, I even fear to show this setting area to the members. Only if they explicitly ask. 

too much overkill GIF by MTV’s Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club

 

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53 minutes ago, GTServices said:

(UGH, it's so hard to read this small text on mobile. I can't be the only one who feels this way. ☹️)

I love this topic and great responses... (totally agree about Youtubes approach)

Interest Discoverability

Three Ideas...

1 ) I use Groups. (Custom setup)

Basically, I ask new members (in registration) where they best fit in (public groups). They select 1 or more options. This gives me an idea what interests they have. What "groups" they fit into. For example, I may offer the following options: Football, Baseball, Basketball, Soccer, Nascar. If they select Football and Baseball I now have the ability to target them.

I could use this information for onboarding, newsletters, advertisements, feeds, reporting (business goals), etc.

2 ) I use custom one-word Labels for my forums. (Custom setup) For example, on THIS site, I would use the following Labels for...

Community Administration Tips -  Tips
Client Lounge - Lounge
General Chit Chat - Chat

I could now track which forums (labels) they visit the most and use this information to target them (use as tags). I use Labels for other things such as hotlinking the label instead of the forum title. (Mobile first = Smaller windows) 🙂

3 ) Track recent search queries made by members. (Keep this to a minimum) You can use this information to display relevant information to them on sidebar, email, newsletters, etc.

Notifications

When I first moved to IPS (beginning of last year), I enabled ALL notification+email options. This was effective at first until the members started complaining. Plus, email costs went through the roof!

Lesson learned.

I changed all the settings to minimum. Enabled only the following notifications as default everything else can be enabled by members.

  • New Content
  • Replies to Own Content
  • Mentions
  • Conversations
  • Club Invite

At this point, we created a few howtos and videos to better explain the feature.

I believe the Notification Settings can be improved. The BIGGEST problem is the overwhelming amount of options. 

KISS. 💋 

If member doesn't do xyz than why show them the options? Clubs, Status Updates, Profile, etc

Anyway, I think a lot of these options could be hidden until needed. 

Also, the Follow popup (for anything) could be completely removed. Most people don't change this.

If I CLICK I follow. KISS.

It's not hard for people to go to the Notifications area if they want to change something.

#1 and #2 almost exactly overlap with the thinking I privately had with a Big Board owner.  IPS doesn't have functionality out of the box so you would need to go custom but it mimics your strategy almost exactly.  

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1. Interest Discoverability

I think that a "Getting Started" article visibly linked or a private message sent to new members would go a long way. I remember on my old site, I even made redirection forums for registering and some people clicked it because I assume they didn't know the sign up button was at the top right corner. Stuff like that helps. 🧐

I'm still deciding what the best way to design my new site is because I wanted to keep the registration form small to encourage people to sign up. But then I want to slowly have people dip their toes into all of the sections of the site. 😈

We used to have an Applications forum. I don't want to do that given I have the Support thing and Clubs. But I'm still deciding where to put the "top secret" stuff and how to get people to apply for / earn access. So many choices... but only 1 right way to do this. 😅

2. Notifications

I haven't changed the defaults and so far I'm not getting annoyed. But I think it's like one of those things that if you notice it's bothering you, it's probably bothering others so I'd just recommend adjusting the default notification settings. 🤐

3. Welcome (Landing) Page

I know they say content is king and whatnot, but I find splash/landing pages ugly most of the time. 👺 I used to have Unreal Portal on my IPS3 website many many years ago and that was pretty good. I find it a bit annoying that I can't simply make an article and make that my home page; but I basically opted to use the Articles page as the home page. 💀

 

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