Four tips on how to get your Discourse community going
If you’ve migrated a busy community to Discourse, you still might not want to skip this. It helps to remind yourself of some useful basics that are valid for any community you manage.
The first tip is to communicate Discourse as a “new” type of community. Do take the time and talk to your community members about how Discourse works differently from other forum software they might be used to. Post tutorials, examples, maybe offer a sandbox thread for your movers and shakers to play around in. Use the relaunch or a new launch to communicate the basic rules of your community, its goals or mission, who the people are that are running it, what the benefits of joining it are and maybe offer some positive statistics (i.e. “on average, 80 new members join us per month”).
The story you want to tell with all this is that this is not a technical thing that happened, don’t bore your people with technical terms, feature lists and aspects that only you as an owner need to know. You should tell a story of how technology is serving the greater purpose of the community and the actual benefits (not features) Discourse offers them through that. If you’ve ever pitched new software to someone you’ll know that it’s benefits over features!
The second tip concerns team building. A small community may well be able to manage itself or you alone as its founder are able to keep tabs on everything that is going on. Over time, this is not a sensile strategy. From the get go, you should enlist your most active community members as your partners in running the community smoothly. Ask yourself a few controlling questions:
- Do I know the most active members of my community personally? Am I on good terms with them?
- Do my community regulars know how to report spam or trolls, are they aware of the community guidelines (i.e. could they link to them to remind, say, violators)?
- Have you spent time educating the most active members of your community about Discourse’s various features and moderation philosophy?
Those community members who deserve so, might well be “promoted” to official staff status or earn custom badges. Having an active core community that works closely with you will ease your own burden and is the next best thing to hiring a dedicated team.
The third tip concerns marketing. Aside from the obvious, like pointing to your community from other parts of your digital enterprise (your main home page, email communication, signatures, apps, social media), consider a dedicated strategy for gaining and keeping community users. This could look like a ten part series of really helpful posts/topics that you will communicate to other channels, or a series of interviews with invited experts in your topic. Depending on what your digital enterprise is like, you need to avoid one thing the most: treating your community like an isolated stepchild. Link to relevant forum topics, encourage customers/contacts to use it, make sure to establish your Discourse instance as a really valuable and fun place to hang out and get help. If it turns out there is no actual need for it, or users feel like they can discuss things better elsewhere, then you’ve lost.
Write up a huge blog post on the (re)launch of your community. Make a big deal out of it, because for the most part if done right, it is a big deal. Don’t bury the news in a mailing, send out one just about this (new or relaunched) community.
The fourth tip is micromanaging versus vision. This one is a bit more theoretical. A strategic question you should ask yourself, is whether your Discourse community will require you or colleagues to proactively interfere or participate in every single discussion and itty bitty piece by piece move it along, or whether you have a concise vision for your project that everyone in the community shares and works towards without you having to micro-manage every aspect of it.
Thousands of people intrinsically motivated by a common vision will do wonders, and a few off-topic threads will hardly be a problem. On the other hand, a seemingly aimless, catch-all community where no-one really knows where the project is headed will cause either mission creep (more and more topics or issues will be taken up, bloating and diluting your forum) or end in redundancy and your community’s slow death.
With these four items I hope I got you to think about about community management, and we’re happy to read your feedback on these thoughts, whether they helped out at all or not.