Here's a few quick thoughts on some tactics and things to consider when designing and building your community.
Feedback is super important in shaping your strategy and programs, and in some cases, just qualitative information is not enough. I regularly conduct studies and work with our UX teams before, during and after programs are launched. I feel very grateful that at Google I have resources and work with a fantastic UX team that help me ask good questions, ensure my studies are conducted with integrity, are statistically significant, and respect the user.
Research and feedback is one of the most important aspects of designing community programs and features, and it can give you:
- user sentiment (insights into what your members think and say)
- feedback (needs, problems, usability, opportunities)
- behavior (what the members do, how they use your community or program)
Before you build a feature or program, it's a great idea to conduct small experiments to prove out the idea before you sink a lot of time, resources and cost into it. And, you may even realize that it doesn't solve the problem as you'd hope, or that the community didn't even want it! I try to conduct experiments that I can get learning and insights from that will drive future decisions and actions.
To lay it out briefly: you start with a hypothesis that you can test to verify it, with metrics and success criteria. This also helps if perhaps you may not have engineering resources for new features or technical capabilities. One fun example of this that I've found successful is conducting a smoke test to prove your concept and get some feedback before moving forward.
It's important to encourage, empower and reward prosocial contributions by giving members tools to build better communities and the opportunity to reinforce those behaviors. This is as important as empowering folks to correct/report bad behaviors through moderation tactics. Building reward mechanisms like badges, reactions, award systems, power user communities, curated content, featured users, gamification, and more can and should be incorporated, and boost visibility of prosocial behaviors.
Strive to build strong, supporting programs and product features that reward desirable, productive conversations by optimizing both internal motivation and external incentives.
To understand something like “belonging” I like to look at the big picture. I may be stepping out really really far here, but “belonging” is one of our most fundamental human needs. This is because, just like we evolved to feel hunger and thirst to motivate us to eat and drink, we evolved a need to belong to help us form bonds and work together and by doing so we can achieve some amazing things by cooperating with one another, sharing resources, etc.
We humans like to readily form groups from banded together strangers, and help out fellow members as part of a community. Our individual identities are built around which communities we belong to and they can also give us a sense of belonging.
With that in mind, I like to think of three pillars that contribute to feelings of belongingness in a community:
Feeling a sense of identity (I am a member of this community)
Feeling included and valued (Me and my contributions are important and accepted in this community)
Feeling a sense of ownership (This is MY community)
The elephant in the room with belongingness is also recognizing others like yourself in the community. This means diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount. When members who are a part of a community see a reflection of their identity, they may feel more represented and included- which can lead to a better sense of belonging.