Online message boards can transform your Web presence from a one-sided mouthpiece for your organization to a place for interactive dialogue that allows visitors to communicate with you and with each other. Message boards not only encourage communication, but they foster community and accessibility.
Message boards offer a specific location where constituents can gather, allow almost real-time communication and easy navigation through message threads, and archive conversations, writes Susan Tenby, online community manager for TechSoup, online provider of nonprofit technology services that include news and articles, discussion forums, and discounted and donated technology products, in her white paper “Using Message Boards to Build Community.”
But creating online communities that stand the test of time involves a planned strategy, organizational commitment and solid marketing.
Online communities need to be maintained and promoted publicly, and require a plan for getting staff and community members involved, all of which requires a commitment from your organization. Tenby says the typical individuals involved in an online community include:
* Organizer, who plans the community. This person should be a staff member or volunteer who recognizes that the message boards are connected to — and should further — your organization’s mission.
* Moderator, who keeps posts on topic. Can be staff, volunteers or community members. This role requires a daily time commitment.
* User, the constituent asking or answering questions.
* Host, who gets discussions going, researches answers to users’ questions and touches base with the community on a regular basis. Can be staff, volunteers or community members. This role also requires a daily time commitment.
* Seeder, often a member of the community whose job it is to enliven the community from the start. Most often a staff member.
* Visitor, who reads community postings but doesn’t post.
* Technical administrator, who makes the message board run and controls the configuration of the message boards. Should be a trustworthy staff member or volunteer.
The organizer and technical administrator work together to plan and then implement the features of the community. Once the community is in place, the seeder, host and moderator roles kick in. But how do you get people to your community?
According to Tenby, you need to make contact with potential members of your community. Personal e-mail invitations are one way to attract members, but Tenby says people are more likely to visit a community that’s promoted by people outside the organization. She suggests sending announcements about your community to contacts, listservs and members of the nonprofit community.
“You want to build word-of-mouth and buzz about your community. If you have an e-newsletter, highlight interesting threads and any special events in your community,” she writes.
Once people begin participating in your community, Tenby says it’s important to encourage frequent participators by sending them personal e-mails that offer rewards for their involvement.
“You need to create a community within your community, as this helps give your members a sense of ownership,” she writes.
Some reward examples she mentions are special profiles of them and their postings, graphics or titles that identify and differentiate them on the message board, and asking them to host online events or discussions.
Tenby says an organization creating a message board should expect that between one percent and 10 percent of registered visitors will be active users. One way to track this is to pay attention to the date users register and the date they last visited the board.
Susan Tenby can be reached via www.techsoup.org. To view this complete white paper and Tenby’s list of online community best practices, www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/webbuilding/page5106.cfm