Does EVERY website NEED an interactive community?

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Does EVERY website NEED an interactive community?

I was recently discussing the advantages of building “content and community” with some fellow e-marketers (see some of their links below) and we touched upon the concept of building an interactive community as a key element for the growth and maintenance of a successful web presence. As part of that discussion, I mentioned that although websites like Facebook are clearly community-oriented, content-oriented websites like YouTube rely on community to both provide and promote their content. Further down the scale of community intensity are sites like Travelocity, which, although strongly based on content (travel services in this case), still have a sizeable interactive community that (for Travelocity) provides feedback on travel-related products and services.Then there are sites like Weather.com. Just give us the forecast and let’s move on, right? Well, not exactly. Even with sites that are very much content-based, interactive community can play a role. (Take a look at Weather.com’s viewer-provided photo content.)

So the question I’ll pose to you is this: Does *every* website *need* an interactive community in order to be successful?

First, let’s discuss what constitutes an interactive community and let’s distinguish it from basic interactivity that has little to do with community.

Basic Interactivity
We know that the internet as a communication medium allows marketers a much greater deal of interaction than most pre-internet forms of advertising, promotion, and communication. Websites can be built to allow viewers to respond immediately to content by incorporating a phone number, an email address, or built-in email or non-public comment boxes (the kind that provide comments to the organization, but are not viewable by the public). All of these allow for website viewers to interact with someone associated with the organization supporting the website, whether it be customer service representatives, public relations personnel, content creators, or the webmaster or technical staff. The people in the organization can then respond back to the website viewers and a dyadic communication stream can be established. Although this two-way communication is a good thing, this is NOT *community* interaction.

Interactive Community
For true interactive community to be established, not only does there need to be communication between the viewers and some member of the website organization, but there has to be communication between members of the community themselves. This can range from the ability to respond to other community members’ public comments, to member creation of chat rooms, discussion boards, or blogs within the website, to community members being able to create their own web persona on the website complete with website-related content and commentary.

Now, a few pros and cons of interactive community…

Some benefits:

  • social integration of the audience base – People are more likely to visit a website that they feel a part of.
  • community support – Community members often can become a wide base for product support based on solutions suggested by them.
  • cohesive audience base – People learn more about the culture of an organization when they can interact with others, meaning clearer expectations of what the organization can do for them.
  • crowd sourcing and interactive idea generation – Community members suggest ideas and other community members build upon them or discuss why they won’t work, without much need for the website organization to get involved at early stages.
  • names and contact info – Interactive communities are great sources for building an identifiable and reachable customer base.

Some risks:

  • group think and a mob mentality – The community as a whole sometimes stifles the ideas and constructive feedback of individual community members because those ideas aren’t part of the community’s culture. When the community starts to get riled up about a particular issue, a mob mentality can form that’s not easily managed by the web organization.
  • trolls, sockpuppets, hecklers, worms, confederates, competitors, etc. – There will be those who want to wreak havoc with your internet community, whether to help a competitor, hurt you, or just for their own uncaring sense of fun. Rooting them out, dealing with them, banning them, etc. all take time and time is money.
  • costs vs. benefits – As online communities become successful, they sometimes grow at inconceivable rates. In that much of this interactive activity likely will not convert into sales or advertising revenue, a thorough cost/benefit analysis is in order to decide if bigger really is better.
  • access by competitors – As much as your online community is available to each other, they’re available to your competitors.

So what do you think? Can you think of examples of websites where interactive community is either completely useless or far too much risk (or cost) for the potential benefit? Or are we destined to be “community interactivists” for the rest of our internet days?

Be sensible.
                                                             Anthony Miyazaki

P.S. If you write a related article or blog entry, be sure to reference it in a comment below.

Reference:

http://iwitness.weather.com/_Monster-Shelf-Cloud/photo/9324973/148597.html

Some recent articles and/or discussions dealing with some aspect of “content and community” can be found here:

Online Social Media: It’s not a matter of if but a matter of how.
http://andrewfiuimba.blogspot.com/2010/05/online-social-media-its-not-matter-of.html

Online Social Media – Necessary for Brand Success?
http://pushpinmarketing.blogspot.com/2010/05/online-social-media-necessary-for-brand.html

Can Your Brand Thrive Without Online Social Media?
http://anagomezmarquezrivera.blogspot.com/2010/05/can-your-brand-thrive-without-online.html

Best Software to Create a Social Networking Community with CMS Software
http://wroogle.blogspot.com/2009/03/best-software-to-create-social.html

Negative consumer content – social media’s side effect?
http://digitallunch.blogspot.com/2009/08/negative-consumer-content-social-medias.html

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