You and your team worked your tails off building an online community and now, only a small percentage of customers or members are using it. Creating and growing a new online community, even if it is built on top of an existing customer base or membership organization, takes a vast amount of planning and community management activity.
One of the most widespread challenges revolves around getting customers or members to use your online community as a resource on a consistent basis. An initial series of visits to your online community often look like this:
A busy customer or member visits your community.
They think it is cool and see the potential for adding value to their day. They decide to come back.
They visit your community again.
They don't get value that they expected. They don't come back for a while.
This makes the 24-Hour Rule one of the most important parts of building successful private online communities. It aims to ensure that every customer or member finds the value they are looking for as they test out your online community.
What is the 24-Hour Rule of Online Community Growth?
The 24-Hour Rule says:
For the first 6-12 months of an online community's existence, an organization must ensure that all discussions are responded to within 24-hours of the initial posting.
When a customer or member asks a question or starts a discussion in your online community's discussion forums, it would ideally receive a response from other members of the community and a lasting, meaningful online conversation would flourish. However, people are busy, priorities shift, and customers aren't hanging around your online community all day waiting for discussions to crop up. The "legendary, instant conversation" rarely occurs and organizations that launch an online community expecting that to happen are often frustrated within months.
If a customer, member, or partner does not respond to the initial forum post, the 24-Hour Rule means your organization must engage. Savvy businesses and membership organizations put processes in place to listen to their community and make sure that people get answers to their questions and reactions to their discussions. Sometimes, it is the business or membership organization that responds. Other times, the community management team will research others in the organization or customer base that might be able to help and ask them to respond.
Tip: If the organization is responding to a discussion, avoid responding with definitive answers. Answer the question or add to the discussion with language that promotes ongoing conversation and invites other customers or members to chime in.
Why Some Organizations Don't Follow to the 24-Hour Rule
Many organizations feel that their community belongs to their members or customers and that management and employees should stay out of it so they are not seen a meddling. The truth is that customers and members come to online communities, not for the fun of being social online, but for help in their lives, daily jobs, or careers. If they don't get that help from your organization's online community, they will seek that help in other places.
How to Use the 24-Hour Rule to Build a Successful Online Community
Make sure that you have enough staff to respond to online discussions. The 24-Hour Rule is often an "all hands on deck" initiative. While not everyone will need to drop what they are doing to post a response to a customer or member discussion, they must all be aware of the policy and support its success.
Online Community Software
Be sure that the online community software your organization is using enables the community management team to monitor the community easily to track new discussions and comments. Your online community platform should also have a strong search engine to help community managers search existing documents, files, and forums to find answers and experts.
Role of Community Manager
Along with committing to maintain the 24-Hour Rule, your community management staff must be empowered to find answers across your organization, as well as reach out to community members and volunteer leaders to ask them to weigh in on an online discussion.
Using the reports in your online customer or member community software, you can track the overall success of your responsiveness. Key questions are: Are the people to whom you have responded within 24-hours returning to the community? Are you seeing an increase in peer-to-peer discussions over time?
Tip: The 24-hour rule can also be re-instated at any point in the online community's lifecycle if you see engagement levels dropping. Customers or members will respond positively to the increased activity and value in the community.
Online Community Takeaway
The 24-Hour Rule is a basic law of growing a successful online community that Socious learned first-hand while managing the online community for our first software customer 10 years ago. We developed the 24-Hour Rule and wove it into our daily community management practices to make sure that all forums and listserv threads were engaged within 24 hours. That organization's online community, where we tested the 24-Hour Rule a decade ago, has grown from 5,000 members to over 25,000 members.
My hope is that many businesses planning online customer communities make the 24-Hour Rule part of their community management DNA for the initial phases of their online community. Have you implemented the 24-Hour Rule during your online community's infancy? Tell us about it in the comments below.