Creating an online customer or member community is a serious endeavor. It takes dedicated people, time, and ongoing processes. Since there are so many facets of building a sustainable online community, we can overlook simple processes that can help or hurt our ability to keep customers or members engaged.
One such activity is cross-posting discussions into several sub-groups in your overall online community platform. On the surface, spreading your messages or questions to as many people as possible seems like a great way to generate activity. However, when you dig into the science behind what makes communities grow, you see a much different story.
Most online communities are divided into sub-communities or groups. For instance, a company's customer community may have sub-groups for different products, product advisory board members, and partners. A nonprofit membership organization, like an association, may have sub-communities for their board, committees, chapters, special interest groups, or attendees of specific events.
While sub-groups usually have the full range of features, including discussion forums, document libraries, surveys, events calendars, and content pages, these tools and information are only available to people who belong to those groups.
Cross-posting in an online community is the act of posting a discussion message or starting a discussion in multiple sub-groups. For instance, if a community member has a question about a new industry regulation, they could post their question into both the "Industry Partners" sub-community and the "Executive Management" sub-community.
Cross-posting in online discussion forums can be done manually by copying and pasting a message into several areas of the community. Some private social networking tools even allow this to be done automatically.
On a basic level, many of us have trouble switching our thinking from campaign-style communication to social community interactions. Considering that mindset, people who cross-post to multiple groups think that if more people see their discussion, they will get more responses.
The value equation is a simple one-to-one relationship, like a direct response campaign. I ask and other members of the community answer me.
However, this "how can I get the most exposure" paradigm does not take into account either the value of a discussion where multiple people build upon one another's ideas nor the increased likely hood of people to respond to an active discussion rather than be the first one to answer a question in an empty discussion.
Social density is the level of concentration of activity in a social community environment.
Higher social density is better for ongoing engagement and sustainability of your online community. There is more value to both community members and the overall health of the community in one discussion with ten responses than ten discussions with one comment each.
Its importance in online community management stems from the fact that activity breeds more activity. Conversely, discussions and communities with no activity don't entice new members to participate, hence failing to convert browsers into participants.
If one discussion is posted in three groups or sub-communities and each discussion gets one response:
Both established members and new members see a discussion with one response, when in reality, three people have added their insight and answers on the topic. They just did it in three different places.
Customers or members may see less value in participating in the online community if they see sparse participation in the discussions.
Which would help you feel more comfortable contributing to an online community?
A discussion with one response?
A discussion with three responses that build on each another?
Cross-posting also hurts engagement with community members who do participate. Customers or members that ask a question, start a discussion, or respond to a conversation that is cross-posted may not get the conversation that they seek since other people are discussing it in other areas of the community.
This negative feedback disincentivizes participation in the future. They perceive that the community is not active or did not value their contribution, when in fact, the discussion is happening in an entirely different section of the online community.
If you feel as though you need to have the same discussion in several communities, you might not have planned your segmentation and groups appropriately. You may want to rethink the structure of your online customer or member community.
You and your community still have the need to get messages and questions into front of other customers or members, but you know that cross-posting leads to decreased engagement. So, what can you do?
Start with disability cross-posting features in your private social network and advising member not to cross-post into discussions manually. Drive people to the original group discussion through targeted email messages that contain links to relevant forum discussions.
Cross-posting is not a feature that has value when it comes to building community. Cross-posting is not one of those functions that you can leave on for some members to use while others won't use it. Continuing to use online community software where the cross-posting feature is turned on actually hurts ongoing engagement and the value of your community to your customers or members.
If your company or membership organization uses cross-posting to market to your customers or spread the word about programs, switch to using your online community software platform's built-in email marketing tools. Along with better tracking, you will have a better ability to target specific groups of community members and you won't clog up your community's forums with spammy, one-way discussions.