Members love your community. In fact, they love it so much they want to create their own, smaller communities for specific groups of people. One enthusiastic group wants a community dedicated entirely to just one of your new products. Recently, a member committee decided to split and branch into two committees -- and, of course, they both want their own communities. A few other members are dedicated sports fans and want to have a fun community dedicated to your local sports teams.
On the one hand, this is great -- only enthusiastic members would want to pioneer their own community. They must really benefit from and enjoy the platform you gave them.
But, on the other hand, how do you handle the logistics without everything getting out of hand? If they start more communities, who is in charge of them and ensures their success? And should anyone be able to start their own community, or should you set up rules and regulations about who’s allowed to do what?
When to allow new communities -- and when to draw the line
Depending on your organization and how many members you have, you might rarely receive requests for new communities. But if you have a very active, large community that easily segments into smaller groups -- such as regional groups or committees -- members might frequently ask to start smaller, niche groups.
When do you know to give the green light or the red light? And if you let one group start a smaller community, are you unleashing the floodgates for everyone to open their own? Plus, as you know, setting up and maintaining successful communities takes work -- who is going to saddle that burden?
These are all important questions to ask, so it’s important to create a strategy for who can start a community before anyone asks. Here are a couple ideas:
- Choose quality over quantity: decide on a set number of communities you’ll allow. Depending on your size and demand, you could say 10 or 20 sites. If current communities aren’t performing up to standards that you set, they’ll be archived so there’s room for new communities.
- Case by case basis: set-up very specific criteria for what constitutes a successful community and the steps required to get there. When a member wants to start their own community, if they can prove that they live up to the standards you created, they can have their communities.
Once you decided who can open a community and when to archive them, you need to set up a process to make sure that they actually get off the ground and become successful -- and sustainable.
Rules to follow
No matter which method you choose for deciding who can open a community and who can’t, you need to set up a rulebook outlining how to open a community and expectations surrounding it. How should it look? Here are a few ideas:
1. Create a "Community Application"
If someone wants to create their own community, they need to fill out an application form that you created. In the form, require applying members to include a comprehensive community plan complete with clear goals for the community and concrete steps to achieve them. One of the steps should be to gather a certain number of initial seed questions -- say, 20 or so -- to make sure the community gains initial momentum.
2. Require a volunteer leader
Running a community takes time and commitment -- and chances are, your plate is probably already pretty full. Even if you would like to manage every group, practically speaking, you can’t. If members want to launch their own community, one of them -- or a couple of them -- need to step up to the plate and run the community.
Not only is this a practical necessity, but it also builds a greater sense of autonomy and sense of ownership amongst those members. In the long run, if you want the entire community ecosystem to become sustainable, that sense of autonomy and ownership is crucial.
3. Create terms and conditions
Just as you created terms and conditions for your general community, create a separate document specifically for communities. While the general terms and conditions still holds true for the community users, this new document is for the volunteer leaders. Outline their responsibilities and expectations, rules and requirements. Also include, in detail, when it’s time to archive a community -- give specific engagement numbers or examples of metrics you’ve chosen. As with all terms and conditions, it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer look it over.
4. Recruit a core group of members
Before launching the new community, the volunteer leader needs to gather a core group of users. First, this proves that there is a compelling need for this community. Second, those core members will be the people who set the precedent for that group, by beginning discussions and contributing. It’s like the risotto method, which Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable, talks about -- start with the few and the dedicated, then trickle in more members as the community becomes more established.
5. Beta test
With that core group of kick off members, encourage -- or require -- a beta test for new communities. If the community can’t prove itself -- up to standards you create and can include in the terms and conditions -- then you won’t allow it to continue. Or, if you do allow it to continue, the volunteer leader can outline a strong, actionable improvement plan. And if the beta testing is promising, you can let members open up the community to whoever it was for originally and take charge.
Let members create what they want
Even if you did a thorough job customizing the community to fit your members, chances are that you probably still missed a few opportunities. If members spot those areas -- which they likely will -- trust them. If they have an idea for how to make the community even more valuable for them and their peers, let them at least try. You never know what great idea they may have.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated for accuracy, relevance and freshness.