Design Considerations to Inspire Community Building
Lessons from SXSW panel with Reddit & UserVoice
Yesterday I sat in on an interesting panel with Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit and Hipmunk, and Richard White, co-founder of UserVoice, in which they walked us through the user interface design choices they each made for their respective communities. Sounds techie – but there were a handful of valuable lessons to be learned. Though Reddit and UserVoice are a bit different than the communities we’ve traditionally supported at Text 100, I walked away with a good understanding of certain new tactics to encourage community building – especially in examining the evolution of Reddit, which I personally think is one of the strongest examples of a thriving community you can find. And while no two communities are exactly alike, here are a couple of ideas that rang true in a broad sense:
First consider the basics – spec out your hopes for your community. Consider these questions: what do you want the community to accomplish? How big do you see it growing? How often will users visit? How inclusive do you envision the community to be? Answering these questions before you dive in is crucial because it impacts the choices you make from a design perspective. For example, look at how you handle user identity on your site and what opportunities you give you the community for content creation. Consider the measures you have in place to indicate an individual’s user influence (number of posts, highly ranked by fellow users, length of time as a user, etc.) and how much control you offer them over their posts (can they only post text, or can they include photos, links, videos, etc.?) – how does that affect the quality of content your community will produce?
Let the users do the hard part. As your community grows, place more trust in your users to manage the community themselves. Reddit does this by utilizing a voting function – users can vote up content they like, and vote down content they don’t like. Crowdsourcing also falls here. Reddit has been translated in to several other languages simply because users asked for it and offered to do it themselves. (Dave Olson at Hootsuite also discussed a similar situation in his talk, Crowd Sourcing Community Projects Like Tom Sawyer). By placing some power in the hands of the users, encouraging your major community evangelists (the fanboys and girls), your community builds more trust in itself.
Resist the urge to remove content. Reddit has a strict policy over not removing content from its site, unless is overtly racist or spam. Founder Huffman said this was one of the most challenging things to overcome (especially when it came to seeing negative posts about himself posted on the site) but something that has been crucial to making the community feel tight-knit and highly regarded. By taking the good with the bad and relinquishing control, Reddit was able to build solid trust and respect with its community. Users understand Reddit as being an honest and transparent place where they can feel free to openly share ideas without fear of being subdued or censored.
Looking for more advice on how you can design your community to be more user-friendly? Get in touch with Text 100′s design experts today!