Rules of Engagement

By Sarah Hawk
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As a company that creates products that bridge the gap between real life and cyberspace, SitePoint is caught in a constant juggling act of trying to balance the importance of the online community as a support mechanism for customers, and an audience to leverage for marketing.

More recently it has become apparent that you can’t just publish a book and expect it to make money. Customers want more than that. The landscape of technology is changing so quickly that a book only serves to deliver the basics. The real value is in the extra support that is provided.

SitePoint Community

“We are living in the conversation age, where one-way communication is no longer enough. Savvy consumers with infinite choices across the web expect interaction and engagement and those who can’t deliver will find themselves at the end of the line. What that means is the days of broadcasting your message to the masses and reaping huge benefits are fading fast.” (From ‘18 Rules of Community Engagement‘ by Angela Connor.)

In theory we have all of the options that the savvy consumer is looking for, so how do we engage with them in such a way as to get them to interact? Traditionally readers of our books come to the forums to seek answers when they get stuck. They tend to be beginners and if we are lucky they stick around to give something back once they find their feet. These days that seems to be changing. People ask a question, get an answer, and then leave to finish what they were working on.

Finding new ways to add value to the customer experience is an important part of staying competitive and it is something that we have been thinking about a lot of late. An effort to provide extra tools to empower the community has resulted in the creation ofLearnable and spin off sites (to date Design Festival and RubySource). Creating and energising communities around those sites is my current focus.

But just because we provide somewhere for a community to congregate doesn’t mean that it will. Something needs to happen to engage people. They need to know where to  come. They need to know what benefits are in it for them. And once those things are established they need to find a passion that keepsthem engaged. It is no secret that a good community thrives on honesty and creativity. Keeping things authentic and interesting is the key. But the real secret is in adding value. People love prizes. They love sneak peeks. And they love innovation. So if there is something you’d like to see from our community that’ll get you engaged, let me know.

Who knows? You just might get it.

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  • xhtmlcoder

    A slightly strange title, it sounds more like a game of Chess or marketing strategy rather than a ‘community interaction’, which I know wasn’t the intention.

    I’d agree it seems the ‘social media’ sites – although they have limited use – seem to have stolen a certain percentage of users from the more traditional forum architecture and community. Nowadays, it seems most people are too lazy or inept at being able to converse effectively through a forum. Though the truth is the forum is where the real authentic community lies and that’s where you get the actual ‘useful help’. ;-)

    Like most mature businesses they usually fragment and have offshoots like the above mentioned ‘sister sites’ but goals are moving and many people fickle. So now instead of one place to send people they go in several directions.

    Adding a good ‘user experience’ creates healthy forums and community but it needs a little “time and commitment from both parties”. So what is my point?

    I’ve spoken here where the question is posed. I don’t not choose e-mail like suggested, or hop off to Facebook, etc. I engage and interact where I stand, where the question is posed by Sarah. I present an open palm and warm handshake I’ve followed my side of the rules of engagement for an awaiting response.

    • HAWK

      Hey xhtmlcoder,
      Thanks for your response. Ah yes – the title. Blogging 101 – make them click. At least in your case I can see that it worked. ;)

      You are right when you say that fragmentation has a lot to do with a loss in traffic to the forums. People are spoiled for choice these days. Having said that, I consider all of those fragments to be a part of the community. It isn’t just about forums these days.

      You are also right about time and commitment. I have both of those things. What I’m looking for now is information. What is it that makes you stick around the forums?

  • xhtmlcoder

    Sarah, thank you for accepting my firm handshake and your reciprocated handshake; like I said ‘social media’ is typically ‘limited’ or usually drags the reader off somewhere else.

    Why I found ROE a strange title as it’s used in ‘policing terminology’ and hence the mind association with those current “world conflicts” and wars on the news lately.

    Design Festival is a blog so has limitations who will actually be the author of the content itself, guest contributors or resident authors, etc. It will be vetted and gain a buzz but like a newspaper; it has its readership and occasional followers that reply but the writer leads the story so is pretty linear.

    Learnable, I’d assume that’s mainly a commercial venture a ‘virtual classroom’ so mainly limited to the students whom have taken a ‘paid’ for a specific course, as with colleges, etc. You get interaction with the tutor and classmates but that’s mainly behind closed doors a captive audience.

    What is it that makes you stick around the forums?

    The forums however accepts and embraces more-or-less anyone willing to contribute in positive manner; it’s organic to a certain extent.

    Its simplicity is it beauty, it doesn’t pretend to be “cool”, it doesn’t have bloated pages that take forever to download on mobile devices!

    It stays genuine (obviously we accept it has a little advertising but that’s more to do with maintenance costs). It allows greater interaction between the average (wo)man and supports a multitude of people.

    Anybody can have a voice their and in most cases it is equal; or at least even if the topic starter is Mr(s) “nobody” they can be treated as importantly as a paid writer. Obviously it also provides real-time feedback to other areas like the SitePoint Book catalogue. It keeps engagement and fosters learning; developing authentic ‘community spirit’ and skill-sets.

    Those are my ‘main reasons’ for the forums usage and staying; though it’s beginning to sound more like I using “marketing propaganda”. LOL.


    Robert Wellock