It is disheartening when you launch something and it didn’t have the uptake you anticipated. I have experienced this myself in the past before. I’ve had a gander at the link in your bio (https://www.protoexpress.com). Some observations…
Had you not mentioned SierraConnect in your topic above I would have no idea where to look on the website. From my experience, many sites have a link to their forum in the header or footer clearly marked ‘Community’. Because its difficult to find people visiting the site don’t know it exists and are less likely to join.
I can see you’ve utilised tags which is good. However, there is a large amount of categories. This can make new users a bit scared to post new content Imagine facing a wall with 15 doors. Which door do you open? To then be faced by more doors (subcategories) This blog article makes some interesting points about why more categories isn’t always better.
Not sure if you have any control over the website but I’ve noticed that the sites KB (knowledge base) and support / contact us pages are separate. What I mean is that companies normally provide KBs and product support on the forum. Here is an example of what I think it should look like Contact the Discourse team | Discourse - Civilized Discussion. Point users towards the community. Not sure if you are self hosting or a hosted customer but I’d look at getting the Docs plugin to help organise your KB.
I’ve found these blog articles helpful to look at in the past and I have found them helpful on many occasions. Not sure if you’ve already seen them
Hope this post didn’t sound negative that’s not my intention
Just offering my perspective on it. I may be wrong about stuff I’ve posted.
Thanks, that’s actually really helpful! Our KB and support pages have existed for a very long time and we just launched the community platform so I wouldn’t even know where to start to migrate the KB to the community. We could move the support there. Sounds easy enough. And I can definitely change the menu item name to “Community”.
Obviously it depends on your expectations and the potential audience size. Still, this sounds like a rousing success for the start of a new community. It’s important to remember communities follow the power law. If you have 400 members, something like 40 have contributed something and only a handful contribute regularly. If you focus on the most active users, it can feel like a failure even though getting critical mass is the key step that many (many) communities fail to reach.
Most communities start strong and fall off after a month or two. This is especially true when there’s an exogenous such as winter holidays. That gives you a bit of time to evaluate the community and make sure it’s got a good core to build on. Is the content meeting your expectations in terms of quality? Does the community have a productive attitude around the mission of the group? Now is the best time to address those concerns.
One of the reasons activity dies off is that causal members forget to come back and to see the latest activity. Most will be happy to be reminded of the community especially if the existing content meets their quality expecitations. It can help to copy a couple of exceptional posts and send them to members who have drifted off and potential members who hadn’t signed up.
If your community isn’t private, building up more on-topic content for Google to index can help in the long run. If you can contribute regularly or ask the most active members to commit to writing new posts, it can attract Google search clicks. Eventually you want most of your traffic to come via search,  but that can take a long time.
You might consider organizing events to focus contributions. I’ve had success with weekly topic challenges. If you have an expert or two, AMA-type events can give your community a boost. On a private community I’m working with, we’re experimenting with Post Voting to select questions in advance for the experts to address in a video event. Polls can help too because answering a poll is incredibly easy, but still encourages participation.
I don’t recommend being purposely wrong, but the more content you have, the more likely a visitor will find something they want to correct. Asking for contributions from individuals who you know to be interested in some aspect of your subject works even better. At this stage in your community content is king. Give learners reasons to come back.
The exception is if you literally have the entire audience already on the site. Most communities will have only a small percentage of people who are interested in the topic. ↩︎
It’s interesting that you’re mentioning AMAs because I’ve been doing that every week since the launch with big industry experts and it just doesn’t work. I see people viewing the threads but barely anyone posts questions. I like your idea of post voting and then live answers! Thanks, I’ll try that!
Unfortunately that happens with the double effect of discouraging the community and alienating the expert. If it’s not working, I’d give it a break so that the community has some time to think up new questions. I’ve also added a poll to the top of an AMA so that there’s something to talk about even if there aren’t a lot of questions. (I’ve also asked staged questions using a sock puppet. Shhhhh…) It’s like a Q&A time after a talk—sometimes people just want to get lunch early or whatnot.
But really, if something hasn’t worked, don’t push it. Try something else and maybe the AMAs will be productive in a few months.
Browsing the community it seems ambiguous if it’s a general community of practice around all things pcb. Or a company support forum for sierra circuits. Do you have the community goals defined within the company? I see many company offers and content running in parallel to the community right now. I couldn’t clearly figure what the community offers on top of that.
One strategy could be to pivot more decidedly to a support forum. It’s easier to scale in the beginning and it also helps you work in close connection with other teams in your company.
Questions that could help you add value to the community for both external and internal stakeholders:
What are the issues the community can solve for existing customers that they struggle with and existing offers don’t cover?
How can the community improve or facilitate what other teams already offer? E.g. for events, for knowledge base, for support. I’d recommend not taking away responsibilities or coming up with solutions for them, but asking.
About the community platform setup as such, I’d fully agree with @ondrej : simplify structure at the beginning and reduce categories. I like to challenge clients with going down to three (E.g. Connect, Design, Learn). Then we typically end around 5 or 6…
Another way you could use the platform as such better is deploying badges for recognition rather than sending out swag directly. It gives you more flexibility and adds a visible community award. I did a similar setup with a client recently:
What should and must do depends things like where they live (up here in Europe badges are just waste of time and gives childish image), where are they now in Webistan and do you have interesting enough content under useful structure.
My target audience is mostly common people and I just can’t lure them away from Facebook. But I got decetly much visits via Google and that’s fine for me. They just read and that is just fine too. But puts quite much pressure on me because I have to take care of new topics.
I don’t mind that, because first I’m a content creator — but if/when I don’t get other who will participate I could use WordPress instead of Discourse — still WordPress, and now I’m meaning every traditionally ways to show content, gives much better results from direction of Google.
But I have bunch of active ones and we have good time under Discourse.
I don’t know what is my point, but — generally speaking — there is couple big issues:
admin thinks that the only role is technical and users jump on from emptyness and start create and participate just because of badges and cool gamification
target group doesn’t even know that forum exists
forum is strange and different world than what they are used to use (good luck to break this behaviour)
”there is no one and everybody is here”; the strongest reason why we can’t beat Facebook groups and why Mastodon as a platform never beats Xwitter
and this is huge questionmark: target group lives in genre where actually no one wants conversation and debate, but they want give a monology. Xwitter is one example of that, so is LinkedIn — actually that is very foundation of social media, and if that is the reason why a forum isn’t growing… then perhaps should change structure and look away from forums
But this is the unsolved problem of global acting. How should a community be handled when we don’t have even unified definition for community. Forumwise different thing works in Nordic than with britons (and even scotch are different thing than londoniers, I reckon) who are different thing than french and they are connected to italians with one and only one way: in both countries english isn’t the strongest 3rd language — and even that isn’t pure fact, because it depends age, education etc.
We euro-centrics, or I am, are quite often putting every (north) americans in the same box but even the States is far away from homogenious society. And we have canadiens too
My pure meta-point is that content per se is not enough for new communities. Even environment must be familiar. But after those teenage times… then situation starts to change, if behind that forum and community is narrow niche and genre.
I don’t mean anything harm and this is just pure fact, nothing else: I have really hard time to understand how brazilians think and work in forums, questions are like from other planet. And I’m totally sure they have equally hard to understand me. I’m strong extrovert but my american friends are everytime asked am I mentally ok, because they see me as introvert who has very low sosial skills because of lack of small talk
I’m trying to say that building a forum or community needs
really deep understanding, some way, how the most important part of users think and see the world
not trying to conque whole world but in the beginning aiming to smallest but effective group — that’s why local communitys quite often are succesful ones
having a huge budget for ad campaign or a lot of sharings qualitu content or just pure luck is/are the most important part
Do I know what I am talking about. Yes, kind of. But again, my forum isn’t growing, but I know why and yet I don’t fix it — and that is another story.
Am I wrong, considering OP’s needs? Not wrong, but ain’t helpful either. OP’s issue is similar than building an user prompt for GPT: it is too wide and too generic and asking experiences which is always risky question: one never knows if situations are similar at all. But it is good policy to trying to see things from different point of views, though.
400 members seems like a lot, but there are a lot of reasons why member engagement can be low. One of the main ones can be distractions with other platforms and people’s lives, if it seems like unnecessary and/or useless work + energy to join/participate at an internet forum community, that would be a major reason why things are slow.
I’m not sure if Discourse is technically classified as being a “social media” platform or something else. To me this is an exciting platform for the opportunity to publish writing without having to pay a publisher for that, especially as I don’t have any other way to publish material on the internet for now since gave up on facebook many years ago and never really understood why people care about twitter or instagram at all how those companies even got off the ground.
Can take a few years for new site to gain interest and become established, hope things improve for you in the years ahead!!