We have worked with online communities large and small, from start-ups to established organizations looking to expand their audience’s engagement with the mission and one another. There is no “secret sauce” to building an online community; it takes thorough research and understanding of your audience, building the tools that your community will need to flourish without overburdening it with extraneous functionality, and creating content and engagement hooks that draw people in and make them want to stay involved.
EchoDitto got its start on the Howard Dean campaign, made famous in part by its revolutionary use of MeetUp.com to organize people online to meet and take actions offline, in the real world. That foundation has made us true believers in the potential for online communities to have real-world impact.
Online communities have existed since the early days of the internet, but they have grown in recent years to become one of the dominant features of what many call the “social web” or “web 2.0”. Social networks, like Facebook, and social news or microblogging sites like Tumblr and Twitter, now have a dominant hold over the way people think about the internet, and even traditionally offline and content-focused industries like print journalism are moving towards communities as one way to increase their online readership’s loyalty and engagement. These days, content is often what first draws people to a new site, but community is what keeps them there. An effective strategy that merges good content with an active community is the way of the internet future.
Online communities, like all communities, have different sizes, personalities, and goals. For some, their online component is the sole uniting force, bringing together people who would never meet without an online gathering place. For others, the online platform is a way for people to connect offline, or to see what else is happening in local areas across a broad network. For Project AWARE it meant creating a space online for their 1.2 million member divers to gather, find each other and local groups, and track their activities. With Google’s Summer of Code “community” was defined by young people all over the world signing up and tracking their progress as they learned real-world open source development skills. And with Not In Our Town we helped bring together local groups working to end hate in their communities all around the country. All of these organizations are having an impact on real people’s lives, and through online technologies they are able to expand, improve, or make their programs more effective.
Not every website is built around an existing community, but we think that all websites have an element of community building to them - a way for people with similar ideas, passions, or professional pursuits to find other like-minded people or resources. At EchoDitto we help organizations think about their communities in new ways, and build technology to help them grow.