Best Practices in Community Design

Original post on LinkedIn

Top 5 community design best practices

Learning and growing from what you design requires perspective.

And sometimes, perspective requires time.

In 2012, while at EMC Digital, I helped our client Barclaycard launch an award-winning online social community. I went on to design community solutions for AT&T, Petco, Dropbox, AppDynamics, Google, Airbnb, Southwest Airlines, and many others.

What defined success? What did we learn?

I’ll humbly take a shot at the five top best practices we employed while strategizing, designing, and implementing these solutions for our clients. I say ‘top’ because there were dozens of best (and sometimes not-so-best) practices. In a follow-up post, I’ll talk about some of the things we could improve upon.

  1. It’s about talented people: this is true anytime, but the key for our community success was bringing on the right set of talented strategic designers early in the game. We needed strategists who could see beyond the words ‘forum’ or ‘board.’ Someone who could see ‘social’ outside of the boundaries of a single web domain or property, someone who could think up crazy and creative ways to incentivize repeat visits and interactions through game mechanics.
  2. It’s about partnership: without a social platform hellbent on doing the right thing for a mutual client, we would have failed immediately. At EMC we found that partnership in Lithium (a company I went on to work for), and we had a fruitful and long-lasting partnership. For our two companies, it was about going in the front door together, rather than accidentally meeting each other in front of the client. Be deliberate!
  3. Execution wins the day: lots of agencies talk the talk when it comes to social strategy, game-ification, responsive social platforms, you name it. What’s fun about working for EMC Digital was that we could actually build it! I don’t think we would have been nearly as successful if we had farmed out development for instance, or spent more time on tactical ‘widget-ization’ of a community experience than on envisioning, just for the sake of getting a solution out the door quicker. Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work hard at it.
  4. Shepherd a roadmap: don’t just ‘stick’ to a roadmap; sticking implies that if you deviate, you fail. Quite the contrary: we’ve found that it’s more productive to leverage multi-phase roadmaps to steward a vision, not a set of design tactics. Plans change, be ready for them!
  5. Listen! We tried our best to employ user-centered design and usability research best practices whenever we designed, especially with community, where there a lot of passionate, keenly aware users who can make or break a successful launch. To do that, we ensured that internal (company) and external (user) feedback was consistently tracked, backlogged, and considered for post-launch releases. Community design doesn’t end at launch; in fact, it’s just begun!

Copyright Eric E. Ellis. All Rights Reserved.