Are you poised on the edge of your new online community, ready to launch? Does it feel like a daunting prospect? Relax. This is the time to put a plan into action that maximises your community’s engagement while minimising your individual role in advocacy. Harness the Ripple Effect: you may still be the main party host, but if you get this stage right you can proceed direct to the canapés!
Harnessing the Ripple Effect
Ripples, spiders’ webs, sand dunes and galaxies: they all start small. Fold a piece of paper in half 42 times and, according to the experts, the exponential stack will reach the moon. All it takes is to make the first move in the right direction, and ensure that the first small group of early adopters and advocates continue to relay your work. You need to keep the ripples going by adding new content, watching the community’s development, helping your immediate advocates, but you are not responsible for actively engaging and communicating with every single community member.
We often talk about how a mature, networked community can achieve business objectives more effectively than traditional methods. The Community Roundtable has some excellent research on this. How much time do you currently spend answering the same email queries from your stakeholders? Are you and your team swamped by the one-to-one support that you are expected to deliver? How could the Ripple Effect help to spread your resources further, and achieve more?
Peer support and effective communication
As ripples spread out from your original content, you’ll see that each ring develops its own character. Your community is likely to be made up of people at different stages of their relationship with your organisation. Using a community to disperse information and encourage networked communication not only uses your resources effectively, but also puts your messages into context at each level.
Asking members to carry out a particular task? The nearest ripple may have handled this before, but further away there are people who haven’t been through the experience and could use some help. Why spend time on one to one help from the top, where you don’t necessarily remember what it’s like to do it for the first time? Get that ripple talking to their peers, and to those just ahead of them in experience.
Learning from people who are in the same situation, or have mastered the challenge recently, is significantly more effective for support and success than out-of-date experience. Research as far back as 2005 indicates that higher perceived levels of peer mentoring are related to higher perceived levels of knowledge creation and sharing (Scott E. Bryant, Montana State University–Bozeman). In 2015, we have the online tools to empower communities of all types with peer to peer support.
Ready to throw the first pebble?
On the edge of your launch, are you ready to throw the first pebble into the water? The lake should never be still, and as the community grows and matures you should be able to watch as it fills with ripples as far as the eye can see.