Communities feel magical, but they don't appear out of nowhere. There are certain ingredients you need to assemble and an order of operations to follow.
When designing a community, it's not about the features you choose to opt in or out. What's more important is how those features combine to deliver a great experience. You're designing the experience, not the platform.
The way you design your community is extremely important. But without people contributing to it and adding to the community, it falls flat and lifeless.
As an early-stage community builder don't try to mimic a design that worked for others. Design your community with and around your community members. You'd be surprised how easy designing your community becomes when you just listen.
The members of your community will provide you with the insights you need to create something that feels like it was theirs all along. They will give you an understanding of the issues they are facing. And this will help you move forward, finding solutions within your design features.
The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias. Here, consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.
By using the IKEA effect when you build an online community, you can foster a sense of belonging and trust among community members. So, keep this in mind during the process.
Now let’s dive into how you can begin building your community from ground-up.
Visualize this. Imagine your community to be like a house and you’re planning on hosting a houseparty. Your channels are like the different rooms in your house.
What if you see a bidet in the middle of the living room? It's distracting and feels odd. So, always try to keep it simple. New users prefer familiarity. The user interface needs to feel intuitive.
You can be innovative and still maintain familiarity and intuitiveness. Surprise but don't overwhelm. When community members say they like innovation, what they mean is they want to see something that they already know in a new light.
Theme and Branding
No two communities are alike (at least they shouldn’t be). The mark of a great community design is one which highlights the character of your community. Take your time and research the community. Its character should be the main staple in your design.
Remember I told you about that bidet in the middle of the living room?
Well how about a giant octopus in the middle of a computer hardware store.
That's exactly what the Fry's Electronics community did at their hardware stores. But in this case - it didn't feel odd, because that's what their brand stood for.
It would in fact feel odd to walk into a Fry's Electronics shop and not see something wacky and playful every corner.
Similarly, you should make it a point to customize your channels and add brand elements whenever possible.
They say a true brand is recognised when you don't have to see a logo.
Walk into an Apple store and even without the iPhones and logos, you can recognise the black and white sleek design instantly.
Being able to customize your community branding and having brand colors that seamlessly sync with your website or product branding is important.
One of the drawbacks of using Facebook groups, Discord or Slack for your community building is the lack of customizability when it comes to community branding.
New User Experience (NUX)
Imagine walking into a hotel and the first thing you see is a used room with ruffled bed sheets and bottles of wine on the floor.
Opening into a community platform stuffed with a never ending list of channels can overwhelm new users.
Set the stage for your community members to slowly commit to new changes and surprises.
Testing is important. But given the effort required to ensure community adoption, and the number of suggestions you'll be getting from your community members, you need to be thoughtful about how you execute. Develop a framework for prioritizing features and a process for testing. This is much better than trying to be everything for everybody. Also, a lot of our core bets on the community came from our own north star and vision for where we are going - not from a discovery call. It's a fine balance, just like in product building.
Asking for feedback
Your work isn’t over once you turn in your design. As your design comes to life and you listen to feedback, there could be improvements you want to make right.
Craft and improve your community design with the continued guidance of your community.
As you design your community, stay humble, and ask for feedback regularly. Remember, members of the community are the experts, not you. Keeping that mentality will help you create something of worth, much more than believing you know best.
Rather than building the product in the basement, you have a direct line to what your eventual users deeply care about. The businesses that succeed have always been the ones that are closest to their customers. Being customer-obsessed means deeply understanding their problems. Not just how they interact with your product.
Note that your customers and prospects aren't always able to articulate what they want when they sit down with you. But when you're able to facilitate organic conversations amongst your peers, you can spot patterns that keep coming up over and over again.
Designing your community experience is a continuous process. It changes as your community grows and develops. Some of the best spaces take years and years to strike the perfect chord. We understand the effort it takes into designing a community, so if you want any help along the way, feel free to shoot us a message, and we’ll get back to you.