It's all in the dance -- What's makes successful online communities

The numero uno factor contributing to community success  is the ability to connect with others, so say a little more than 50% of survey respondents of 100-ish companies who participated in the Deloitte-Beeline Labs 2008 Tribalization of Business study.  Another factor, scoring a little more than 40%, is the ability to help others.

Know what I immediately thought of when I first read the study results?  Dancing.

Let me tell you why because it gives a clear metaphor of the power of online communities.

Back in the day when I lived in Seattle, I became a regular to this cool dance club the T, which oddly enough provided a country dance venue.  Now, I lived for a dozen years in Houston and visited a country dance club all of, hmmm, maybe two times.  In Seattle's T?  I took to dancing anywhere from two to four nights per week -- and even though I left Seattle years ago, I still miss the T and it's my benchmark for all clubs to this day.

Know why?


The T offered a chance for folks to learn while having offering dance lessons for two-steps, swing, and line dancing, giving ongoing lessons throughout the year.  Whew boy, I laughed more and longer while learning how to West Coast Swing than in just about any other class I've ever taken.

Dance lessons also meant a large portion of the folks had a commonality of experience....making it easier to connect with new people.  Not to mention lessons proved a great way to meet new people -- and not just for <ahem> dating potential but also just for friends.

Beyond that, though, the owners fostered a spirit of participation.  They encouraged everyone to dance with more than the one that brought ya.  Dance with better twinkle toes and help out folks with less experience than you.  Have fun and experiment with new steps.  Be respectful of others.

As a result, everyone did.  People made ever wider circles of new friends and had fun visiting with old one.  Dance couples crossed age boundaries and levels of ability.  We helped each other learn and had a great time in the process.

The club owners and staff facilitated engagement.  For example, the club's DJs mixed-in line dances with couply dances and they filled with floor with folks wanting to boot scoot.  Together.  They took requests and for certain songs, like a waltz, and the floor overflowed with couples.  Together as couples and together as a group.

Rarely a night went by when the club failed to pack them in.  People came to dance, to see friends, and to make new ones.  Sure the club had its share of pick-ups but that's not what kept a large group of regulars coming back week after week (if not night after night).

We came back because of community.

So why did the my re-reading tonight of the Tribalization of Business make me think of dancing?  Because people are social creatures whether we're dancing up close and personal or across the ether of the Internet.

We want to connect.  We want to learn.  And we want to help others.

If you take that approach with your own online community, then that's when you can ratchet up its success.  Here are lessons learned from the T that you can apply to your online community:

  • Help people connect.  Give them venues that's appropriate for your company's products or services such as blogs or group forums.
  • Help people learn.  Options can include group forums, wikis, and blogs.
  • Foster participation at all levels of experience and make newbies feel welcome.
  • Encourage cross-pollination within your community.
  • Facilitate the community experience -- focus on the desired behavior through the tone you set for it.  Feed the community on a regular basis with stimulating opportunities for interaction.

Beeline calls successful communities game-changing.  I'll call them a whole new dance.