Facebook allows you to download an archive of  content you have posted on their platform. Google allows you to do the same with many of their services. Twitter will also provide you with an archive. As will many other social media platforms.

And yet, I don’t know of a single community or forum software application that allows members to do this. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an option or two that does, but we need to do better and I want to push for that change.

I can think of reasons why it hasn’t been a priority. Posts in an online community are seen more as being part of the whole, so there isn’t necessarily a strong desire to download content separated from the larger conversations. In my 14 years of managing online communities totaling well over a million contributions, I have never once had a member request that they would like an archive of their posts. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a welcome feature.

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I've got nerd bling... Too much or just enough? #geek #nerd #bling
Creative Commons License photo credit: betsyweber

If you work in community, marketing or “digital” (whatever that means to you), you’ve probably heard a lot about the declining reach of Facebook pages, the death of Google+ and how Twitter isn’t far behind. Everybody loves to talk about platforms dying.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think any of these stories are that big of a deal. The Facebook reach drop is probably the most impactful one, but Facebook doesn’t owe pages anything and it was never said that they wouldn’t change how reach works on their platform. Google+ has provided value for some people, while others never found traction. And Twitter is still what you make it.

No matter how great third party platforms are performing, even if you could go back to the days when beer flowed like wine for brands on Facebook, one simple fact remains. It always goes back to the spaces you actually control.

When I keynoted at Podcamp Topeka in November of 2010, this slide was in my deck:

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Movie ForumsI’ve known Chris Bowyer for at least 14 years, which is as long as both of us have been managing online communities. Like many people, I found him thanks to forums. In 2000, he launched Movie Forums and he has run it ever since.

Movie Forums had the same design for a very long time and I knew this because I’d occasionally bump into it online. When I saw his announcement that he had launched a brand new design, it caught my eye because it is very challenging to redesign a forum that has had the same design for a very long time. I was impressed by the fact that the community was widely adopting and praising the design, which itself was quite nice. It’s not easy to achieve this and I knew Chris was responsible.

After the new design was launched, I reached out to Chris to ask if he’d write a guest post here, walking us through his process. How did he achieve such a positive result? What did he do to involve the community? How did he reduce the shock of changing a design that the community had been used to for so long? Chris was kind enough to share the details.

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Sometimes, when you are visiting your community, you will see a post that is really borderline. After consideration, you determine that this post is OK and does fit within your guidelines, even if it is just barely.

But your moderators don’t know that, unless you tell them. And because it is borderline, there is a fair chance that a moderator will remove it. If they do, you’ll have to correct it. How can you prevent this and inform them that the post is OK?

You could make a post in your documentation system, as a note tied to the member who made the post. But that might not be seen before the post itself. You could post in the general staff forum. But that has the same problem. You could send a private message or email to each staff member. That will probably work. But it is a little more unwieldy and time consuming, for everyone, than is necessary.

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This is something that I am asked somewhat regularly, when I’m doing an interview or someone is looking to start a community.

Of course, that is a really generic, vague question and it lends itself to a generic, vague answer. There is so much one could say. It’s a big topic. Yes, I have a million tips. How much time do we have?

We don’t usually have much, so I try to talk about a few foundational concepts that I feel would apply to most people. Here are some of the things that I usually mention.

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My friend Jared W. Smith recently sent me a link to and asked for my thoughts on an article on TechCrunch by Sarah Perez, “The Best Platform for Online Discussion Doesn’t Exist Yet.”

Ms. Perez laments the current state of online comments and discussion, saying that TechCrunch has been missing the “sense of community that blog comments once provided.” Hence their switch to Livefyre. “But there’s no system alive that can bring that [sense of community] back, because that era of the web is over. And it has been for a long, long time.”

Tired of short comments and noise, she wishes that more people would take the time to read an article and comment in long form. The proposed solution is some sort of system that tells you whose opinion’s carry more weight. Ms. Perez criticizes commenting systems for “competing on features” like crowdsourced anti-spam techniques because they don’t “really improve the nature of online discussion.”

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Google+ Communities just launched, providing a way for anyone to create a discussion group or forum, as part of Google+. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges that the service faces is how some people are hyping it. Let me get a few things out of the way.

Google+ Communities does not change anything. Things are exactly the same today as they were the day before the functionality launched. Google+ Communities is not anything new, except within the world of Google+. Google+ Communities does not, will not kill anything, whether a specific branded platform (like Facebook) or a type of platform (like forums).

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Last week, I wrote about the practice of creating fake accounts to seed a community and why you should never lie to your community.

But, “getting a community going is hard,” some might say. “You need activity to entice people to join,” they might also say. “If I can’t lie to my potential members, what can I do?”

In short? Actual work.

It isn’t easy to get a community going. That’s true. It’s also true that one of the factors that determines the attractiveness of your community is the activity that people see when they first visit it. There is nothing wrong with seeding, as long as you treat your members with respect. Let’s talk strategy.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: LOLren

As people endeavor to add more features and sections to their forums and communities – more than “just” discussion threads – there is a great opportunity for additional value for all parties involved. But, in the thirst to be “more,” it can be easy to forget the cost that you may incur.

This can include things like articles and dedicated editorial, product reviews, Facebook-like profiles with comments and a wall, member blogs, chat rooms, wikis, photo albums and plenty of other dedicated sections that receive top billing, or close to it, on your community.

These sections can all be great, meaningful parts of your community. So, what’s the problem?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: smplstc

This is a guest post from Benjamin Plass, a reader, who is the Head of Community Management for Goodgame Studios.

Every community manager has goals. Everyone wants their community to grow. The forum structure influences this growth. It is therefore very important to understand and adjust it to your needs and overall goals.

To make your community grow, you have to engage your first time visitors and new members. The conversion from reader to a posting member is a big step and as Patrick has discussed, the majority of your users will just be reading.

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