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The site is "for people building, administering, managing and cultivating digital communities." Part of building and cultivating a community includes how to grow and develop the community, but this raises a relatively difficult to define boundary. At what point is a question purely about running a site or business and no longer about community development.

Arguably, just about anything can be related to trying to develop a community. When someone is making a new product, they are, in essence, creating a community of users of that product. I don't think anyone thinks that questions about product design (say building a jet fighter) should be on topic here, but it is indirectly related to what people will be fans of it and form a community around it.

This question presents a more ambiguous case. The question is about recruiting a third party poster to a blog, which has a community associated with the comments and those who follow the blog. On the one hand, having more points of view does increase the desirability of the blog and will likely draw more people in to the site, and thus the community discussing the posts, but it also primarily developing a content distribution platform rather than a community. The community is a secondary entity connected with the content distribution platform.

Is this really related to community building? How do we define the line more clearly between what is and is not community building versus what is developing a product that happens to increase the potential size of the community?

  • For some sites (notably - most news portals, Facebook, etc) - the community is the product they sell to advertizers, so the line is entirely nonexistent. – SF. Aug 5 '14 at 18:31
  • @SF - sort of, but there still is a line. A product can cause a community to develop and a developed community can be a product, but the development of each differs. For example, getting people to be part of a community develops the community, figuring out ways to leverage that community for advertisers is product development. Similarly, developing content for a site is product development, but figuring out how to leverage that content to draw in a community is community development. – AJ Henderson Aug 5 '14 at 18:39
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Perhaps the guiding line should be to ask "Is one of the primary roles of the position to interact with the community?" If so, then they are functioning in a community development capacity.

In the example about a blog, if an additional author primarily develop's one way content and doesn't actively interact with the community any more than an author or news reporter would, then they are not acting in a community development capacity. They may increase the number of people who might join the community by increasing readership, but those users aren't a member of the community until they start commenting. If, on the other hand, the blog authors were also expected to interact with readers in comments, then their selection would be on-topic since they also have primary responsibility to interact with users.

It would be an on-topic question to ask how to increase conversion of blog readers to comment contributors or asking other questions about increasing or improving usage of the comment system, but the blog posts itself are just a one way street.

That said, this particular case is also still a bit ambiguous since a more open blog can end up being a community itself since there are interactions between authors and we don't specifically mention that moderation has to be of an open community.

If the argument can be made that you are trying to form a broader community of authors, or particularly if trying to convert commenters into bloggers, then questions about recruiting authors would be back on topic since the goal is to form a community rather than just a couple of additional guest staff.

  • I disagree that the blog posts are a one-way street. Without the posts, there are no comment threads. Posts can refer back to past responses, they can be edited to include/respond to current responses, they provide the nucleus for community growth. They are not always purely one-way content delivery. – Air Aug 5 '14 at 15:14
  • @AirThomas - Products can be revised to meet customer demand. If Pepsi releases an orange coke because people were saying they'd really like an orange coke, is it now a community development position? Now, if the blog is more of a guided discussion and the author is expected to also be interacting with readers interactively, then I think it fits as well, but unless they actually have active community involvement, I don't think their selection criteria fits. Almost any position could potentially have community involvement, perhaps the question is "Is it a primary role of the position?" – AJ Henderson Aug 5 '14 at 15:17
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Yes, this is related to community building!

The community of a blog is the blog's loyal following. Whether or not that community is directly associated with one distinct service (such as the blog's website/forum/comments section) or spread throughout social media has little bearing here - the community exists and the staff communicates with it through the blog.

Finding new content creators - preferably even from within the community - is very much a community building measure. It's about evaluating your existing community, it's about reaching that community, it's about finding outside people that would harmonize with that community.

Where does it end?

This is the big question here, I believe. Fundamentally, I agree with @AJHenderson that the line should be somewhere between "directly affects the community" and "happens to be related to a community".

However, I think the cultivation of the community, even with the one-way-communication of a blog, should be well in our scope as well. Into user retention flow a lot of factors - many of which may be entirely without communication between staff and users. A user may leave in response to a staff message they read, without ever saying a word.

"Product development", as you phrase it, is more about the content. The example question is about a meta action - getting to the content - not about the content itself. We don't need to know how nicely the author can describe the local paper factory's colours. We do care about how they interact with the community, possibly their history, or even some other factors that relate to staffing. These are all very important to building the mentioned loyal following - the community of a blog.

But more importantly for this example question is that it asks for methods to find such authors. Interacting with the local community, representing it elsewhere, and interacting with other communities - that all falls under that umbrella as well.

To sum it up, I do think that the line between product development and community development is rather fine and we might get some edge cases in either direction, but the overall distinction seems rather clear.

  • So lets say I have am a product manager at Mazda and I'm looking to select a new product designer for the Speed3. Is how I recruit a product designer on topic since the design of the car is going to impact how many fans I have of the car? How is that situation different from this one? Is it perhaps the fact that it is information rather than a physical item? Is it something else entirely? – AJ Henderson Aug 5 '14 at 14:25
  • @AJ The product manager and product designer at Mazda are most likely not part of an interactive community with Mazda fans/owners. Developing the product with which the customers interact is at least one step removed from actually interacting with the customers as a community. – Air Aug 5 '14 at 15:10
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    @AirThomas - neither are the blog authors. They are both content producers. One produces written articles that people read and like, the other designs the look of cars that people look at and like. They may both impact their future work on the reactions of their consumers, but it is a one way street. – AJ Henderson Aug 5 '14 at 15:14
  • @AJ People have multiple roles, and blog authors typically interact directly with their readers. See for example smitten kitchen, a popular (um, amazing) food blog; the author (deb) interacts directly with readers following the blog post. – Air Aug 5 '14 at 15:19
  • That being said, it's certainly the "in" thing for companies to try to develop communities around their products. For an auto industry comparison, maybe look at the Facebook page for Scion. If there's a product designer who's talking routinely with fans on that page and curating the discussions, perhaps that person would have an on-topic question for mods.SE. – Air Aug 5 '14 at 15:22
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    @AirThomas - yeah, see my update to my answer below, I think that is really hitting the nail on the head. If a primary role of the position is to interact with the community, then their selection is community development related. This may apply to some blog authors and not others, but it does give a consistent and clear definition. – AJ Henderson Aug 5 '14 at 15:25
  • (Just as a small notice, I haven't replied to @AJHenderson's comment, because I agree with that notion as well - it's a very fine line to navigate. The designer has just as much "direct communication" with the fans, as any other content creator. The community reacts to their content. How "close" to the community a content creator is ... that's very hard to pinpoint, but I still think some degree of that is within our scope. We just have to find a way to determine that.) – user98085 Aug 5 '14 at 16:00

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