I will tell you why we are not thriving. After a long time and looking through some of our questions, I found a conclusion which could have a slight correlation with our site growth.
@Andy already mentioned a very important point: It's a meta-topic and it's highly abstract. But I don't want to just repeat @Andy.
Let's take a look at some questions:
These are all questions that are, compared to other questions on this site, highly upovoted and there highly appreciated. People really want to know how to handle this one situation as they are interested. But let's now look onto the answers and you will see a repeating pattern. While the questions oftentimes are very interesting, the answers provided to them don't seem to satisfy everyone. (I don't want to express that any of the answers provided are of low quality and I personally can agree with a lot of these answers!)
So, where is the problem? The natural answer would be that at the time the question was being upvoted, there just was no good answer to be upvoted. Well, in this case, we could see a slight delay between the ratio as users would certainly return at some point to satisfy their urge for information. But, wait, this doesn't happen at all. Why is that so? What are we doing wrong? The answer is we aren't doing anything wrong at all!
But before giving my idea on this topic, let's look at a few other questions:
These questions are different. The answers are at least somewhat aligned to the votes of the question itself - the last two questions have even less votes than their designated answers. But how can this be?
Let's look at this whole concept of Community Building, Online Communities, Physical Communities, Managing Communities and so on. The main similarity is the communities and what are communities? They are groups of people. And there we go. The whole topic of Community Building is about people.
Community Building is no science, it is an art. There could never be an absolutely aligned consensus on anything as we are consequently talking about living beings which we as person don't understand ourselves. Yes, there is, for example, the Community Health Index and probably a thousand more tools to assess the probability of a community being successful, but it always is only a probability. It's no science as there is never this one way to handle groups and masses of people. But it's an art or a craft as you can learn to at least succeed more often and more likely.
And while being an art, it also means that there are people who are more gifted and some who are not. There are also different perceptions of success and having an attractive community. There is no scientific formula to describe a group of people expressing the desire to form a community.
The different approaches of designing a community can also be very pleasing to a lot of people. Why? Because it's an art. There are paintings, buildings, sculptures and many more things which are seen as very beautiful by a vast majority of people. This explains the second-listed questions. These are questions that have answers a vast majority of people can agree with because they feel heavily bounded to it. Why? We don't know.
@Andy said the topic is abstract. It's abstract because it is an art. We will probably never understand why there are people who are just born and made to lead and build. We could never really grasp why people are following one person so religiously. The whole topic is an art and having success or hitting the road hard is absolutely correlated to the personality of the person trying. We can't even define charisma objectively, so how can we objectively measure one's capability to lead and build?
The problem boils down that we will never have scientific evidence of why community skyrocket or not. Yes, there are tools which are themselves proven scientifically to be efficient but the right implementation of tools can not be measured. One builder needs tools, another could do the same or even better job without even knowing about these tools. There are so many factors that research could never catch up, nevertheless examine the irregular regular personalities of these beings involved, humans.
So, how do we build an art? By finding the master craftsmen of the art. Because master craftsmen often have a vision which is appealing to a lot of people. A vast majority of people call someone a master if a vast of majority likes their approach.
But this is the key problem. As this whole thing, out of my viewpoint, is an art and even a highly complex art as it's about the most irregular regular thing we know, we have the hardest problem right at our feet. Generally finding craftsmen is hard, finding a craftsman in this discipline can proven even harder because most of the people who are gifted with the ability to simply impress and build are doing it and hence often have no time to share it.
So the thing is that we need to find some craftsmen who are willing to share but these will not come if they are not treated with something in return. I find @Andy's idea most appealing. Talking about community consequences that already happened and why a course of change was made is probably a good thing to fuel the steam engine of growth. These questions can be very entertaining, insightful and complex at the same time: the perfect material for experts on our field.
So, hence my answer to your question is that we have a hard time and will always have. This topic is no science, it's all about the people. And we all know that people can be very surprising. Fueling the ever-growing seed of the growth tree with content is our only solution to eventually attract the pretty butterflies.
- ... physical communities,
- ... past actions of communities,
- ... non-government-organizations,
- ... actions to take if a community is in unrest,
are in my opinion good things to start. But even this time: This my opinion and in my subjective mind, it sounds like a good idea.
Somehow I didn't feel quite satisfied with my answer as I didn't really answer the "what to do" but more the "why", so I thought about it more intensely.
While thinking about how to promote our field, I thought how it's related to other fields and I came up with various related fields:
- UX design
- Clubs about various topics (chess, sports, etc.)
- Leadership and management
These are just some fields but I noticed that a lot of Community Building isn't always done as something separate but more as something that is mixed up with a lot of different topics.
If we look into a Start-Up, we will see a professional working at the marketing strategy. While full-grown businesses usually have dedicated people for Community Building, Start-Ups and medium sized companies, at least in my experience, don't have them. So the professional tasked with the strategizing of the marketing campaign also is tasked to build a reliant community which steady grows in order to sell a product. It's done simultaneously and is merged with other topics and fields to somehow reduce personal costs.
Another example is any HR manager of HR staff: a large part of what they do is Community Building. They hire and fire people, they can influence the company culture and provide staff with team building workshops. So Community Building is often merged with already established fields and it's reasonable as well. As long as a community doesn't grow exponentially or at an insane linear level, oftentimes no dedicated professional is needed.
So the question is how to reach these people who don't do Community Building as main task but as something on the side. I also thought about this more extensively and found that there literally are thousands of workshops all around for Leadership, Management and how to become a good manager. These both things seem absolutely unrelated: What does Community Building have to do with Leadership and Management?
Well, a big part of building a community is leading and managing it - there are many aspects to organize, to take care of. Customer / user care, support, engaging in the community, moderating the community, everything. It's a job for allrounder and people who are comfortable to lead and take on challenges. This seems ludicrously stupid but I took some of my time and took a deeper read-in into some of the descriptions of these workshops.
And there we go: oftentimes Community Building is a big part of such workshops, be it how to handle disruptive users / customers / staff or how to form a new community / team or how to measure the performance output of a given community / team / organization. These are all topics which are a perfect fit for our site, unfortunately they aren't asked here as there are workshops with real people to discuss about it.
The whole topic is a niche topic, perceived as a niche to fit and stuff it into the work schedule of the professional who has the best bets to take care of it. And in order to train them for such tasks, they are sent to leadership workshops or workshops which teach you how to become a better leader.
So the problem is that there a lot of problems, even problems in companies but these aren't solved here but at a workshop situated in a real city with real attendees. And I think that a lot of possible problems are solved and discussed there in order to avoid them in a company setting. Nevertheless, this also means that people are already equipped with the right means to work on the topic and don't need to come to us. However, if they have a problem, they will most likely seek out for those who they have met at the workshop because those people are known and not distant - another employee with some aligned tasks.
So the best bet would be, in my opinion, to prepare some ads for a workshop which is about these matters. This could help us to reach out for a relevant target group. As all programmers and coders know StackOverflow, everyone specialising in HR should know the first location to come to to discuss about disruptive users, policy changes and changing a team.