GotATeenager? Some best practices in online community strategy

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A new online community was launched in the UK today. The GotATeenager site has been launched with funding from the Department of Children, Schools and Families as part of its parenting programme. It is an online community of parents, with information for them to help them as they raise their teenagers, the ability to ask questions of and get advice from other parents and between them to build a knowledge bank of questions.

The site appears to be set-up well. It has a number of elements that we at FreshNetworks consider to be best practice in online community strategy and design, three good examples are:

  1. The site has a good and clear typology. Information is organised around key words which are used to aggregate content - be it editorial content, questions from other parents, forums discussions or any other piece of content. This clear organisation of data is critical to any successful online community and presenting user-generated content alongside editorial content shows the nature of a community - developed and grown by the community members and their content on an equal footing to the ‘editorial’ content.
  2. The site lets community members build and add to knowledge. Both the questions and answers sections and other parts of the site (notably the teen slang dictionary) are added to and made more complete by the content that community members themselves add to sites. This is a real benefit of online communities. It is often the case that community members know more about specific subjects than any organisation might. Using their contributions to compile a Q&A section or to add to the bank of knowledge is a way of gathering together all knowledge in the area and delivering it back to peers. You reward the efforts of those who contribute (people enjoy seeing their own ideas recognised in this way) and you provide an even greater volume of information and ideas to other members
  3. The site starts simply. The content on the site is relatively simple. There are a small number of subject areas being discussed and content is laid out clearly and simply according to these. We find that the best way to launch and build momentum for an online community is to start simple like this. Get it right for a specific subject or specific target audience and then grow from there.

But perhaps the most interesting aspects of the GotATeenager site is that it was built as a way of dealing, in a different way, with a growing and pressing need. The UK government funds a telephone hot line for parents that has been receiving about 1,000 calls a week from parents. We find in our work with companies that online communities like this can be a great way of reducing support-centre costs. This is definitely an experience that Dell has had with its communities and is an oft-cited benefit of forums and online communities. By building a resource that parents can get access to at a time that suits them, allowing them to ask questions and learn direct from other members, and letting them join and share experiences will undoubtedly reduce the number of calls to the call-centre.

In fact, our experience is that an online community like this not only reduces the number of calls to a support centre but it also, perhaps more importantly, increases the reach of the support. More people will read and learn fom the community than might be driven to call a support centre. So not only are you redirectly traffic to the online community, you are also catering for a whole new audience.

It will be interesting to watch GotATeenager. The seeding and early stages of a community are critical. You can have the best strategy and design, but it is how you nurture those early conversations and members that is critical now.

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  1. Richard Millington:

    Thanks for pointing this out, it certainly looks really interesting. Which agency is behind this? It’s a really good effort.

  2. User content sites | Glowleaf:

    [...] GotATeenager? Some best practices in online community strategy [...]