When it comes to communication in your community, how things are being said is just as important as what is being said. The mediums you make available will shape both the nature and effectiveness of the communication that happens, so it's important to choose the ones that best suit the specific members and goals of your community.
When it comes to choosing a medium for your community, you first need to understand what kind of communication your community needs, and then picking one (or more) that can provide those needs. There are three key aspects that every communication medium has to one degree or another:
- Speed - How quickly a conversation progresses, which consists of both the size of a message and how long it takes to be received
- Thoughtfulness - How much thought and consideration goes into each messages sent back and forth between participants
- Discoverability - How easy it is for information conveyed over a medium to be found by people who were not involved in the original discussion
Different mediums offer a different balance of these three, no one medium can offer you the best of all three. As your community grows bigger, you'll likely need to offer more than one medium so that you can support different kinds of communication. The mediums you choose should provide the right balance to suit your community.
Below are a few popular forms of online communication, and where the fall among the three communication aspects mentioned above. Online mediums aren't the only ones available, of course, but there are a much wider variety of them than offline ones.
When it comes to online communication, there's nothing more popular or well understood than email. Unless your community is made up of a minority group who doesn't use or have access to computers, you can usually assume that your members will have an email address and be comfortable using it.
- Speed: Even though it's lightyears ahead of traditional mail, email should still be considered a slow form of online communication. Not only can messages take hours or days to be read, but conversations can take days or weeks to complete.
- Thoughtfulness: What email lacks in speed is can make for in thoughtfulness. Because nobody expects an immediate reply, people are more likely to write longer, more detailed and (hopefully) more appropriate responses.
- Discoverability: On its own email isn't very discoverable. Most email communication is only seen by two people, sometimes more with the liberal use of CC and BCC, but it's virtually invisible to anybody who isn't part of the conversation. But the good news is, there's something you can do to enhance email's discoverability.
Mailing lists allow people to subscribe to all conversations that are happening in a community, whether they are participating in those conversations or not. Each list gets its own unique email address, and anything sent to that address will be sent to those who have subscribed to it. You can lock this down so that only current subscribers can send to the list address, to avoid spam.
You can setup one mailing list for your whole community, or spread it across multiple mailing lists, depending on the volume of communication you have. Flooding people with email they don't care about will lead to them unsubscribing from your list, but fragmenting your community's conversations with too many mailing lists will make them all less useful. It's generally a good idea to start with one, and then add more only as the need arises.
Another option that mailing lists give you that enhance discovery is the ability to archive messages and make those archives publicly available. By making your archives public they can be indexed by search engines, and their content can be easily found and ready by people who aren't subscribers, or even part of your project at all.
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