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A Guide to Successful Community Building: Lessons from Reddit and Digg


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Digital ethnography enables organizations to uncover the behavioral patterns of online audiences that are not always driven by a tangible need. These types of research findings fill the gaps left by traditional market research such as surveys and focus groups.

By conducting an analysis of the cultural differences between Reddit and Digg, two of the most prolific online communities, Sequentia identified the key characteristics of thriving communities.

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A Guide to Successful Community Building: Lessons from Reddit and Digg

  1. 1. A Guide to Successful Community Building: Lessons fromredditanddigg<br />An Executive Summary<br />A report by Heather Morrison & UjwalArkalgud, May 2011<br />
  2. 2. Online communities on a cultural continuum<br />Sequentia Environics recently completed a rigorous three month Digital Ethnographic study that focused onredditanddigg. Our research demonstrates that every successful online community requires the existence of six key countercultural* elements pertaining to design, social interaction and structure. <br />The best way to understand the importance of these characteristics is through a cultural continuum. The further an online community moves from core countercultural characteristics (such as democracy or anonymity), the weaker the community becomes. At the break point, communities begin to take the form of content distribution and syndication networks that lack kinship or user-initiated collective action. <br />*counter-culture can be defined as a group whose behaviour deviates from the societal norm<br />
  3. 3. Lessons From reddit and digg<br />Our conclusions are driven by a Digital Ethnographic study of two of the most prominent and evolving communities today,redditanddigg. These conclusions were further strengthened by our review of historical communities such as the WELL, and Friendster. <br />A rigorous three month qualitative research process helped us unearth and understand how counter-culture characteristics manifest themselves in a community setting and help spur growth. Drifting away from these characteristics can often result in a steep decline in community membership, or in extreme cases, the death of the community. <br />When comparing the countercultural elements ofdiggandreddit, it was apparent thatdiggwas migrating toward the break point of the Cultural Continuum and becoming more of a content distribution network.reddit, meanwhile, has continued to maintain many of the basic countercultural characteristics necessary to support a strong and self-sustaining community. <br />
  4. 4. reddit and digg in Relation to the Cultural Continuum<br />The influence of counterculture values withinredditis easy to see. These includes a minimalistic design, user-created sub-communities, self-moderation and an overarching altruistic motive. <br />Recent changes todigg’sdesign and overall community structure have gradually realigned community values, pushing the site closer to a content distribution network or news website. <br />diggis tantalizingly close to losing its “community” status<br />
  5. 5. Six key insights for building successful communities<br />Our study ofdiggandredditdemonstrates that there are six key counter-cultural elements are necessary to create a successful and self-sustaining community in today’s environment: <br />Optional anonymity<br />The ability for users to remain private helps shift focus to issues rather than individuals<br />Democracy<br />A strong community is driven by a need for collective action and a change in the balance of power <br />Earned authority<br />While authority is tolerated in communities, it must be earned rather than appointed<br />A strong sense of purpose <br />Every community needs a collective agenda that goes beyond products, services or tactical activities<br />Transparency in operation and intent<br />The heart of an online community involves its relationship to an Anarchist or Libertarian agenda. Transparency in operation forms a critical piece of that agenda.<br />Inclusive ownership with scale<br />Every community should provide a mechanism for members to take ownership of certain areas of interest. This is especially important as a community begins to grow, as it allows for the development of collective identities.<br />
  6. 6. Leverging These Insights to Build Successful Communities<br />The adoption of these six critical countercultural elements can occur in a number of different ways: <br />Community design<br />Layout<br />Look and feel<br />Vernacular<br />Structure<br />Moderation<br />Ethos<br />Rules and regulations<br />If you are unable to incorporate these elements into your community, you may consider the creation of a group or content syndication network. The following slide provides some simple examples of how you can look to apply these 6 elements within your communities. It is important however to remember that the extent to which you choose to adopt these elements will depend on the type of audience you want within your community.<br />
  7. 7. Leveraging the Counterculture to Build Successful Online Communities<br />
  8. 8. Download our full report, at no cost<br />For a detailed look at how countercultural elements can improve overall community health, download our full report.<br />Contact us for more information<br />SequentiaEnvironics<br />Phone 1.416.203.3656<br /><br />Authors<br />UjwalArkalgud<br />@interpretivist<br /><br />Heather Morrison <br />@hmorrison<br /><br />