The tools that drive the formation of relationships and the engagement process itself range from essentially passive to highly active. During the design phase of your communities, ideation platforms, support forums, and similar, an important concept to remember is that the more active the relationship encouragement is, the stronger in general the resulting social experiences that link participants will be.
In a basic social-software platform—an entry level discussion or community platform, for example—deployed straight out of the box, participants are generally able to create basic profiles and engage in topic-oriented discussions. These basic social platforms may also include built-in support for photo uploading, creating profile pictures, writing individual blog posts, group formation and discussion, and so on.
Note here that these are features that enable members to do things that relate primarily to consumption, duration, and creation: Members of a woodworking forum might be creating and publishing pictures of cabinets, tables, and other projects they have completed or a review of new table saw that has been recently purchased.
The exposure in these platforms is that there is often relatively little in the way of automated support for suggesting relationships (“Given your interest in these topics, you may be interested in these members.”) or content suggestions (“You were interested in this topic, so you may also want to look at this.”).
Sorting out precisely who would be good to connect with is left to the participants. As a result many discussion forums fail to move past the provision of a basic utility, providing quick one-off answers, for example, and so fail to become social sites that are visited frequently. Note that this may be just fine with the participants at the outset:
If someone is looking for a tip on changing a fan belt in the family car or how to repair a canoe, the pure utility orientation of these basic forums and their member’s initial interest in them starts with how quickly an answer can be found. But it doesn’t—or needn’t—end there.
Communities grow based on the balanced interaction and contribution of all members: A robust social graph builds on the initial draw of basic utility—“Show me something cool I can do in this network…