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Part 2: What you can get up to...


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Following on from my earlier post...


I think there's scope to get regular (and new) users more involved in retaining members and generating content. I'd like to explain here what can be done. I do some of this, not as much as I should do, and ideally it would be happening largely without my input. 


I would like to make clear that this is entirely up to people themselves. If you're quite happy doing what you're doing already, keep doing it. 


First off, when new members venture on here we've got a limited window in which to convince them it's worth sticking around. What helps is: 


Prompt answers: A quick response impresses people. A quick, helpful response impresses them even more. If you spot a post from a new arrival, make an effort to respond sooner rather than later if possible. I should make it easier to spot posts from new arrivals. The moderation queue obviously adds a delay here, but we keep that to a minimum. 


Be friendly: Like someone said earlier, maybe responses on here can be a little blunt. I'm as guilty of that as anyone, and maybe it's inevitable when we have a topic which, lets face it, people get enthusiastic about on Monday and give up on on Wednesday. But maybe we can get a few more people past Wednesday. So give people a 'welcome to the site', use their name, and make 'em think you'll be dropping round later with a plate of home-made cookies. 


Bring people deeper into the site: This is something I've been doing, but so can you. If someone says "I've been studying in Tianjin and need some help planning a trip around China" then ask where in Tianjin, and point them to a topic where they could do a write-up. We get some fantastic posts about schools and courses and apps and who knows what on here, and very often the only thing needed to get more of them is to ask.


If someone has just started studying Chinese, there's the "Why Chinese" and "Aims and Objectives" topics. Give people links to places they can post, ideally to places where they can make contributions as well as ask questions.


If we can do that, and in particular get people posting in active topics which will send out new reply notifications and remind them to come back, visiting the forums becomes more habitual and we retain more members. You'll see newbies you helped out on day one become regulars and help other newbies out.


Second, just be more active yourself. If you happen to think of something that would make a good topic, post it, rather than just thinking maybe you should. One extra post a day from one person is roughly a 1% boost in activity at the moment. Add in the multiplier effect of replies to your topic or post, and one person can make a notable difference. I was pleasantly surprised at the number and quality of responses to my Why Chinese? and Why did you leave China? topics. Maybe you've got an idea people will respond similarly to. 


Lurkers - stop it. Become posters. If you're interested in the topics on here, the chances are we're interested in what you think about them. So tell us. 


Third, off-site. I do pretty much zero promotion of this site. If you're in a position to draw interesting content to the attention of people who will appreciate it - blogs, Facebook, sites like reddit, Twitter, an emailing list. If you have an audience that might be interested, that'd be fantastic. Invite friends. 


Fourth, quality maintenance. If you see someone failing to search before posting, failing to show they've tried to answer their own question, posting in non-standard (as opposed to non-native) English, I'd encourage friendly reminders that we'd prefer that didn't happen.


I suspect there's a lot of stuff I've missed, and I could certainly spout opinions on these topics for quite some time.


In an ideal world, where everything runs to community management best-practice, we'd have had teams of community volunteers doing this for years. Like I say, I've been trying to do some of this, but simple fact is that a) there's a lot of it to do, and b) the point of a community is that it becomes self-sustaining. The amount of posts I make as a percentage of the total should be declining, rather than increasing. 


I'm going to be offline from Friday for a week or so, so I'll leave this up for discussion and see what's there when I come back...

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A thought about welcoming newbies, i wonder if we should have a "meet & greet" response.


i often browse around on the topics and see new users asking questions but I don't know the answer and I notice nobody responds with an answer for maybe a day or two.


Maybe just say hi as it were to them. Something like - Hi welcome, interesting question, I don't know the answer but i am sure someone around here will see your post soon and should be able help.


Basically responding even if you don't know how to help or even just to point out other topics that may be related, or anything else people can think of just so new comers don't feel ignored.


I reckon if all of us pitch in it might mean that each of us only does this once in awhile, and it won't be to much hustle for any single person.

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In a previous incarnation, the forums used to have an 'unanswered posts' link at the top.  Wonder if it might be worth bringing that back?



Almost think it did have that a long time ago and that would be more helpful nowadays.

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I'm glad this post is here, i've been thinking about my own contribution to the website. Because i'm not very far along right now in my learning, i don't feel like i can really help people with any problems they might have. So i post threads on difficulties i'm having with myself then i feel like i'm just ''taking'' and not contributing. Thus i become a ''lurker'' myself.


Of course i can only speak for myself, but i really like the website. It's quiet sometimes, but i think there are already lots of helpful discussions already covered and i actually like people to be blunt with their answers. I mean, this is different from being rude. 


Anyway. Just my two cents.

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Ok, I wasn't going to post here until I got back, but I have to reply to Melanie right away: 
"So i post threads on difficulties i'm having with myself then i feel like i'm just ''taking'' and not contributing. "
This is absolutely not the case. Point one, people enjoy helping. Otherwise they wouldn't do it. Point two, you're unlikely to be the only person with this problem. There could be any number of people who'll read that over the years and think "hey, that's what I'm struggling with." Point three, you'll (hopefully) pay this back later when you feel a bit more confident. And that might be sooner than you think. You've probably already got a little repertoire of books, tools and sites that other learners might find valuable. 
Your 'hitting a wall' topic got fifty replies, because people felt they could contribute something, and they wanted to. I mentioned it in the newsletter because it's an interesting topic with valuable information. Your current 'second tone' one will quite possibly be in the May newsletter. for the same reason.
If you're posting topics and nobody's responding, maybe there's a problem. But that's not happening. So contribute as many questions as you want.


Hope that's blunt enough for you.

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  • 2 months later...

I haven't forgotten about this!


On welcoming / retaining new members:


You'll now see* a green 'new user' badge for members who have less than five posts. Mouseover that and you're reminded to say welcome, offer links to topics people might be interested in, etc. You can see it here, until and unless those two members get to five posts. I should maybe also hide it if someone's been a member for a certain length of time?


On the front page, bottom left hand side, there's a list of posts made recently by people with less than five posts. Currently I'm using this myself to easily find posts by new members so I can do stuff like this. The times on that are maybe wrong, by the way, aware of that. 


In the nearish future I'd like to have a small group of people doing this with me, and you're all certainly welcome to start now.


We get maybe in the region of 100 people a month who register and make a post. A lot of those have tattoo questions or something, and we can't expect to keep them. But even so, six months later, over 90% of those users aren't logging in and posting. I think we can improve on that. 


*Tell me if you can't. You'll need to be logged in, of course. 

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oh excellent plan, saw the new user badge.


I do try to say something to new users when I feel I can offer some thing sensible. But if just hello and welcome is helpful I can do some of that too.

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Imron, haven't noticed you welcoming any new members lately...


I've been looking at it, but have been trying to add it in to the existing search functions and it's a bit beyond me, ability-wise. 

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Imron, this is completely off topic, but do you mind me asking if that is you in your photo? I'm not being funny, i just have a martial arts nut sitting next to me going crazy over your sword.

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Yup it's me, and the glow on the sword is actually the reflection of the camera flash - something that was completely unintentional when taking the shot and also not later replicable (despite several attempts).

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Oh, i had hoped it was some kind of magic sword. Like if E.T. had a sword, it'd be that one.  :lol:


Either way, you'll probably get a new member here soon (that you can welcome), just to ask you about the blinking thing.

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Thanks Lechuan, but... pay attention, here's the science bit

You need to respond in an authentic way. There are three parts to this.

1) Ask a clarifying question/for more information. Ask how they came to that opinion, ask for greater context, ask for anything that encourages the person to participate again.

2) Reveal your own experience/expertise in the topic. Reveal information about yourself (relevant to the initial post). Even if it's limited experience. Members have a greater sense of responding to a real person.

3) Don't resolve the question. Don't be the overzealous moderator that definitively resolves the question. This limits further discussion. No-one else will participate. You want members to answer the questions, not the moderators.

Around 40 to 90% of members who make a first contribution never participate again. These are figures we can change.


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  • 2 weeks later...

One thing that I'd recommend you consider is the user experience of the site. Not the technical functionality of the site, which is fine, but the community side.


One thing that's particular to this forum is the amount threads that get effectively shut down, usually by an admin saying 'this question's already been asked', or for example in the fluent in 3 months thread, 'this is going in circles, do something else'. Of course threads of circular debate and the same old boring questions are annoying, and should be discouraged when they get out of hand, but the balance here is so far skewed in favour of people that have been here for many years that many newbies/lurkers are probably too intimidated to post for fear they might get berated for asking something that was discussed 3 years ago. Similarly, in a circular debate, if it's the same few people saying the same things, then maybe it's time for them to cool off, but if more people are joining in with the same few opinions, perhaps you should let them have their say. After all, a lot of people participate in online communities because they want to be a part of that community and actively participate in it and give their 2 cents, but the bar to entry is a rather high when they're actively discouraged from expressing an opinion that someone else has already expressed or ask a question that was discussed years ago. I'm not saying you should let the same questions be asked on a weekly basis, but if it's not been asked in 6 months or so, you can try to encourage the conversation or leave the newer members to it, rather than point to an older thread or merge threads.


Also, if you want to grow the community and get the newbies and lurkers to participate more, you can start threads that pretty much anyone can participate in, like those threads 'why are you learning Chinese', 'why did you leave China'. They appeals to people who feel they have no real expertise to bring to the table, but who want to participate, and many find them interesting to read.


Another suggestion to increase the size and participation of the community is to ask people to do something. A lot of people come to a forum like this to try and be useful and give good contributions. Believe it or not, I came here thinking that as someone who's lived in China and has learned Chinese to a fairly high level, I'd be able to help people learning Chinese, but actually I've found that most questions people have about learning Chinese get answered really quickly by super-regulars. So I have nothing to contribute, and if I'm in that situation perhaps there are dozens or hundreds of people who pass though this site who similarly find they have nothing to add.


A further issue with 'contributing to the community' is it seems like hugely long detailed posts are desired. These post of course are a very good thing. They're usually very high quality content, and an asset to the site both in terms of content and (often) SEO. However, unless you feel a burning desire to write a long, high quality post about something you have a burning desire to express, it's a bit of a daunting task for someone who wants to contribute. There are probably lurkers who feel they should write one of these long high quality posts, but they don't know what the establish community will want to see, or if they'll get ignored or criticised. So you can ask people, including newbies for things, and not always long things. Make a list of things you'd like to see on the site, information that you think is lacking, and ask if people can provide it.


The thing about forums in particular is that the longer they go on for, the more they become like an archive or encyclopedia for the veteran members. Conversely, big, active communities are great for growth and participation, but have a high proportion of crap. The challenge for the admins as community managers (who do want to grow the community) is to try and achieve a balance of quality and participation. So far you've pretty much nailed the quality of content, but a bit more content and a bit more activity would be nice.

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All this, completely agree ^^^^


Funnily enough, i have been too nervous to post everything you said in your comment in case i get criticised again. Then i feel every topic i post is stupid (not saying that it isn't) and also still feel like i can't contribute and help anyone else. So again, as i think i said earlier in the discussion, i feel like i'm just taking from everyone else and not giving anything in return.

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@Melanie i think that you should think along the lines "at the moment I feel as if I am not contributing and taking more than I am giving BUT some time in the future i may be able to help others"


If you even help one person, that's good and I am sure it will become more as you learn more.


Don't stress about it, it will all work out.

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