There are many ways of working together. In fact, it can be a bit overwhelming. Should we have a blog for our group? Maybe a discussion forum is better? Can’t we just add files to the Downloads area and leave comments?
Each of the above methods will work. How well they work depends on the skills and preferences of your user. The important question is ‘what would we like to accomplish as a group?’
Many of the previous posts in this conference highlight the benefits of the different sharing and participation features. Here are some ‘rules of thumb’ to selecting the approach that will work for your group.
First, know that most people who participate are invisible. They lurk. They may read, then they click elsewhere. They are important. Their actions and comments to others have a large impact. It’s similar to any public meeting. Something attracted each person to attend. A few ask questions or make statements. Some leave early, but most leave and share comments in private.
Ideally, these lurkers should get a reasonable idea of your site’s and your group’s interests. Posting regularly keeps this hidden public informed and returning.
If you want feedback, make it easy. Blogs, discussion forums, photo galleries, and file downloads can be set to accept comments.
The first rule of thumb is ‘encourage your members’ by making it easy for registered members to comment.
The other side of this rule is to ‘discourage anonymous comments’. This opens up your system to spam and inappropriate content — and creates work for the administrator.
The second rule of thumb is ‘choose the most comfortable method for your group’.
Longer term computer users may prefer discussion forums. Others may prefer the more recent blogging and instant publishing tools. For the lurkers in your group, each approach will have a learning curve. The comfort level increases when help is available. Let them know who to contact.
The third rule of thumb is ‘forums for structured feedback; blogs for quick reactions’.
Forums have the unique ability to present polls to the reader. This makes it easy to ask for a yes/no response to a question or to select the preferred choice from a list. Blogs, on the other hand, make it easy to add an open ended comment.
Regardless of the approach, most groups require invitation, notification reminders, and access to support as they gain the skills to move from lurker to active online member.