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The Three C's of Forums

In a blog post while back, we asked: “Should you offer a member’s forum”  to increase member engagement and interaction? A forum is an online discussion site (or page on your website) where you and your members or supporters can post messages, ask questions, start conversations, offer and receive information .

This post talked about the first two C's - how a forum provides a place for your members to virtually congregate in order to communicate, discuss and share ideas.

A forum might help you meet your engagement and communications goals – whether these are to:

  • attract new members or supporters;
  • offer existing members an opportunity to interact with their member/peers
  • enable members to offer feedback and dialogue with association staff and board members

And, as we noted in our earlier post,  Wild Apricot users can easily create or add forums as part of your Membership Management Software.

Another role for forums - the third "C"

But there is at least one more function that a forum can fulfill, that we didn’t discuss in our earlier post:  the third “C”crowdsourcing.

This term is now often used to describe gathering large crowds online and generally leveraging mass collaboration. But according to Jeff Howe (Wired Magazine) who originally coined the phrase, it is defined as the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call.” 

How can associations apply crowdsourcing?

 While non-profits have been successfully using crowdsourcing techniques for some time, Associations and other member-based organizations can use a forum to encourage collaboration and involvement  on any number of issues or activities. You can apply crowdsourcing to anything from encouraging members to share ideas and collaborate on, for example, selecting conference themes, resource topics, etc. It could also be used to source volunteers for particular projects.

Aliza Sherman, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing, offered some examples of crowdsourcing applications in a SocialFish blog post earlier this summer -- Crowdsourcing  for Organizations. She notes:

When it comes to resources, many nonprofits and associations feel strapped or constrained by budget and capacity. Whether you’ve got administrative tasks, marketing efforts, or other time-consuming or costly initiatives, there are ways to get things done by leveraging the Internet and tapping into large pools or talent, volunteers, or other interested individuals. Crowdsourcing is one of those ways.

Simply put, crowdsourcing is a set of principles, processes and platforms to get things done and includes putting out an open call to a group and managing the responses and output....Crowdsourcing can be like outsourcing on steroids because instead of contracting to one known entity, you are putting a call out to a bigger group, often a global online community, to either get many to participate or to find the person you need by casting a much wider net.

Our experience crowdsourcing on our forums

At Wild Apricot, we understand the importance of building consensus and crowdsourcing through forums. In fact, our company is built around the philosophy of listening to customers and evolving the product based on their needs and feedback. We actively seek input and collaborate with customers in the development process, with customers voting and commenting on others' suggestions.

But recently, we saw the power and immediacy of crowdsourcing through forums first-hand. As our Chief Apricot noted in his August Software News post, “we have a number of active discussion forums which we use for technical support, source feedback for product development.” What is amazing, however, is that our clients - Wild Apricot users - frequently follow the forums and help each other out by crowdsourcing some cool solutions and workarounds. Here's the example he offered of client-to-client interaction on our General discussion and questions forum:

Many Wild Apricot users are clubs and associations who typically have a number of rotating officer and board positions. One of the users asked about the best way to track position assignments in Wild Apricot and display them on the website. We do not have any special functionality designed specifically for this -- so I said so in my reply. However, within hours, one of our clients replied and posted a detailed description of very nice workaround  that they had created of an automated Officer Directory on their Wild Apricot website. Shortly thereafter, another user posted a reply building further on the suggested workaround (see their finished directory).

Is it time your association had a forum?

So a forum can enable members to:

  1. congregate
  2. communicate
  3. and collaborate through crowdsourcing.
Those are my 3 C's. Are there any others I've forgotten? 

If you think a forum might help you meet some of your member engagement goals, check out the resources below for help in getting started.

Resources:

From the Wild Apricot Blog:

For Wild Apricot Software users:

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Thursday, 08 September 2011 at 2:33 PM

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