….dead in the water or simpy ahead of it’s time?

The development of an online community can be seen soul-destroying given the amount of work that one can put in for such little initial reward, and by reward I mean satisfaction and not financial gain. The methods employed by commercial and non-commercial social networks to increase participation are often very similar but for very different reasons.

Increasingly, companies are integrating social networking concepts into their online presense to build brand loyalty, push products and services and generally increase their market. Very few Australian businesses have recognised the potential of integrating a simple discussion forum into their sites, for example (obviously where relevant). There are examples in Bendigo, including one that did but paid very little attention to its importance.

When your customers form alliances with others to share their views, business needs, and interests, it can forge stronger emotional ties to your brand. These social networks grow virally and exponentially after customers invite their friends and colleagues to join and so on.

However, while the ‘IT business that shall remain nameless’, will no doubt come back with a more fully-featured, interactive community section having seen the potential of a rival site (their words not mine), there will always be the presence of commercial fluff to distract the user. This is the obvious aim and one which should be pursued as it will eventually pay dividends for them and rightly so.

Bendigo Forums is not commercial. Other than possibly introducing a few Google Ads to help pay for the running costs, that is the way I intend it to stay. Bendigo Forums aims to encourage a social network based on a mutual interest, Bendigo. The potential for local government, business and the community in general to benefit from a site like this is great and probably the reason others will hurry to jump on the band wagon once they realise.

I’m a social entrepreneur by nature, with very many fewer self-serving interests than your average businessman and no corporeal product or service to sell but I do believe Bendigo Forums has the potential to offer something to the community in terms of the general concepts of social networking.

As the numbers of those who engage in online communities grow, more and more look towards forums and discussion boards when researching a product or service. After all, wouldn’t you like to talk to the customers rather than just the sales staff driven by the desire to sell? With this in mind, it is increasingly likely that those in search of information pertaining to Bendigo and the surrounding region will look for discussion groups and forums related to the area.

With relevant content, visitors will stay long enough to read and glean the information they require. With healthy debate and discussion on all aspects of the subject matter, visitors are more likely to sign up and participate. Visitors need a reason to return and their involvement in discussion is just one. There are numerous other methods of promoting ‘stickiness’, from offering chat facilities and interactive games, to regular competitions and multimedia sharing facilities. 

The attitudes of most of those who have already been invited to participate in Bendigo Foruns are disappointing and there are alarming parallels in the attitudes, delivery and uptake of Information and Communications Technologies in the region, to those in rural Wales over ten years ago! I was very much involved in the development of the ICT infrastructure for rural regeneration and development in Powys, Wales and so I’ve seen it first hand.

For the moment Bendigo Forums is little more than a hobby I’m willing to share with anyone who’s interested and not a conscious effort in community development. It could be though! With a little effort on my part it could take off very quickly.

And so if you have an interest in Bendigo and the surrounding region, get yourself over to Bendigo Forums, sign up and start posting. It’s free and very simple.

Read about Bendigo Forums.