Organizations are harnessing community features, similar to those found in LinkedIn and Facebook, to empower, collaborate, and establish personal connections with their members.
By adding community features, organization leaders can offer discussion threads, blogs, groups, resource libraries, and other features that allow members to collaborate and interact. Students, researchers, SMEs, hobbyists, practitioners, professionals, HR managers—any group with shared interests—can all hugely benefit from these custom community sites. In this blog post, we take a close look at the case study below to show one way a community site can further an organization’s mission.
Why Create Your Own Community Site?
On social media sites built for mass use, like Facebook and LinkedIn, you cannot customize features for your profile or group, and these public channels are not ideal for people who want to share highly personal, or proprietary information.
With community websites, integrating collaborative tools has become more accessible, and their functions more varied. Depending on the purpose of the tool, organizations can make these community platforms public or private, and members can choose to remain anonymous or visible.
The end-result is that organizations are better able to:
- Inspire engagement and collaboration;
- Prompt people to act (e.g., donate, join, etc.);
- Provide valuable information they can’t get easily on other sites;
- Increase transparency and sharing;
- Build interest and excitement about their activities;
- Develop a database of knowledge within an industry or subject matter;
- Offer a safe and private place for sharing stories and offering support.
Shift.ms — Community Site Case Study
Shift.ms is a vibrant, UK-based community site that provides support to people with Multiple Sclerosis, or “MSers.”The Shift.ms community has over 5,500 members worldwide and growing.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition that affects nearly three million people worldwide. According to The National MS Society (United States), there is no cure. Management of the disease and community support, are therefore vital.
We reached out to Shift.ms, and spoke with Freddie Yauner, their co-founder, about the design and aims of their site:
“The main aim, as Shift.ms is a charity, is to reduce isolation, support adjustment, and increase diagnosis. Once diagnosed, you want to talk with someone who has similar issues (work problems, family issues, afraid your girlfriend or boyfriend will leave, etc.). Diagnosis can be really terrifying, so it’s good to quickly establish a connection with a community where you can talk about the disease and meet people you get on with.”
Freddie talked about their community approach:
“A lot of what we do is staying out of conversations. Having an identity but deliberately not having a voice. We wanted to eliminate that paternalistic voice and just let the community do what it wants.”
And their strategy has worked. According to data collected independently by the Tavistock Institute, “as a result of using Shift.ms the majority of members feel better informed, better supported, better able to take care of their own health, and better able to get on with their lives.” Read the report and you will find quotes like this from members:
“The very fact of reading Shift.ms even if you don’t respond sort of makes you feel that you’re not alone and there are people going through what you are going through.”
Speakeasy and Other Social Tools
A huge part of what draws members to the site is their forum, “Speakeasy.” It is the most heavily trafficked area of their site, because it’s a place where MSers can visibly or anonymously discuss important issues and seek support:
Finding Topics You Care About
Through user feedback they’ve learned that people want to easily find the most important information for themselves within the forum. To satisfy that need, Shift.ms plans to expand the categories below and integrate them more within their forum.
How Supporters Find Each Other
Members can find each other by age, years since diagnosis, and MS type. These are categories members can use to more easily find the ‘right’ kinds of support.
MSers can bond with their community through groups that are based on hobbies, locations, disease symptoms, and many other categories.
A small but significant innovation of the site is their replacement of the ubiquitous “like” button found on social media with a “support” button. People might not wish to “like” some of the difficult challenges associated with MS, so the support button enables acknowledgement of these challenges in a more compassionate and relevant way.
Ask an Expert
A prominent part of the site is the “Ask an Expert” section, which allows MSer volunteers to conduct video interviews with researchers, clinicians and other experts. We asked Freddie how it originated, and whether they have any plans to evolve it:
“We have a large grant from The Wellcome trust, so this area will hopefully develop into a definitive video library of expert knowledge, answering questions from our community.”
The “Spread the Word” campaign encourages other MSers to join the community by offering them packs of items, such as posters, flyers, and more.
Throughout the site, numerous calls-to-action encourage participation and empower the community:
With the Shift.ms 3.0 update this summer, they are giving prominence to their forum, Speakeasy, and they will better integrate multimedia projects into Speakeasy—making it easier for members to find topics of interest in their growing library of information.
How Can a Community Site Benefit Your Organization?
After spending a few minutes on Shift.ms, you will see that the site is very supportive. Shift.ms took themselves out of the equation and empowered their community’s voice.
Every organization can use these social tools to create public or private (extranet or intranet) sites that serve their members. Here are some examples of how these tools can be used to expand your WordPress site:
- Keep association members involved with the organization (fundraising, donation, contribution, etc.)
- Build a collaborative organizational culture
- Establish a connection between employees and Human Resources
- Address customer service or stakeholder issues
- Encourage collaboration between remote teams
- Create knowledge storehouses for sharing data
- Replace the company newsletter and company-wide emails with note personal messages
- Survey employees, members, or stakeholders
- Bridge departments (e.g., sales and marketing)
- Replace or reduce in-house email by storing company info within a social intranet
There are many things you can do with these tools, and Omni can help your organization design them. Get in touch with us or read our blog to find out more.
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