It takes a village...
A strong community is what makes open source projects thrive. Build and give to the community, and it will give back in spades. The power of the crowd can fuel much more than just funding. You will find people who want to help with any and all aspects of your project, from documentation to sourcing. Better still, an open source approach builds trust and confidence in your project.
However, building a community is not the same as marketing (although when it’s done right it can have the same effect). It’s similar in that it can increase exposure and interest in your project. It’s different in that it’s a two-way street; you’re not just hanging up a billboard. Building a community means you and your team will want to dedicate some time to it. Fortunately, most of it is fun to do anyway.
How to build an open source community forum
Whether you’re building a forum of your own from scratch, or joining an existing community, you’ll want to carefully consider the following issues.
Ease of Access: there are tons of existing forums already, not to mention tons of choices if you want to set up and host your own. Make sure that whatever route you choose, joining your community is convenient while respecting user privacy.
Degree of openness: make sure there’s easy access from your community forum to your documentation, repos, etc. Make anything you want to be open a topic open for discussion. Need help with UX/UI, documentation, sourcing? Make a channel for each one.
Quality of moderation: Never let your forum’s discussions stray from their general topic. There are plenty of places on the internet to discuss emacs versus vim, the Oxford comma, pineapple on pizza, and so on. Your, say, SDR forum is not the place for that.
Create a sense of Ownership: Cultivate and reward those who are most active/helpful/present/engaged by giving them mod privileges or other responsibilities. A sense of ownership will help them feel valued and will help the forum police itself.
Stay on topic: Avoid the temptation to have an “off-topic” room or channel. Of course we encourage civic and civil conversation, but all it can do in your forum is serve as a distraction. Generally, it’s best to encourage private conversations between members, but don’t provide a public resource.
Hopefully needless to say, you should have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of personal or ad hominem attack. Apply the ban boot swiftly!
Online forums are only one tool available for community building. Here are some others to consider.
Crowd Supply on Discord: We are lucky enough to have a channel of our own on Adafruit’s Discord server. Feel free to hang out there and chat in real time with other creators and CS backers.
Field Reports: Field reports are a unique Crowd Supply program to engage the community by publishing updates from backers. Field reports allow backers to share with the world the unique and interesting things they are doing with your project. In return, they receive prizes, benefits, and/or credit at Crowd Supply. Learn more about Field Reports..
Events (talks, interviews with community members): These days, it’s very easy to livestream and post videos. Putting a human face on a project and demonstrating it being used in the real world is a great way to attract backers to your community.
Contests (design contests, app building contests, etc.): Offer backers benefits and prizes in exchange for submitting their designs, applications, etc. This is a great way to build traction for projects large and small.
Other existing forums: Join and contribute to existing forums. One community begets another. As a creator, you have all sorts of specialized knowledge and expertise. Sharing those skills goes a long way towards establishing your credibility and the value of your project.
Social Media: Outlets such as Twitter can do a lot to boost your visibility, but be careful what and how you post. See this Guide Article for more info.
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