Many online communities exist solely to serve a very serious business purpose.
Technical support, communities of practice, employee intranets...all are there for a specific reason that doesn't involve kittens.
Don't you love it when your doctor's office has balloons for your children? When you attend a business conference and they have a photo booth with crazy sunglasses? When you see people enjoying their serious jobs, like this dancing Dover policeman?
Just because your community is serving a serious purpose doesn't mean you can't have a little fun. In fact, getting to know the real people behind the avatars is a solid relationship-building tool. It's much easier to work with Joe from Accounting if you happen to know he's into geocaching.
Here are tips for incorporating some personality in your business community:
- Create a special off-topic area, whether it's a "Just Conversation" forum or a "Watercooler" chatroom. They're going to be talking about the latest episode of House of Cards anyway, why not give them a way to do it within your community?
- Be sure to set some ground rules and clear expectations, especially if it's a workplace community. Do you want to discourage profanity, political discussions, or non-constructive criticism? State that up-front.
- Imagery rules. Make a space for members to share photos and videos of their adventures. Perhaps you could even mix in some corporate event pictures, if you have a company retreat or events away from your workplace. Shared memories are critical to building trust.
- Show your corporate personality as well. Try not to hide behind generic avatars and an "Administrator" title. Let the people who are managing the community reveal themselves and become part of the conversation.
- Allow the community to name the off-topic area, so that it reflects their shared interests.
Do you run a business community? How do you build relationships between your members?