Stack Exchange’s 3-Step Process for Building an Internal Community

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We speak every day with CTOs, CIOs and engineering leaders at companies that want to build internal-facing communities. Most often, they’re interested in creating an internal community for engineers on globally distributed or siloed teams to have a place where they can ask, answer, peer-validate, share, and search for proprietary technical information. But what about other types of internal communities? Your support team would surely love a place where they can answer a question once instead of responding to the same tickets repeatedly. Your consultants out in the field can’t wait hours, or even days, for answers to questions that an important client has. Your team of artists and animators still need to know that when they have an important question about a project, they can quickly and easily find the best answer (as determined by their bright and capable peers). Put simply, creating an internal community can be incredibly beneficial for any part of your organization where specialized knowledge in a particular discipline needs to be made accessible to others. While there is a whole lot more to our ‘secret sauce’ of building internal communities, the single most important thing that needs to be done to make one successful is to ensure that there is a vibrant and healthy site on Day 1. We’ve designed a 3-step process to guide clients as they build their internal communities, regardless of the discipline it’s intended for:

Build to Launch

Find your most enthusiastic users—the educational leaders who help their peers already and those who volunteer to try out new technologies and projects. These are the users that you should engage with directly and get to commit to being the first users. Once you’ve identified them, build the anticipation for the community within their organization by announcing what’s coming. Users will only adopt and use a platform if they can get work done more efficiently and effectively, so be sure to highlight this as the primary intention of the new community.

Run a Community Kickstart Period

This is the time where the users that you’ve identified will build up an initial base of content and give the new community a “lived in” feeling. A community centers on quantifiable, specific areas of expertise by asking singularly answerable questions, so this is also a good time for your community manager, moderators and users to determine whats on-topic and off-topic.

Launch with Fanfare

Now that your most enthusiastic and engaged users have just spent a period of time in Community Kickstart establishing norms and a great set of quality content, it's time to launch this thing! We love when clients announce their new community at a meetup, during a company-wide All Hands meeting or through some other fun way (we’ve even seen a client announce theirs through an Avengers-themed launch). The goal here should be to get as many users in and participating from early on - the more people they can get committed and interacting, the more useful it is for everyone. Using our framework, we’ve built hundreds of healthy and vibrant online communities dedicated to disciplines like the arts, the sciences, professional, technology and business under the Stack Exchange network. Data always speaks louder than words, so I ran some numbers to show that the combination of our Q&A software and community-building framework can be effective regardless of discipline: Taking out Stack Overflow, since it skews the numbers, there are:

  • 172 sites under the Stack Exchange network
  • The average community size by user count is ~49,000 (smallest is 706 users; largest behind Stack Overflow is ~651,000)
  • The average question-to-answer ratio is 87%
  • The average visits per day to these sites is 33,500
  • The average new questions per day is over 19

If you’re interested in learning more about our theories of community development and how they can be applied to your intended discipline, reach out to our sales team.

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