Do you build a community through design or content?

Let me share with you a discussion I had late last year about web communities and how to build them.

To paint the picture … in the blue corner, a web designer – a BYT (bright young thing) – all pumped up on Red Bull and marketing nous and was spouting how she was going to make this particular site ‘more interesting and engaging’ to the audience.  She was going to ‘build a real community and a site that the client’s audience would continually come back to’.

In the red corner … me.

I tried to talk about how engaging with users would boil down to two things: the information we made available and the speed at which users could find it.  My argument was about delivering what people wanted … and quickly.

The BYT designer wanted all sorts of cool tricks, design elements and cutting-edge ‘style’.

A full 45 minutes later, and our intrepid designer still didn’t get how a new paint job wouldn’t make one bit of difference to the audience’s usage of the site.  And she managed to get 95% of the budget too.  Go figure.

That web site is being redeveloped as we speak because it simply didn’t deliver … at a cost of more than $50,000 to the organisation that wanted the glamour.  And I’m helping them.  Finally.

Lucky I gave them my card.

Because what builds community – on your web site or in your social media space – is the benefit to the consumer. And that is inevitably done through content.

Think of your own web usage. Which web sites do you frequent? Why? What comes to mind – what you can do, what you can find, the time they save you, the money they save you? Now describe their logo and how its placement balances the rest of the page.

Please note… I am not saying all design is pointless or advocating for black text on a white page and that’s it. But to say you’re going to redesign a web site as a solution to the fact no-one engages with it is like me buying a decrepit house to renovate and just painting it.

So: how do you build community online?

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