As the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Craft Critique, I often long for an Oprah-esque “What I Know For Sure” moment. Also referred to as the Jerry Springer “Final Thought,” or the Jon Stewart “Meet Me at Camera Three,” editors yearn for opportunities to step from behind their Wizard-of-Oz-curtain and share an opinion, or ten.
Sure, my segment doesn’t have a fancy title… maybe it will someday (suggestions welcomed). For now we will refer to it as “A Note From Our Editor” since “Sarah Speaks” or “Sarah’s Soapbox” smacks of narcissism.
So what is it that is making me open my big mouth today? A bit of drama in the world of online crafting communities… the second sale of popular web forums Craftster.org and Splitcoaststampers.com. Both communities are personal favorites of mine, and both veterans in the world of crafty forums. These are two companies that have set the bar for what a crafty community should be. Both communities built out of a love of craft and grown into successful, thriving, families of crafters.
You can read all about the details of the sales on Craftster HERE and Splitcoaststampers HERE. I don’t have any news you don’t have access to yourselves. I do want to offer my commentary, hear yours, and offer our readers a place to share about what they think makes online communities successful, or not.
Note: Craftster and Splitcoaststampers “ain’t goin’ no place” anytime soon. These are two communities built from a strong foundation. They have dedicated members that aren’t about to up and abandon a site just because their founders have left. But the change does beg the question, what makes an online community successful, what makes one fail, and what makes one a hot commodity?
Building Success: For me, people are the key. Leadership that isn’t just out there moderating the heck out of a site, but participating as well. Getting the conversation going, welcoming new members, sharing their expertise, and keeping things positive are all imperative. In my experience, Craftster and Splitcoaststampers are great examples of all these components. The plain and simple fact that all the leaders on both sites are just darn nice people helps too.
What is the site offering? Other than crafty chat, what’s there to see? Tutorials, galleries, challenges, contests… what keeps members returning? What is the reward? On the most successful sites I participate in, an easy-to-search gallery of inspiration is key. Free patterns and tutorials a close second, and a place to show off a bit can be nice too. Who doesn’t like having their ego stroked?
Keeping Things Friendly: I often hear people complaining about some communities being cliquey, or hard to break into. I personally haven’t experienced this, but I am a “put it all out there” kind of gal. Most forums tend to amplify reality to the nth degree… a little cliquey in the real world, a lot cliquey online. Besides, there is that whole “this isn’t the real world” perception that tends to mess with people’s heads.
Sometimes forums do get nasty and dramatic because the face-to-face element is gone. Sometimes, the meanness is caused by downright crazy people just being crazy. I often say, “for all you know these people are eating raw bacon dipped in mayonnaise as they are posting.” A good community has a zero tolerance policy for nastiness. Posts that attack or disparage are deleted immediately and members banned or suspended.
To Profit or Not to Profit? Do members care about advertising? Is it perceived negatively as muddling up a site? In most cases I don’t think so. As a frequent forum lurker, I assume advertising is what keeps the servers running. As a site owner myself, I know that selling advertising is just as challenging as running the community can be. Site owners deserve the cash, and the only other option is selling product, and personally, I wouldn’t want to touch retail with a 10-foot pole… but that’s just me. Many of the most successful forums are supported by retail sales. But if the shop closes, so likely will the forum.
Some larger retailers like EK Success’ new Spotted Canary have recently launched into web community building. They seem to do a good job keeping the fact that they are owned by EK Success on the down low.
The Future of Forums: I think most site owners would agree that the rise of blogging and the addition of Facebook and Twitter has dramatically reduced forum traffic.
Here below are some communities frequented by our staff and fans… feel free to add your own in the comments below. Visit these sites, poke around and tell us what you think!
We’d love for you to weigh in on some of the topics I’ve introduced above. What makes a great community? What makes one fail? What is missing in the world of crafty communities, and how can we all help bring multiple craft genres and generations together in one place of inspiration and sharing?