The fine art of asking questions of your community: Best practices

Case study overview: Mid-sized technology company, over 400 members in their innovation community, primarily early adopters from their customer base and selected partners. The community has been run for about 7+ months now and has been “moderately” successful.

Why moderately? Metrics that were set initially were pretty agressive – create a new subline particle product (in an adjascent market) within 1 year that can be a potential $50 Million business in 3 years.

Reviewing other metrics, they are pretty successful: Page views, message interactions, offline community building, etc. are all “up and to the right”.

Keeping metrics aside for a second, if you ask the question “What is the burning desire for the members of the community to participate?” – (hence the image at the top BTW) we get one very interesting answer:

Great discussions were a result of great questions asked by the community members that prompted a passionate response. Great iscussions were the “burning desire” for the erudite crowd of their participants.

So we dig further: What were the questions and can we categorize them. Here are the categories we came up with:

1. Hypothetical questions: These are best used to test and explore. If someone has a hunch to go down the path for further discussion:
E.g. What if ….? or How come this…. and not…?

2. Elaborating questions: These take something the community all together knows and can extend beyond to foster imaginative behavior:
E.g. What does …. mean? What’s missing from ….?

3. Provocative questions: These challenge your conventional wisdom and also are meant to push people. Done right they tend to be the longest discussion threads. Take my own example at future of communities.
E.g. Are we really sure…? Is there a point ?

So to get better discussion in your community, what types questions are being asked?