Paul Chaney started an interesting conversation on The Society for Word of Mouth (a Ning Group) with his posting on How are the numbers shaking out? He asked the critical question "... once you get members into a niche social network/online community, how do you keep them engaged?"
Sounds familiar to those of us working with and for components - ASAE & The Center's nomenclature for groups within associations formed around geography, subject, issue, task, professional practice area, etc. We are struggling on many levels. Are they providing member service, meeting member needs? How do we know if they are truly successful, truly worth the effort and cost?
And the question often comes down to what is a healthy community? Some try to measure by size, others by some measure of the group's ability to fulfill it's legal and organizational obligations. A couple of years ago, Mariner did a survey of associations to identify the make-or-break elements for a chapter. Size wasn't one. (Read the report here).
I liked that Paul took the approach of answering what is a healthy community in terms of adjectives. He asked his Twitter friends to submit one word that characterized a healthy community. Some of the replies he posted: Participate, interact, respond, have patience, listen, act, think, "liquor," engage, contribute, relevance, respect, time, tenacity.
I'd add "fun!" and the "ability to come & go without retribution." Why the latter? Well live gets busy and a community that cares will give people time off.
ASAE & The Center is launching a study to focus on the influence of geographic components (think chapters) on the decision to join (for more info email me firstname.lastname@example.org). This study will certainly help shape the questions we can ask to discover what makes a healthy community. In the meanwhile, chime in on your opinions.