Community Triage: 5 Common Symptoms and Diagnoses






Lesson 1 for the day: Do not put a plastic cutting board in the oven.


Lesson 2: Do not grab with bare hands to take it out.


My recent life lessons brought me to the ER waiting room to watch the triage nurses in their element. As each patient arrived, the triage nurses examined their vitals, assessed their symptoms and diverted them to the appropriate area of the hospital, based on their most likely diagnoses. Some patients with quick-fixes were “fast tracked”, others were sent to the ER Doctor and still others were transferred to specialty departments in other areas of the building.


While waiting to be treated, it occurred to me that much of what I do with clients is triage. Community Practitioners share the challenges their networks are experiencing. From there we can usually identify the most likely diagnosis and point them in the right direction for help.


In light of this, here are the top five most common symptoms I see, along with what might be causing them:



1. No Engagement: Think of this symptom like the common cold. Every community lives through it at some point. The risk factors?

  • The Shared Purpose of The Community Does Not Resonate. If the purpose of your community was dictated by your organization, and does not reflect user buy in, members have no reason to participate.

  • Stage Fright. When members feel self doubt about their contributions, they are likely to just skip them all together.

  • No Community Manager. Ships without a Captain never get far. Communities with no community manager (or a community manager who has a dozen other job responsibilities outside of the community) are unlikely to be lively.



2. Lost Engagement:So you are cruising along with steady engagement and then…. it drops off. What happened?

  • The Content or Programming has Become Stale. Do you want to eat the same thing for dinner every night? Neither does your community. Engagement may drop if you do not adapt your content to shifting needs and interests.

  • Dissatisfaction or Distrust. Did someone break the “What happens in community, stays in community” rule? Did your organization remove a beloved member? If so, your members could be giving you the cold shoulder because you lost their trust.

  • Competing Channels. The cool kids might be sitting at a different lunch table. New, competing ways to achieve the shared purpose and value of the community group will often divert engagement.



3. Unanswered Questions: When you have engagement in your community, members are comfortable asking questions, but no one will answer them… it’s about as irksome as a fresh paper cut. Here’s what could be happening:

  • No SME’s. Communities need members with varied areas of interest and expertise. This way, everyone becomes both a question-asker and a Subject Matter Expert in their own way.

  • Jargon. Have you ever had a Doctor tell you you are suffering from “Dyspepsia”? It means you have an upset stomach. So why didn’t they just say so?! If your members are asking questions full of jargon, the terminology may be confusing others who would have otherwise been able to answer.

  • Consumption Culture. If you have touted community solely as a place to receive value, members may have been conditioned to take from the community, and less inclined to add to it.



Faceless Community: Can we keep this anonymous? If your community is devoid of profile pictures and bios, it may be a sign of a few issues:

  • Lack of Connection. In many communities, members view the space as a resource hub, not as a place to make connections with others.

  • Lack of Trust. No one wants to be spotted in the rough part of town. If your community has picked up a reputation as being a poor use of work time, no one will want to show their face there.

  • Lack of Investment. Do your members consider themselves members? Are you sure? Users who want to “just drop by” are unlikely to commit with a profile picture.


Unorganized Content: Messy communities will distract from your shared purpose and frustrate members who are looking for a particular item. There are a few reasons your surgical field could be tough to keep sterile.

  • Poor Architecture. If your site is unintuitive, it is no wonder things never get put away correctly.

  • Too Many Sub Groups. Too many choices make for bad choices. Your members might be logging content in the wrong places due to confusion.

  • No Community Manager. …or an under resourced community manager. If you do not have someone to dictate taxonomy and guide content into the correct channels, don’t be surprised when things get cluttered.



What are the most common symptoms your community comes down with?