Chats in online communities: a logical step towards better user engagement

Posted on by Roman Orlovskyy

We love online communities for providing a comfortable place to touch base with people who have the same concerns and views, to share experience, to get help and advice. Moreover, even for non-members, searchable online communities are a priceless source of first-hand information – we all like to read user reviews when choosing a product, don’t we?

There are lots of statistical data showing that people generally tend to trust user reviews better than business ads. We browse dedicated community boards when we need peer support and encouragement on any matter of our lives – from choosing a book to read to applying for a job.

The value of online communities for members and non-members alike is hard to overestimate. Yet, even the most popular communities have been noticing a tendency for groups of users to fall off and form closer-knit sub-communities on other platforms using other real-time messaging apps. The reason was found soon – online communities in their basic format failed to provide one of the necessary functions – a space for private conversation.

In this post, we will try to analyze why community members may seek chatting options and how online communities can resolve this problem and retain their user base by adding a chat function.

Reddit’s Place phenomenon

The story of Reddit’s April Fool experiment is a perfect example of a community naturally coming to the idea of implementing in-app chat. On April 1, 2017, Reddit launched its social experiment called Place. More than 100,000 communities (which are called subreddits in that corner of the Internet) were invited to participate.

The point of the game was to add pixels of different colors to a 1000×1000 canvas and eventually change their colors to create a certain image. The communities joined the challenge with enthusiasm, and when the project ended 72 hours later, the result was a complicated mosaic of art, patriotic symbols, flags, logos, sports emblems, and a lot more. The primary purpose of the experiment – showing how total strangers can collaborate towards a common goal – was achieved, and the project left both the participants and the watchers equally excited.

However, during the experiment, the organizers noticed a distinct trend in the participating communities – while discussing their pixel-placing strategy, they took their conversations elsewhere rather than messaging in their subreddit boards. The subreddit board proved unsuitable for the purpose, as to see new messages you need to refresh the page. Time was critical, and the communities started to move to Slack, Google Docs or Facebook Messenger.

This observation got the Reddit team thinking about introducing the chat feature in their community, so that to keep members from looking for other options. Any subreddit can start its own chat room to hold community-related conversations. Chats implemented directly in the community platform are going to keep the users within the Reddit ecosystem while offering the instant communication option with the degree of privacy that a closed community might seek.

What can we conclude from Reddit’s example?

While Reddit is a “super-community” giving space to a great number of groups, from blockchain enthusiasts to expectant mothers, communities formed around a single field of interest can also experience the same tendency to create smaller groups needing a private space to chat.

For example, a community dedicated to cooking and recipes is eventually going to form sub-communities for dieters, vegans, ethnic cuisine lovers, raw food enthusiasts, meat eaters, just to name a few. Or, in a music community, you will soon find groups for classical, rock, indie, ambient, as well as groups for fans of particular bands or performers. In all cases, users will gravitate towards one or several smaller communities seeking soul mates. The next logical step will be to look for a space to chat privately or in a small group of like-minded people.

If we again look at the list of Reddit communities dedicated to music, we will find pages after pages of subreddit names by genre, period, region, performer, as well as other criteria. In each group, people band together according to their music preferences and tastes.


Image credit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Music/wiki/musicsubreddits

Communities are designed to share thoughts, ideas, and knowledge, to ask questions and receive answers, to seek assistance and empathy. They are highly searchable, as one of their primary purposes is to provide public information. A dedicated community maintaining high quality of its content is sure to attract more users who are going to generate more content. That is the natural cycle of any online community allowing it to grow and gain popularity, but it leaves no space for private communication, either one-on-one or in a small group.

For this reason, community members start looking for other places where they can chat away from the public eye. When the community does not offer a chat feature, users may opt for a different tool, such as Slack or Facebook Messenger or other real-time chat apps. The danger here is that users may also find it comfortable enough to continue communicating outside the community and abandon it completely.

This leads to the idea of enhancing the community with an in-built chat function, so that the users can both participate in the public forums where they can express their opinions, share links, images, and videos, join publicly available discussions, and have an option of chatting to each other privately.

What can online communities gain by adding a real-time chat?

For the users, the ability to chat right within the familiar environment of their community gives, on the one hand, privacy that can hardly be achieved on forum boards, and, on the other hand, real-time messaging that, again, a forum board cannot provide. Real-time messaging will be appreciated, for example, by sports fans who will be able to watch a game live and comment on it in real time.

For the community, chats have much more meaningful benefits. Since their members are not leaving the community platform to chat, the engagement and retention is much higher. This is the ultimate goal of integrating a feature into the native user experience – to not let the user leave! Once they leave, they may not return.

By implementing the chat function, the community continues to serve as the place where members can express their public thoughts, ask questions for everyone to answer and publish searchable content; at the same time, the community provides an opportunity for private real-time conversation for those who need it.

Which communities will be the first to benefit from implementing chats?

Of course, if we talk about privacy, the first thing that comes to mind are healthcare communities. While people generally tend to discuss health matters in private, there are also multiple regulations in effect, such as HIPAA, that require service providers to ensure the protection of patients’ data. Healthcare communities sometimes also provide space for telemedicine consultations that definitely require an option of a secure video or text chat between a doctor and a patient.

In the same context, we can also mention communities that are very close to healthcare, such as expectant or new mothers, as well as fitness and diet groups. Besides, forums discussing legal or financial issues may also appreciate an option of private conversation.

Various religious, charity or other non-profit organizations often run online communities to circulate their news or messages and bring new followers. Such communities often serve for donation purposes where privacy and discretion are sometimes critical. Direct communication hidden from the rest of the community as well as from the rest of the Internet may be greatly appreciated here.

Speaking about privacy, we should also mention LGBT communities that, by their nature, tend to remain as private as possible. While maintaining public platforms to declare their values and hold open discussions, LGBT communities will also benefit from the possibility of chatting in private, when needed.

Sports or game communities are going to love the real-time messaging possibility, as in their field of interest time is often critical. A chat room discussing a live game or a multiplayer strategy is often the very essence of such communities uniting enthusiasts from around the globe.

Generally, any community will benefit from a chat function. Whatever its main field is, any group is likely to break into smaller groups that will need a private space.

The solution

In fact, we have named the solution already, and more than once. Adding a customizable chat feature to the online community is going to resolve the members’ privacy problem and retain them within the community perimeter. This way, the community will maintain its public platform that is the main focus of its activity and also create a private chat space.

If you are thinking about how to make a real-time chat application, there is a much simpler solution. The most straightforward way of adding a chat to a community is by using a ready-made chat functionality that can be integrated via a real-time chat API. QuickBlox SDK is a secure and effective solution for implementing chats in any online platform. Our products can be used to integrate both a text chat and a real-time video chat to enable the most natural face-to-face communication.

We offer highly customizable feature-rich communication software that is easily integratable into most platforms. Our real-time chat servers run in secure cloud services complying to all current requirements to user data protection. The QuickBlox chat SDK allows to add messaging to your app in an easy and intuitive way.Contact our experts for a consultation, and we will gladly help you to add the real-time chat feature that your members are going to love. Browse our website to see the communication solutions that QuickBlox offers. Visit our documentation page for the technical descriptions of our products, guides and code samples.