Own Your Community

by Laura Dobrzynski-Gessner

on December 15, 2011

Each of our 73 sites has a common goal: to own their community. Taking ownership means (in part) figuring out how to promote the site, make it attractive to newcomers, and make the awesome content and community even more awesome. While we have internal- and external-facing teams of employees to help with this, Stack Exchange is fundamentally driven by the people who use it. Here are a couple of ways that two Stack Exchange communities have come up with to improve their sites.**


One of the things we pride ourselves on is the ridiculously high answer rates on our sites. (Some other sites won’t publish their answer rates.) This doesn’t just magically happen, though. It takes a concerted effort by dedicated users. Travel Stack Exchange users held an answer-a-thon event on Halloween to clean up the site’s unanswered questions. What’s special about this approach is that – though they did knock their “unanswered question” count from 19 to 0 in a single evening – they also encouraged users to add new information to already answered questions to keep them fresh and relevant. To create a little camaraderie in the cleanup event, there was a simultaneous chat event, which was announced in the answer-a-thon meta post. Some people might view a list of unanswered questions as a tedious chore, but if you know that friends will be around in chat to keep you company as you work through that list, it makes the task much more enjoyable. And hey, you might get to meet some new interesting people you might not otherwise have interacted with!

Since the first event was successful, the Travel SE community is doing it again this month. They are also taking this model and applying it to other housekeeping tasks that can be key differentiators between a good site and an awesome site: for example, the community is now working on sorting out tags and has an ongoing call to fill out tag wikis. (Bonus points if your call to action includes a custom graphic with photos of company founders.)

Topic Challenge

The Jewish Life and Learning community employs a unique means of encouraging a stream of new topics: their weekly topic challenge. It’s simple, yet effective: users propose topics on meta, which are voted up or down based on what other users would like to answer, and the week’s topic is announced through a separate meta thread every week.

Choosing a new theme each week is a tactic that works. I know that, personally, there are sites where I’d love to contribute more, but sometimes coming up with a question can be tough. These topic prompts can break this writer’s block and nudge users into articulating what it is they want to ask. Trying to come up with a single question among the many possibilities of a site’s scope is overwhelming sometimes.

In summary, these are two great methods that any Stack Exchange site can adopt to improve their site and strengthen ties among users:

  • Turn housekeeping chores into a party by encouraging users to be in your chat room during the concerted effort at [X activity] – for technical support, discussion of site-related issues, or amiable chatter to help pass the time.

  • Adopt a “Topic Challenge” to encourage a continual flow of new content about interesting topics.

Do you participate on a Stack Exchange site that has come up with some good ideas to promote or improve the community? Let us know in the comments if you have great examples that can inspire other users!

** These two are examples; many of our sites have run successful initiatives that they started with little or no help from Stack Exchange employees. But let’s be honest: this post would be far too long if I listed every great thing initiated by each of our sites.

Note: The proper method of promotion for these community-inspired initiatives is each site’s meta, or (if the site is graduated) by generating community ads. System messages are inappropriate for announcing a recurring event and should be reserved for truly important, rare occurrences like moderator elections or site maintenance.