In a recent post, we discussed four common misconceptions of community health. These misconceptions stem from organizations not understanding the factors that contribute to community health and failing to assess community strengths and weaknesses.

Over the last 20 years, we have helped some of the world’s smartest and most innovative companies create vibrant knowledge-sharing communities. In our experience, there are five characteristics found in every healthy community:

1. Growth

Ongoing adoption is a critical component to community health and success. To deliver continued value, membership must continue to grow long after launch. New members bring added value to your community by sharing fresh perspectives, creative ideas, and expertise. Market your community to new users and clearly define it as a resource designed to meet their needs, whether that’s Q&A, knowledge sharing, or customer support.

2. Useful Content

Shared content is one of the strongest attractions to community members. Content – documentation, knowledge articles, questions, answers, ideas for additional or new uses – delivers a powerful user experience through demand-driven knowledge sharing. Members can learn from one another and companies can gain valuable feedback from customers (and employees) who use their products and services.

3. Engagement

People come to a community because they want to learn and collaborate with other members. A key community success indicator is engagement. Without interaction, your community dries up. To understand if engagement is where it should be, take a look at what your audience is doing – they should be visiting frequently, discussing new ideas, earning reputation points or badges for addressing questions, regularly posting new questions, and sharing best practices. These interactions not only lead to quality engagement, but a valuable user experience that will keep your audience coming back.

4. Positive Culture

To create a user-friendly experience, community managers must establish and enforce guidelines, control the tone, and monitor user behavior. If not, members can quickly be scared away by others or inappropriate content will litter your community. Fear of participation can kill a community. Community managers must ensure the community remains a place where everyone is welcome to share ideas and learn without the fear of ridicule or embarrassment. They should address guideline violations immediately and suspend users when necessary to ensure a positive, beneficial community culture.

5. Responsiveness

Remember, people come to a community because they want and need information of value – both general and specific. If a user posts a question only to receive an answer weeks later – or worse, never at all – the odds are he or she won’t come back to your community anytime soon. Community managers or moderators should review the number of questions, both answered and unanswered, as well as time to answer. It is critical the community responds to the needs of its members and members not only receive the help they need, but feel encouraged to help others within the community find answers to their questions.