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So I think this is a judgment call. I have run lithium communities that have gone both ways and I think it depends on the focus of your community.
Certainly back in the early days of lithium it was considered best practice to give your visitors a place to discuss "off topic" matters as this lifts engagement and gives users a sense of belonging in the community.
Brands that try to focus the discussions solely about the brands and services they offer find that customers only come to ask about their products or services and then they go away again. Now if you only have 5 products that's not going to sustain your community.
Similarly if your community does thought leadership and encourages users to share with you how your products or services are used to better their lives, the lives of their community or other real world situations then a "off topic" area may not be required.
You know your community best and I would encourage you to speak to your Lithium Customer Success Manager to make sure you land any "off topic" area appropriately and that your code of conduct allows for the growth of conversations without encouraging trolls which tends to be a turn of to visitors and members alike.
You could also ideate the concept with your community members or super users and ask them what would they use such a space for.
The golden rule for community is always be clear what your objective for your new space will be, put procedures, policies and moderation in place to support it and do not ever call it a "General Discussion" area!
We have this place for many of our internal communities. It turns out that it is a positive for engagement as it allows discussion on topics that don't relate to the structure. We had trialed this for our external community as well and it was used sparingly. I think the issue there was that different partners didn't feel comfortable sharing off topic items based on their company reputation. It wasn't an issue to have it available but it just wasn't used that often. I personally don't see a negative with having it in either space, unless you get topics that are inappropriate in any way.
My advice is have one, maybe two...
No two communities are the same and sure the community has to meet and deliver on your business objectives but calling a community "a community" doesn't make it one.
I have several "off brand topic" boards in my community and i actually feel they are vital to any community after-all how best to find and forge strong relationships than over a discussion about a shared interest.
Sure your product/service is a shared interest but in my experience you need more than that. I run a B2C community in the telco space "boring right" this is why i have areas dedicated to Tv, movies, tech, sports etc... On average these account for about 20% of the discussions in my community.
What you got to lose, add the board, seed some discussions and if it's flatter than a pancake after a few weeks just archive it and chalk it up to experience.
I appreciate everyone's insights thus far. we will most likely move forward with a "water cooler" type space.
I'd say that it's worth asking the community(or your superusers) before you do it . I suggested this to our members a while back, and they pretty much universally said "no thanks!"
Here's the thread, if you're curious:
(The "Off the Stack" board they mention is for general topics related to our company / products, but not completely off-topic / social conversations)
Thanks for sharing your practical and applicable case study, @CarolineS! We're currently transitioning from another platform to Lithium; so I'll go ahead and ask our members in what we're currently using. Thanks again!