The familiar “dum-de-dum” theme tune of The Archers’ radio soap was an unexpected item on the programme of the Pharmaceutical Marketing Society’s autumn conference as members explored the elements of a successful community web site.

The Archers Addicts was used as an example of a successful community site by one of its creators, Keith Pollard of em:sevencommunications – who also works on more familiar online projects for healthcare companies.

The site brings together members of the The Archers fan club, the Archers Addicts, and brings in revenue by selling mugs, teddy bears and other Archers memorabilia in the Village Shop section of the site. It also generates lively discussion about the characters and the plot and enables members to talk to members of the cast in popular online sessions.

In more general terms, Pollard explained, the site illustrated the benefits of creating an online community: the sense of belonging and strengthened relationships with community members – whether they are soap fans, healthcare professionals or people living with a particular disease or condition.

He presented the audience with the dichotomy between content and conversation on websites, asking whether the medium was being used simply to present content – or whether visitors were engaged in a conversation. On a continuum of interactivity, content was the equivalent of a library, while conversation was a café.

Good content, said Pollard, offered value in terms of its importance and relevance to site users’ needs and also had the characteristics of focus, accessibility, being open to feedback and open to members’ contributions. Good conversation, he said, was a dialogue, not a monologue, reflected members’ interests, created close relationships and was managed and stimulated by a host.

He emphasised the need to link content to conversation and vice versa by encouraging members of the community to comment on content, leading members to chat rooms, linking online polls to discussion of results and listening to what members say. Strong communities take on a life of their own and it is important to involve members, identify and appoint champions and give them control.