A key process in scaling online communities is fostering a select group of insiders working behind the scenes of the community.
This group has several purposes:
- Reward active participants with greater trust, influence and power.
- Gain valuable feedback from members about what the community is/isn't doing well.
- Cultivate volunteers willing to help run areas of the community.
- Show community members that their opinions are being actively sought and utilised in the development of the community.
Most insider groups are usually comprised from either the longest-serving or most vocal members. These individually often self-select themselves for the group. This is a mistake and leads to groupthink.
There are several rules you can use to grow an insider group.
- Headhunt members. Don't wait for members join, actively seek out representatives from a variety of different sectors in your community. This include your most and least vocal, your most and least active, your longest serving and your newcomers and a range of members in-between.
- Heavily moderate discussions and schedule actions. Keep a clearly defined list of tasks that this group should be doing with fixed deadlines. Establish discussion topic and moderate discussions to gain opinions from all members. Publish a summary of what was discussed and agreed.
- Rotate membership. Change membership of this group at set intervals throughout the year. Don't change the entire group at once, just rotate the longest serving and/or least active members at set periods (every 3 - 4 months) throughout the year.
- Begin the group early. Start building the group early in the community with 5 to 10 members and gradually expand it as the community grows.
- Publish membership of the group. This group must give members a sense of status. Publish membership of the group. Write news posts about upcoming changes (e.g. "This week 20 new members will be chosen to join the exclusive 100 group, if you're not chosen this time - don't panic. You might be in a few months time.").
- Assign roles and responsibilities. Designate roles and responsibilities for members within the group. Content, moderation, recruitment, promotion, resolving disputes etc...
- Give the group a name. The group should have a name that is a clear symbol within the community.
- Publish a clear manifesto and rules for the group. Make sure the group has a clear set of guidelines and rules. Refer to this group in the community about page and be clear about what the boundaries of the group are.
This applies more to larger communities which are prone to member criticisms, breakaway factions and loss of focus on their member needs. Much of these potential problems can be prevented by fostering an active insider group.