Month: December 2014
If you think you're going to save a community, you probably won't.
There is a term for this. It's called the messiah complex (or saviour complex).
It's typically when an outsider spots a problem they think they can resolve. They believe they have have access to unique skills, knowledge, or resources which will solve a community problem.
However, the problem is usually too complex for the solution. Once you begin trying to solve a group problem, you learn about this complexity. You learn about internal politics, member apathy, fear of change, and distrust of outsiders.
You might provide the audience with the perfect solution to a problem and they won't embrace it because others haven't (or, frustratingly, others have).
Too many communities are saviour projects. Outsiders (or nominal insiders) spot a problem they can solve and think "the community really needs this!".
It's just not going to happen.
To build and help a community you have to be accepted as one of them. You have to withhold your judgement, your beliefs, and even your values as you progress through the social layers of the group.
It's only once you've been a highly active member of the group that you can really connecting people to make small, incremental, progress. You can throw your time, effort, and resources behind the direction that the group wants to move towards.
But don't get to set the direction.
Note: Relevant article on Everyday Sociology.
Many platform vendors are going through a tough time.
Others are experiencing breakneak growth
Part of that can be attributed to the PR, marketing and sales teams of each.
The rest is trend-related. The big trend is where we experience a community.
Do we go to distinct, carefully branded, destinations to experience the community?
Or does the community come to us through existing channels?
This swings back and forth. Communities like The WELL came to us. Forums and most communities since were places we went to. Now it's swinging back.
It's getting harder and harder to persuade people to go to a place to experience a community.
Attention is finite and competition is ferocious. To persuade members to go to a place we need every member to drop an existing habit and create a new one. That's only going to get harder to do. There will be big, inspiring, winners. I wouldn't bet on being one of those winners.
The great exceptions like communities hosted by Lithium/Jive and co prevail by heavy marketing and forcing members to use them. If I have a question about my GiffGaff sim card, I have to go to the GiffGaff community to answer it.
If you're working on a community platform today, I'd focus on ensuring the community can come to members through their existing habits. This means e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, mobile, and other channels they use. These habits will continually evolve and platforms should evolve to those habits.
The design and look of the traditional community platform will matter less because less people will visit the platform. They will respond to interactions as the interactions come to them.
Right now many rely on e-mail. But e-mail isn't secure – especially for the coming generation of members.
The platforms that don't allow members to respond and participate within their existing medium will struggle. Those that get this right will thrive.
4 years ago, Rebecca Newton and Oxana Morozowska realized we had too few events for too many community professionals in the UK.
Even the events we had were too basic for our advanced level.
They rallied the e-mint association and created the Virtual Community Summit - an event that finally united community pros in the UK.
Last year, they generously passed the baton to us. We invited the world’s top community researchers to bridge the growing divide between what they've discovered and what we apply.
The future (SPRINT Europe)
This year we’re striving for something greater. We’re going beyond London, beyond the UK, and hosting an event for all of Europe’s top community professionals.
We’re sunsetting the Virtual Community Summit and rebranding it as SPRINT. This lets us share videos from our USA events to those in the UK and vice-versa.
You might not get approval to cross an ocean to see USA’s elite in person, but your organization can get all the talks for free when you sign up for SPRINT Europe.
We're still finalizing the speaker line-up, but you can get a preview here.
- What: SPRINT Europe
- Who: 250 community professionals
- When: Feb 24 – 25, 2015
- Where: London, UK (Royal Institution)
- Attend: http://sprinteurope.feverbee.com
Gustav explained this 119 years ago.
Crowds (and communities) are irrational, illogical, and easily swayed by those with charisma making loud, absolutist, arguments.
Your're probably thinking "ha, yes, they are….but not me!".
Are you sure? Do you hold a believe that isn't support by evidence. For example, you might believe that community management is a rapidly growing field.
In which case, can you explain how many of us there are? By what % has the profession grown? What % of companies have hired one?
If the answer is no, then it's an irrational opinion you've adopted from the crowd.
Once we form this opinion it's reinforced by everyone in the crowd we speak to. This makes it seem more true than it is. It may be based on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence ('look at all these community manager jobs posted on jobs boards!')
In itself this isn't terrible. Communities need shared beliefs and values. But community members take action based upon beliefs acquired from their social groups. This might cause them harm.
The bigger problem is countering these false beliefs. Evidence alone doesn't do the job. Does this grapth persuade you that community management isn't growing? I bet you're challenging the data in this graph (instead of finding evidence that trumps it).
Anecdotal examples and crowd opinion is stronger than data-driven evidence.
You can't tell members their beliefs are wrong. They don't want to listen to you. You can't give data-driven evidence. They will forever find the tiniest of flaws in the data to save their opinions. In fact, it's really hard to persuade people en-masse. The Obama birther movement is a great example.
However, you can reach out to people individually and make more rational arguments. You can try to build a relationship with these members. If they like and trust you, they're more likely to accept your evidence. When and if they express opinions driven by data, you can promote those opinions to the broader group.
You can challenge the leaders gaining authority through repitition, rather than validation, of their arguments.
If a community holds a false-opinion, simply giving them data or evidence that disproves it won't change their minds. You need to persuade individuals and promote the opinions of those individuals.
In most large groups, there is a core group of members at the top and everyone else scrambing for rewards at the bottom.
This core group take the lions share of rewards (money, good jobs, attention, reputation). Everyone else competes for what's left over.
People usually accept this social order is based upon meritocracy. If people are at the top, they must have done something of merit to be at the top. This is known as a legitimizing myth.
Sometimes it might be true.
The people at the top may have done something of merit to be there, at least initially. Since then they have helped to perpetuate this cycle that benefits a status quo with them at the top.
For example, a conference selects a known person from the group to speak. This person brings their audience to the conference. By speaking, their reputation grows and they receive job offers from bigger companies. This makes them more likely to be invited to speak at future events* etc…
The speaker benefits, the conference benefits, and the hiring manager gets to say they recruited a superstar. Even the audience is culperable. Who wants to listen to a speaker they've never heard of?**
It's a great system if you're at the top of it.
The problem is the lack mobility. If people perceive social layers as impermeable they participate less. If newcomers don't believe they can break into the top clique, they either leave or become silent followers (lurkers).
People will always eventually tire from the top group and look for places where they can move between up the social status ladder.
Every community will have a clique. In itself, it's not a bad thing. It's a group of people that know each other. The problem occurs when that clique is at the top of the social ladder and strangling the opportunities for others to emerge.
In every single gorup, there are newcomers doing exciting things and with new ideas. The great opportunity is to take the social risk yourself, as a community professional, and throw your support behind these people. You usually have to seek out the very people doing the things the clique dislikes and promote them.
The people at the top will denounce their ideas, attack the newcomer's lack of experience, and challenge their work. That's going to be annoying. But in the long run, it will work out far better for you and your community. You get to prove the wall are impermeable and, perhaps, that rising up the social status ladder really is based upon recent merit.
* In fact, many conferences select speakers via recommendations from existing speakers, a rather overt form of status quo collaboration.
** Often the audience knows what the speaker is going to say, they just want to hear him/her say it.
Here's a simplified way of deciding whether your organisation should start a community.
You need 1 full-time community professional.
You need to give him/her 10 months to develop the community to critical mass from a standing start. S/he will need to build relationships, help develop a platform, and proactively build up activity.
And it's going to cost you around $100k to get there. That covers the community manager's salary and cost of getting a simple platform up and running.
If you're a passionate amateur, you might be able to do it in less time and for less money. You already have existing contacts to invite to join the community and your platform requirements will be far less.
If you're building a community for an organisation, this is a good benchmark to begin with. If you can't provide this, it's probably best not to develop the community.
Visit Netropolitan, a new community for rich people.
Notice the messages they use to promote the community:
– Worldwide: Meet discerning, like-minded individuals from across the globe who share your lifestyle, passions and interests
– Private and Secure: The entire service is inaccessible from the public Internet, including search engines, and all member transmissions to and from Netropolitan are encrypted. We do not sell or give away member data.
– Ad-Free: Absolutely no third-party or display advertising is sold or shown, and we push no paid promotions to our members. (However, we do allow businesses to create groups and members to advertise to each other, under strict guidelines)
– Moderated: The Netropolitan community is monitored by the Club’s own moderators, ensuring a pleasant and courteous experience for all
– Always available: In addition to a polished desktop interface, members can connect via special versions for tablets and mobile web browsers
If you're building an exclusive community, don't promote the features of the site. Being ad-free, moderated, always available, and even private/secure aren't big factors in someone deciding to join. Most assume that this is true of most online communities anyhow.
There are three key factors to promote an exclusive community:
1) Who are the members? This is by far the most important. We want to join groups that have people we consider slightly above our peer group.
2) How are members accepted? We want to know the membership criteria. If anyone is allowed in, we don't want to be members.
3) What do members do? This is the final part – what do members do? Or, even better, what have members done?
If you're building an exclusive community, promote its exclusivity – not its platform features.
Update: Read this article by Fast Company on exclusive communities.
In our dream world, every community professional would be a grand master of social sciences, technology, and data.
In this dream world, community work wouldn't be performed by newcomers who drifted into the field, it would be performed by community professionals with a fierce desire to use this deep well of knowledge to build powerful, invaluable, communities.
We would come into every staff meeting ready to outline exactly what we're going to achieve and what we need from the company to achieve it. We would be the unquestioned experts of community expertise.
We would use rigid data analysis and community development theory to design social structures that ensure a newcomer joins and participates. If they didn't, we would have an awesome arsenal of weapons to test until they committed members.
We would use conflict theory to stops petty disputes before they escalate into full-blown fights. We would know the exact words to turn a disgruntled member into a excited advocate.
We would use a library of case studies/templates/examples to design and develop our own community sites. We would know exactly how much to spend and who to trust to develop our communities. We would stop wasting so much time and money on terrible sites.
We would embed core principles of motivation to persuade members to accept the group norms, embrace the group values, and ensure other members did too. We would motivate every member to contribute every scrap of knowledge for the benefit of the group.
The past 4 years
4 years ago, we began inching closer to this dream by creating a professional-level course for frustrated community experts.
We put every drop of knowledge, experience, and expertise we have about communities into this course. In the past 4 years, we've taken 250+ terrific community professionals through an intense tunnel of knowledge and helped them develop thriving communities for the world's leading organisations.
This isn't a course to tell you communities are important or you need to be nice to members. That's far below our level. This is a course designed to make you a highly-regarded expert inside and outside of your organisation.
Our mission has been to take communities out of the dark ages; where anecdotal examples, superstition, and misplaced assertions reign supreme and into an enlightened field of proven psychology, facts, and data. We want to change this field from a soft, silly, subject into a proven, practical, and factual discipline.
On January 6th, 2015, immediately after the new year, we're relaunching our professional online community management course.
Groups like to be told the positive traits they believe they have.
This is known as in-group language.
Read any speech from a US president, it's loaded with in-group language. Everyone wants to identify with the positive traits the president is giving to Americans.
The president is creating an in-group which includes himself and everybody listening.
It's a rhetoric tactic you can use in your community too.
When you address a community, you can highlight the positive values of that group constantly in your messages. You can do this in your one to one discussions, in your mailing lists, and in your forum posts.
You can put it in every announcement.
If you were addressing community professionals, you might highlight their dedication to helping members from all walks of life, for working 24/7, for never completely shutting off and abandoning their community over a weekend. You can congratulate them for tirelessly fighting the trolls and digital bullies of this world.
These are traits that many of us would identify with.
The benefit of using in-group language is it encourages members to better categorize their identity with that group. They identify as a member. They participate more and recommend the group more.
If you're not sure where to begin, most groups like to be told they're humble, hard-working, generous, kind, passionate, ambitious, disciplined, and well organized. You can identify other traits yourself.
During FeverBee SPRINT, we received a complaint about an attendee.
This attendee was perceived as rude, overly self-promotional, critical of all group ideas, and clearly not a good match for the terrific group of community professionals at the event.
This was the same attendee who had been difficult to deal with before the event.
He criticised the speaker line-up, demanded to use multiple discount-codes, and was abbrasive to deal with throughout.
One solution would have been not to sell the attendee a ticket.
But we felt that would be unfair.
Instead we allowed him to attend. He upset one or two people and was a distraction for us to deal with on a busy day.
This links back to the ethical dilemma. If we can predict a bad member by their early actions, should we remove them before they've caused problems?
I think we should.
As community professionals, we have a strange concept of fairness. We allow members we know to be unsuitable for a community to join and harrass our members just so we can remove them. That's due process right?
But this makes no sense in a community. Why allow someone to negatively influence your community when you can remove them before they do?