Communities Boundary Maintenance and Behaviour Modification

June 11, 2012Comments Off

Some people get upset if you suggest removing members that aren't a good fit, especially if they haven't broken any rules. 

Online communities aren't inclusive, they're exclusive. They welcome the people that share the same interest, have the same strength of passion, and are a good personality fit. They exclude the others.

Communities are based around a strong common interest. You need outsiders to have insiders. The insiders are people that have crossed a boundary. That boundary is a depth of passion for the topic, skills acquired, experiences gained etc…

Your role is to ensure the strength of this boundary. This boundary is essential to having a strong sense of community. When that boundary weakens, the sense of community declines. 

The stronger the boundary, the stronger the sense of community.

If a newcomer doesn't share the same interest in your topic, or don't have the right personality fit, the boundary is weakened, the quality of discussions declines. The sense of community decreases followed steadily by activity and growth. We've all been in communities where this has happened.

These ill-suited members might never break a rule, but you still need to do what's best for the community. You can remove/tweak their posts, but that's time consuming. It's simply easier to be honest and tell the member this community isn't for them.

The counter-argument is you should try to change their behaviour. You should reason with them. You should explain the personality of the community. That's hard, if not impossible to achieve. When was the last time you changed your behaviour?

And is spending an out-sized amount of time changing the behaviour of one member the best use of your time? You could spend that time organizing an exciting event that members will love and will attract newcomers, or optimizing the newcomer to regular conversion ratio, or initiating/highlighting engaging discussions.

It's tough to change someones interest in the topic, or their personality. If someone is degrading the quality of discussion, I wouldn't hesitate to ask them to leave. 

This isn't customer service, it's community development. There are rules to the game that seem cold but benefit the community as a whole. Your goal isn't to please every person that drifts in, it's to develop a strong sense of community amongst a specific group of people.

You have to do what's best for the community. Or, to use a more familiar expression, you have to be cruel to be kind.

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