How To Maintain A Great Community Spirit As Your Community Grows

August 21, 2012Comments Off

Matt Cheney points to this disgruntled Hacker News member.

The community isn’t the same anymore, he says, people are less constructive, less helpful, more snipey.

This is one opinion, from one member, on one day. It might reflect the concensus. We need data to test this. However, let’s assume it’s true for now.

When a community is launched, it attracts the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, or friendly members. It’s precisely these people who either a) know the community exists b) are passionate about joining or c) are in your existing friendship group.

As people join, there is a high level of interaction between a relatively small group. As a result of the contact hypothesis, they begin to like each other. They’re helpful. They take their social cues from the founder.

This is sustained for a while. As a result, it gradually attracts more people. Gradually, the ongoing growth attracts the less knowledgeable, less enthusiastic, and less friendly members. It attracts people that read or visit the community because everyone else does.

The level of familiarity declines. There are more members who have joined in the past few months than were there before. This in turns leads to the problem highlighted above. What is the solution?

You have three options.

1) Close the community to newcomers. When you have enough members, you have enough. Close the community. Have an application form people fill out to join. Only let those that fit your criteria join. Alternatively, charge newcomers for membership. Focus on the members you have, not the members you don’t have. You might also want to gradually make it slightly more difficult to join, perhaps add more friction (or steps) to take to join the community).

2) Enforce strict rules. Delete or remove negative or provocative comments. Change the social proof that newcomers see in the community. Ban members that make negative or critical comments. Frequently remind newcomers about the rules concerning criticism and unhelpful comments.

3) Design and develop specific nudges. Change the platform. Give members a ‘helpful’ button. Ensure helpful and constructive comments are more prominent and visible. If members make {x} unhelpful comments, make it more difficult for their comments to appear. Change the text above the comment box to suggest members write a helpful comment. Highlight the successful projects that have been launched by Hacker News (or your community) e.g. “5143 HackerNews members have provided 11,412 constructive comments that have created 71 startups”.

These options present a decision.

Do you want a community with a great community spirit but less members?

Do you want a great community spirit but with high moderation costs?

Do you want a great community spirit but with a never-ending number of technical tweaks to make?

The decision might be made for you. If you have a platform you can’t change, and a limited moderation budget, then closing the community is your only option.

Either of the three can work, but you need to pick one. If you have a community that’s rapidly growing, at some point that community spirit will begin to drop.

Decide beforehand how you will maintain the early community spirit.

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