If you read the archives of Waiter Rant (circa 2006 – 2008), you quickly notice Steve can read his customers incredibly well.
Within moments of entering a customer he’s sized you up and knows what you want. Some want the experience, some want to be left alone, some want their status reaffirmed.
Every customer walking into that restaurant feels they are unique, but with enough experience and enough data-points they all fall within a handful of archetypes. Managing any type of social group is similar. Once you’ve seen enough members you can spot their tells. You can understand what they really want from you and the group. Some want to be friends with you, others want you to leave them alone.
Some want you to reaffirm their status or treat them as superior to other members.
Here are a few common tales and how they can be read.
- Detailing past experience. Any member who details their past experience/successes are worried about their status among the group.This is multiplied if the member name drops a large organisation. e.g. “while I was working as a designer at Apple…“. Reaffirm how valuable their experience is, consider them for interview/column pieces.
- References to future ambitions. These are rare, but tend to come from members who are in the community for the right reasons. See how they would like to be more involved in the community in the future.
- “in my experience“. There’s a big difference between detailing your previous experience and simply referencing it. Someone who references their experience without detailing it usually just wants to participate in a discussion without others believing they’re trying to dominate it. These are regular members. You don’t need to engage them as much.
- “Does anyone know…:. This tends to come from members who don’t feel part of the core group. They’re worried they won’t get a response so need to ensure it’s a question to everyone. If they’re new, drop them a personal note and thank them for getting involved. Ask what they would like to get from the community. Make introductions etc…
- Definitive statements of fact. Almost all facts are disputable. Someone who asserts their own opinion/experiences as fact typically feels they’re an expert and should be respected as much. These people tend to antagonise others.
- Use of emoticons. This often comes from people concerned about how their message will be perceived – often concerned about someone disagreeing with them. Don’t disagree with them, add your own experience and reflect their own emoticons.
- “I’m excited to…” They’re probably not excited, but usually have something they want to say to everyone without seeming promotional. If it’s good news, drop it into a round-up or the member a note personally. If it’s dull, drop the member a note with a huge congrats, but remove the post in case everyone starts posting similar contributions. If they do, create a place for this.
- 3+ responses. Someone that replies more than 3 times to the same post, especially to defend their position, usually has a low self-esteem and is worried about losing their own standing. Add your response which highlights the status of this person and summarising the debate as ‘both can be right‘.
- Giving appreciation and gratitude to other members. The members who try to promote and praise the contributions of other members (especially those who do it a lot) are usually of high self-worth (or trying to catch the attention of specific people). These people are special, valuable, people you want to pay attention to. Not everyone is bold enough to promote others instead of themselves. Drop these people a personal note to introduce yourself and build relationships with them.
- The hyper-enthusiast. They respond to every post with highly positive language. They have a deep need to be accepted by the group. There is usually a history behind this. Don’t get into the history. Their contributions aren’t always good in informational value, but they can become great volunteers and helpers. Offer a volunteer role as a reward for all their enthusiasm.
- No personal info, just facts. This person is a taker. They tend to stick to asking questions that only benefit them. They want to suck every tiny part of value from the community without ever sharing anything themselves. They’re useful for questions, but otherwise can be ignored. They will never get more involved.
- Short sentences. I do this a lot. People use short sentences to convey a sense of no-nonsense or importance. Short, factual, responses are often the same. They want to be seen as ‘serious’ among the fluff or above the rest of the community. They’re not deliberately antagonistic.
- The big responses. People that write big responses are either highly passionate about the issue or very defensive about their own standing and need to be ‘the best’ (or both). If it’s the former invite them to turn it into a column. If it’s the latter, ask them how they feel about the discussion personally.
This is a simplistic approach. It will vary by community and many members will be expressing multiple signals at once.
However, it is possible with enough anecdotal examples to build a picture of the different signals members convey in their choice and structure of words.