It's surprisingly easy for an antagonist to stir up a desire for greater group autonomy.
They simply highlight powers the group doesn't have. This message spreads quickly.
You can't tackle this by highlighting the benefits of the status quo.
That status quo, the contentment with the existing arrangement, is now an accepted norm. The group simply wants more.
Yet the antagonist can only succeed if three conditions exist. 1) The group feels they might get the powers (i.e. a weak state), 2) if there are existing powers to be devolved to the group 3) there exists an acceptable alternative (usually a separation or intense conflict).
Consider nationalism causes in recent years. The Arab uprising, Scottish independence, and (to a lesser extent) Ukraine. In each there existed a group who felt disenfranchised, possible powers to gain, and a perceived weakness in the bigger organisation. The only thing missing was the (unpredictable) spark.
These situations occur online as much as they do offline. Many organisations face rebellion from their own stakeholders feeling disenfranchised. Ning's customers are proactively coordinating moves to other platforms on the Ning forums.
This feeling is especially strong if the group feels they helped make the company successful
Four approaches to resolving a group uprising
Organizations typically take one of four approaches to resolving this problem. Each has mixed success.
1) Never be perceived as weak
Some organisations respond to this by ensuring they show no sign of weakness, no attempt at negotiation, and no hint of devolution. This can work if you're Apple, but it rarely succeeds over the long-term. Don't do this.
2) Explain why powers cannot be devolved
If there are clear legal, moral, or technical reasons why greater powers cannot be shared, you can explain them. For example, you can't let members have access to the community's database. You have to protect the rights of members to have minority, conflicting, opinions too.
However, this can risk sounding patronizing and paternalistic and inflame group emotions.
3) Undermine the antagonist
This is surprisingly effective. The antagonist typically wants greater power for his or her self. If you can highlight moments of hypocrisy, character flaws, or otherwise undermine the antagonist, the issue fades until a new antagonist arrives. The danger here is an attack on the antagonist is perceived as an attack on the group and hardens their resolve.
4) Devolve greater powers to the group
The best method is preventative. Devolve enough powers now to prevent a group uprising later.
Make an honest assessment of the autonomy of the group. What more could you give to the group now? Typically, you might want to devolve the following:
- The power for group members to create their own content which appears on the site (Moz does this well).
- The power to decide the membership criteria and to remove members (be careful of attacks against minority opinions).
- The power to determine moderation rules.
- The power to organize and host their own events.
- The power to contact a clear representative within the organisation who can answer their questions and make the necessary changes.
- The power to select representatives to speak to the organization on behalf of the group.
The danger of this approach is it emboldens the antagonist to push for more.
But what if you were to devolve these powers to the group now before an antagonist arrives?