I’m not much of an artist, but from what I’ve (over)heard the skill isn’t so much how you move the pencil, but whether you are able to see the world as it really is.
Much of community work is similar.
It’s about dropping much of our preconceived ideas and personal experiences and being able to see who our members really are.
It’s about understanding their desires, their fears, their frustrations and finding ways to help each of them in the most effective way possible.
I’m often surprised just how few people seem to truly grasp this. Much of what drives a members’ behavior probably isn’t what you imagine.
It’s far less about earning points, getting answers to questions, and being a ‘top member of the community’ and far more about their own emotions (‘I’m frustrated and no-one seems to care’), insecurities (‘I’m worried other people don’t really see me as part of this group’) and ambitions (‘I want my peers to think I’m really good at this’).
Product complaints aren’t just about getting the answer. Any customer support rep can offer that. They are about someone in the community acknowledging and validating the emotional state of frustration the member has been going through.
User tips aren’t just about a member helping others, but about how they are seen by others and whether this makes them seem more part of the group.
Conflicts are less about the issue at hand than fear of losing standing in the eyes of other members of the group (p.s. notice how quickly a conflict fizzles out when you take it private?).
In my experience, some people intuitively understand this. They have an intuitive knack for seeing what members really want, their true desires, and picking up on their insecurities and adjusting their behaviors accordingly.
These are the people who know the real reason you shared that photo on Instagram today wasn’t to capture the moment for posterity but to remind your tribe that you’re still there, to feel connected to them, to have people you care about see you positively.
However, the rest of us need to work on it. We need to drop our rational ideas of how people behave (and preconceived ideas of what motivates them) and work hard to spot the specific underlying emotions members feel. Hint, people rarely act to maximize their own economic potential and instead respond to the emotion they’re feeling in the moment.
Almost anything you want to achieve in a community (changing of behavior, increasing participation, specific contributions) is related to being able to truly understand what really motivates members to do the things they do.