By Georgina Cannie, The Community Roundtable
I never told my fourth grade teacher that I wanted to manage an online network of professionals when I grew up. I stumbled into the community space quite accidentally. Academically, my background is in traditional face-to-face communities and I had always envisioned myself building sustainable neighborhoods for a living. But the thing is, physical and online communities are both just groups of people collaborating to improve the way they accomplish goals. It doesn’t matter if a group is working to establish a local dog park, share enterprise knowledge, or organize a potluck block party – online and physical communities are governed by the same principles of human behavior.
Today I find myself seeing insights into community management everywhere I look – even my weekly kickboxing class.
Every Tuesday I go to class and try to follow along with the instructor’s kick-punch-jab combinations. I noticed that within a few short weeks, the class had established its own community of attendees. Participants who didn’t know each other at the beginning of the class are sharing goals, offering tips and giving each other reviews of other fitness classes. I can’t say I am surprised, the conditions for this are ripe: A regular program at the same time each week, members with a common interest, and the opportunity to support personal health goals. But along with uppercuts and grapevines, this small community is teaching me valuable lessons in community management. Here are a few of my top takeaways:
Members find value in sync.
There is something intrinsically pleasing about doing jumping jacks in perfect synchronization with a dozen other humans. Every foot hits the ground at the exact same moment, every hand slaps a thigh in unison. It feels good to be perfectly in time with the group. Online community members don’t do jumping jacks, but they do benefit from the chance to be part of the group routine. As a community manager, creating public Rules of Engagement is one way of offering that opportunity. By defining guidelines and boundaries, a good community manager builds an action-positive roadmap to guide those who want to engage – and opens up the opportunity for members to get in sync. It is the member’s job to participate, but it is the community manager’s job to give them specific ways in which to do so.
Working publicly improves work quality.
When I try to exercise alone in my living room, I will often skip a few squats and let my form fall to pieces. However, when I am in a class full of people who will know if I give up on myself, I am far more motivated to push through and accomplish more than I thought I could. Working publicly encourages me to raise the bar on my own performance. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s competition – regardless of motivation, the quality of my work improves. The same is undoubtably true in online communities. Working Out Loud in your social network extends your commitment to yourself, to a commitment to the group. Working publicly allows you to take greater responsibility for your projects and creates a space for others to help you accomplish them.
Acknowledging success creates a second wind.
Last week in class the group was doing a series of high-kicks. It was towards the end of class and I was seriously concerned that I was about to fall over with exhaustion. Right as I was about to quit, the instructor pointed to me and said “Oh yeah! Look how high she is kicking! Way to go!” Immediately I found a whole new wave of energy. I thought, “You think that was high?! Check this one out!” and found myself giving a whole new level of effort when moments earlier I was about to give up. The compliment had power because I knew I had earned it. Championing your advocates and super-users in an online community serves the same purpose. Recognizing and encouraging ideal behaviors – by acknowledging excellent questions, establishing “honor rolls,” or otherwise highlighting model behavior both rewards your top performers and supports the kinds of activity you want to encourage in your community.
Model behaviors, but don’t create sheep.
I am no fight-master ninja. I need to watch the kickboxing instructor’s body movements to stay on track and follow along. The teacher knows this and makes sure to model proper technique for her students. However, while chatting with my teacher after class one day, she told me that often times her students will follow her example so strictly, that they forget to listen to their own body’s needs. She told me that a majority of her students will only get a drink of water when she drinks water, rather than when they are thirsty. As I manage a community of community managers, I am constantly modeling behavior – but while a network that blindly follows the community manager might be easy to manage, it has limited potential. The best community managers model not only their direct behaviors, but also how they adapt what they learn to their individual needs, by modeling an openness to alternative interpretations and applications of the same knowledge.
Member cliques look like superusers, but function like Mean Girls.
There is a group of three “kickboxing queens” in my class. They are fitness junkies and give more effort than the rest of the class combined. Upon first glance, they look like ideal participants – they always work hard, they do every move perfectly and they seem to really enjoy themselves. The problem is, they won’t share their secrets to success with anyone outside their clique. In fact, they won’t even talk to anyone outside their clique. When I first joined the group (in all my inexperienced and unskilled glory), I was so intimidated by them that I was terrified to engage in the learning process, for fear of making a mistake in front of them. Community managers need to be carful about handling member cliques in their networks. A core group of seasoned members is great – but those members can actually hurt the community if they are unwilling or unable to accommodate beginners. The best community managers take time to recognize and challenge these cliques, establish a comfortable learning environment and coach key community members on how to welcome newbies into the community culture.
Georgina Cannie is TheCR Network’s Community Management Fellow. Want to connect with hundreds of the best community professionals every day? Join TheCR Network!