Finding people who share the same interests, perspectives, and passions that we do is part of the visceral power of communities. It is inherently human that we love to engage and form tight relationships with people to whom we can relate. We can congratulate ourselves if we’ve built a community where those tight relationships have formed and has created a network of like-minded individuals who promote each other and the community.
And yet, this may be precisely a point of great risk for communities. If the community knows each other well and speaks to each other using short-hand and references to shared experiences, new members can feel horribly out of place and awkward even if the existing members are not trying to be overtly exclusive. This may be OK if it doesn’t matter whether the community grows but for most organizationally-sponsored communities, growth is necessary and evolution is critical as the business needs change.
It’s a difficult conundrum for community owners – we drive toward creating shared experiences and tight relationships between members but it can cause other huge issues to arise. So what to do? Some suggestions:
- Create mentoring or explicit links between new members and established members.
- Create new member programming and groups so new members feel like they are on equal footing with a set of other members.
- Continually encourage established members to make a point of reaching out to new members or lurkers.
- Encourage new members to participate and acknowledge them when they do (and encourage others to as well).
- Break up public displays of affection – i.e. if a group of members is creating public cliquey behavior ask them to take it private and or use a different channel. This can be a tough judgment call and take some nuance to facilitate but it is worth making sure core members are aware of behavior that is socially exclusionary. You want members to build those relationships too but be aware of when, where, and how they interact – and how it might affect a group of other members.
We all fall in to the trap of getting comfortable in established relationships. As professional community managers, it is our job to constantly be aware of those dynamics and counteract them for the long term success of the community. Breaking up cliquishness is also what often separates organized communities from organic ones without explicit leaders that force the behavior modifications that allow the community to grow, evolve and change.