Thomas Vander Wal, who spoke with members of TheCR Network recently, likes to use the word comfort instead of trust when speaking about what encourages people to engage and participate in online social environments. He does this because trust is both over-used and vague in its meaning. Thomas argues – and I agree – that what people really need to participate is social comfort.
The question for community managers then becomes, what helps increase peoples’ comfort to the point they will engage? Social technologies make a large percentage of people inherently uncomfortable because of:
- Lack of familiarity with the tools
- Discomfort with opening oneself up to criticism (either due to saying something in black and white or because of poor spelling, bad teeth, etc)
- Difficulty in deciphering and understanding with whom they are sharing
- Lack of understanding of the group dynamic
- Uncertainty that they have something to add that will be valued
The community manager’s job is to help reduce the discomfort with all of these things. The most important first step is making people feel welcome and then introducing them around so they understand the social context. It is what a good host or hostess does. It sounds fairly simple. But how many great hosts and hostesses do you know? It’s actually a pretty small percentage of the population because it requires all of the following:
- The agency and energy to conceive of, plan, and execute something
- The persuasiveness that entices others to help encourage participation
- Enough extroversion to reach out and introduce themselves to people they do not know
- Enough modesty to realize that it is more important to make connections between others and then exist the conversation than to be in the middle of every conversation
- Enough introversion that they don’t need to be the center of attention
Often the value of host or hostess of the party is not very well recognized. Everyone wants to be at their events but their contribution to the success of the event is somewhat hidden. This is also true of community management. In organizationally sponsored communities, however, there should be community outcomes that reflect either increased revenues, decreased costs or reduced time (which is really reduced costs). The faster community members become comfortable and begin to engage, the faster those outcomes happen.
So, I would like to propose a new community metric – Time To Comfort. While this is quite similar to the time to first activity, the words focus on the salient issue. As community managers we don’t want to push and prod people to engage – that can lead to empty engagement. Instead we want to focus on increasing people’s comfort and on drawing them out.
It is pretty hard to resist dinner by the fire with friends and a bottle of wine. What is the equivalent in your community that is going to get people so comfortable that they can’t resist?
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photo by Billy A Chant