Community management traverses a sensitive divide between the needs of the company and those of customers. Some see community as a disruptive way to build revenue as their business grows. Community becomes a tactic meant to impress investors and acquire a user base as quickly as possible. I caution you, a community created in an unwieldy manner and without intention will quickly come back to haunt you.
You cannot commoditize human connection at this level. Much like our discussions of the social media mob mentality, when large numbers of people choose to congregate together they become a force. The digital medium amplifies and builds momentum around incidents which only occur between a few individuals. At that point you need to have someone on your team who sees the humanity of your customers and deals with them as people, not numbers or dollar signs.
Contrary to what we might believe boundaries create safe spaces for individuals which give them more freedom of expression, not less. When the rules are known, individuals understand community expectations. This is not only central to producing a compassionate community, but also one which people benefit from and promote.
No is the Most Freeing Word in the Community Manager’s Vocabulary
I remember a time when there was a popular story circulating in the RPG community. Dungeons & Dragons celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014. Many media outlets were quick to capitalize on the burgeoning attention to the original games published in the 1970s.
I had to make a quick appraisal. I could share what was a rapidly developing story which had relevance to the community I managed and be the first to break the news. I spoke to my co-workers and told them this; I would never share anything which I felt ridiculed or mocked our community members. I didn’t care how viral. Other gaming outlets where quick to respond, but I made a different choice. Our community didn’t have to prove that we should be taken seriously because we already rocked!
I would much rather share a positive story like this (and it is great to see the standards I set continue with new mods picked from the community).
This is the way communities’ scale, by empowering members to take on the daily duties of engagement
What a company shares with their community becomes history. It sets a precedent for behavior and exemplifies what values are central to belonging to that community – the norms. Attentive moderation of conversation is key to creating a positive experience. That means setting boundaries and saying no to opportunities which don’t fit the brand messaging (even if they come with a potential benefit).
Of course there is a much, much, much darker side to this story. What if you have people within your community who are the problem? You don’t want to stifle your customers, but you want to encourage good behavior. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and it isn’t always clear how to proceed.
League of Legends is Building a Massive Psychology Lab
I questioned if big data could resolve issues in social data, but League of Legends is delivering an answer. When tasked with fixing the toxicity of their community, they turned to a cognitive neuroscientist to apply cutting edge experiments informed by player data.
Jeffrey “Lyte” Lin is the head of Riot Games’ behavior team and holds a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Washington in Seattle.
What intrigues me is that they have also found positive emotions are contagious in online interactions.
‘When we investigated the spread of behaviors in online communities, we did notice toxicity spreads and spreads quickly, so it stands out in player memories,’ Lin says. ‘What was surprising to us is we found a little evidence that positivity might spread faster than negativity. We’ll be devoting a few resources to studying that this year.’
- This is similar to findings by UCSD professor James Fowler.
- As well as the ill received and controversial Facebook Study.
The identity of the consumer is part of the transaction when you build a platform for community. There are looming questions around the division between user testing and full out psychology experiment. The former is covered in the TOS and the latter is something overseen by an ethics board.
Having a good background in social psychology principles is a boon to community managers. It helps us understand our customers who are hanging out on the other end of the screen. It is a way to understand conflict when it occurs and set a path to a flourishing community.
Key Learnings for Community Managers
Here are a few takeaways for community managers interested in how to set better boundaries for their communities.
- Boundaries define communities, but do not limit them
Part of community is a shared sense of mattering to others who also belong to that community. This implies a commitment to the health and wellbeing of participants. As a community manger you have a responsibility to keep the riff raff out.
- What happens in community will have a strong impact on members
‘I may not care about skydiving, but a lot of people do, and Reddit lets those that see their world through skydiving build a community around that,’ says Martin. ‘Think about how people see the world through your product. How can you respect and celebrate that? That’s your job.’ – Erik Martin, Lessons From the Man Who Managed REDDIT’S Community of Millions
- Set your intentions for community before you invite people to participate
Alert Qian began his job board when he realized his friends on Facebook were looking for the same thing as he was; a descent well-paying job in a tough economy. He built a community platform via a Facebook group when he understood that people needed a place to gather and network. This desire to help informed his decisions when it came to building a strong and engaged community which grew beyond expectations.