Building A Community
Most of us recognize a city, or town. They have an established government, services, shopping, and entertainment. A city or town is incorporated, they are a business. Communities are much like cities and towns.
Many communities have governments in the form of Home Owners Associations. They provide services, shopping and entertainment. But they are not incorporated, and normally much smaller in population. There are other types of communities.
These communities are built around common beliefs and goals. Communities of this type are a give and take proposition. Every person joins these communities to get something, and through participation give something to the community. These communities may be highly structured, or have very little structure at all. The level of structure is based on the need in the community.
In times of the past community was limited by geographic location. I recently attended a training program in which the speaker still claimed that communities are limited by geography. The claim was that online communities are not communities at all. I take exception to this claim. The digital world changed the definition of community.
As early as the late 70's communities began to form through digital communications. At first they were limited to a very few technically skilled people, but within 10 years had grown to include people from all walks of life. By the late 80's, America Online was connecting thousands of people from all over the world. These Information Age communities were the same as real world communities, with the exception that geographic location no longer mattered. The relationships built in those communities were real.
Today, the number of ways you can connect and participate in communities has grown as technology has improved, but the main factors in community remains the same. All communities form around beliefs, interests, and goals. Every person in a community is there to achieve or get something. The challenge for those who wish to form a community is to target these needs.
To research how groups do this, I joined a large number of diverse groups. I compared the interactions of these Digital Communities with the interactions within geographically located groups. The major difference is interpersonal relationship skills.
For instance, in a geographically located community if someone offends you, you can walk away. In a Digital Community people tend to stay engaged for longer than they should. In a Digital Community you can block those that have angered you and still participate in the community. In a geographically located community, you either have to learn to ignore the offender, or leave the community. Human nature is not changed by the type of community.
How do you build an online community free of drama. You don't. Drama will be there, how you react to the drama will determine if the community will survive, or go the way of thousands of other communities. A ghost town in the real and digital world.
Make sure that you, as the community founder, can be flexible. Your community, though founded on certain principles will begin to mutate shortly after the first person joins. You must think ahead and deal with these changes based on how strict, or how flexible you want the group to be. Keep your sense of humor.
You must stay engaged. Even if it looks like no one else is. Keep posting articles, stories, information that pertains to the group.
Make those in the community feel safe. This does not mean you hold back on the Ban Hammer. But you must be consistent with its use.
As your group grows it is tempting to add others that have the ability to moderate the group. You must exercise extreme caution. A moderator that does not understand the rules of the group, or how strict these rules are, can destroy the community faster than any rogue member can.
Join other like communities and invite those people you interact with that meet the criteria for your community to join.
Keep in mind people join a community to give and take. Give them the opportunity to do that. People are much more likely to interact when they are rewarded for doing so. They joined your community for a reason, it is up to you to determine what that reason is.
If it is not fun for you, then it is probably not fun for the members.
Finally, don't count the numbers. I have seen groups with ten's of thousands of members that have maybe three members that participate. In contrast I have seen groups with a dozen members and they all participate.
These are my suggestions for growing your community. If you have others please comment. Thanks