Coaching a Community

by Laura Brunow Miner

19 Reader Comments

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  1. Great post Laura! You raise some excellent points. I especially like the idea of mentoring your contributors and treating them like co-workers.

    In a community-driven site, the top contributors are going to have a lot of influence in the direction the community takes. Creating an open line of communication with them, through which you nuture the relationship with them is an important step in ensuring that direction is a positive one.

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  2. I think this is a great article, but one should avoid the puppet master effect. Remember that people are usually part of an internet community voluntarily and have their own motivations. If you all of a sudden start bossing them around or giving them to much feedback or input, they will resent you. Nobody wants to be part of your own personal game.

    I think communities are so common now that even saying things like, “select other members to be your friends!” will usually turn people off. Oh you mean like Facebook, Digg, MySpace, Friendster, blah, blah… The last thing people need is more ‘friends”.

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  3. Forums of all kinds benefit from experienced facilitation, indeed! Wikipedia had tried to design this in to the system, but I have questions… i.e: ‘does social media have an HR problem?’

    This topic relates directly to “Designing the Democratic, “by Jamie Owen: http://boxesandarrows.com/view/designing-the

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  4. Also regarding “effective incentives” see too http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_our_loss_of_wisdom.html

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  5. Great piece, Laura. You’ve used JPG for examples throughout the article and for good reason. From where I sit it still stands out as a stellar example of how important it is for those in “in charge” of an on-line community to remain intimately connected with their constituents. The support from the community in the days following early January 2009 showed all of us that the interaction of day-to-day staff with the community had built a powerful relationship.

    When I look back on any successful new venture, I usually cite some unique combination of vision and the people in the trenches that made it happen.

    Rinse & Repeat.

    Regards,

    MikeV

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  6. As a developer and co-founder of a site that is only now beginning to incubate a community this advice is thought provoking and helpful. We look forward to letting go of the reins a bit (scary as that might be) and allowing our users to help us shape the direction of the site and its content. We’re just learning the delicate balance between being “in charge” and loosening up.

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  7. Great article. These points should be considered very early in the community concept.

    Two points that came to my mind:
    I think it’s important for community members to have space. There will always be people who don’t get along with each other, but as long as they are not forced into the same room, the problem doesn’t grow big. That is a reason why in my opinion “groups” created by members are better than “boards” in many cases (not in all).

    And when talking about motivation, one thing to consider is how to be attractive for the people you want to have in your community. On the other hand it can also mean to think about how to be unattractive for people whom you don’t necessarily to be part of the community.

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  8. Excellent article. I have never tried myself to develop a community site, but I can imagine what it takes to be able to run a successful social networking site. From the users perspective, as a member of some community sites, I can say that the personal feeling of sharing, the feeling of belonging to and participating in something that really has value represents the most important driving force.

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  9. When it comes to coaching a community the article really sums up the most important points. But since today we have so many community sites, we are also facing a sort of social network fatigue – each time you have to sign up for new services, enter your data anew, and create yet another login/password combination.

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  10. Also, I love JPG magazine now. Great article by the way.

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  11. I think Leo nailed it with his two points which relate to the importance of clearly defining your community’s culture and/or subcultures so that you in turn attract the type of people you do want and deter those you don’t want.

    I mean a good example of this is when I’ve been within some communities that are supposedly focused on “friends and family” yet certain people within the community get upset when asked to avoid excessively swearing or using derogatory words. In their mind, they feel like “their” space is being threatened and they can’t be themselves within it. Thus what happens is you have this conflict between these two groups over simple forms of interaction because these two groups are coming from different subcultures.

    In effect, one group sees their environment kind of like a pub, where they hang out with their adult friends and family from the neighborhood and shoot the breeze. The other group, however, sees their environment like being in someone’s home, with younger kids running through it, so they assume it should be a little more sheltered and reserved (althought swearing once in a while is fine).

    Again there’s nothing wrong with having both subcultures within the same community but when communities start, one initial culture has to be clearly defined as to what it is. Then later, as other subcultures start emerging, “spaces” as Leo indicated need to be created, so that these subcultures can thrive as well. If you don’t create these spaces then friction and splintering will occur within the community and people will leave.

    PS. An older but still relevant book on this subject by Amy Jo Kim is “Community Building on the Web”.

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  12. Not much is talked about community webistes. Your article is perhaps one of the very few that covers the topic in an enriching way :) I feel it is very important to make community members a important part of the community. Only then will they be motivated to make genuine contributions for the betterment of the community!

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  13. I have learned all of this to be true. This is a great post and it speaks to the amount of work it really takes to grow and nurture an online community. It takes a very human approach and that is often overlooked. I’ve written a book about my experiences growing an online community set to publish in May. It’s called “18 Rules of Community Engagement” and I certainly see some of my points in this post. Look forward to visiting more often.

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  14. As the community grows, most of the rewards should be coming from other members. They should be the ones thanking other members for contributing. They should be the ones mentioning specific names when talking with the community.

    You still need to get involved and ensure the spotlight turns on quieter members from time to time. After all, you’ve already won over your most active members. Now you need to do the same with those that are sitting in the shadows.

    Community building requires effort and hard work. Never stop stroking egos, and never stop rewarding members of your online community. Just make sure you aren’t tempted to get out your cheque book. Remember – money doesn’t buy you community or relationships. Just (very) temporary loyalty.

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  15. Having created a number of online communities over the years, I have come to realize that there is no one single formula or event that seems to get the community to suddenly take on a life of it’s own – that point where the community can roll on virtually forever without input, guidance, or coaching from it’s founder. In business communities, this seems more difficult to achieve – perhaps because we tend to be more competitive rather than sharing, yet in my art or cooking communities, such as our recently launched INeedARecipe.com which features “instructional cooking videos”:http://www.ineedarecipefor.com, recipes and community participation – this seems to happen naturally and in a relatively short period of time – perhaps because the art and food communities are simply of a more open and sharing nature?

    Excellent article – and excellent comments generated!

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  16. Unlike real world communities there are people who overstep their bounds because of the anonymous nature of the internet. This often becomes the source of stress for those in the community. Just something to think about.
    -Donna

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  17. I agree with Maneet that you have to make people feel involved, how can you keep enticing them? How about little teasers, such as giveaways? Also keep them informed of developments – make them feel part of the community and the team. But a great post

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  18. Great article and very informative.
    Definitely going to put some of your points into practise

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  19. I like the idea of setting clear and specific expectations. It’s true your staffs wanted to meet your interest and with that attitude they are undeniably contribute something relevant so it’s a good thing again to give them reasonable rewards. This article provides excellent insight for everyone. Thanks for the head’s up!

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