I’m preparing a presentation for later in the week on the topic of managing communities. Here is one of the slides that addresses the dynamics at play in both physical and online communities, so let me know what you think;

Community Dynamics

Community Dynamics

A community is a group of individuals gathering together with purpose. Let’s pretend for a moment I want to get good at playing poker (I am developing an interest – did you know that Facebook is now the biggest poker room in the world thanks to Zynga?).

A community approach to learning poker sees me engage with others to see if we can help each other learn. I recently signed up on PokerStrategy.com, an online poker school/community with 4m members. The reason I take this route is because I assume that is is a better approach than alternative scenarios 1, 2 or 3 (refer to the numbers in the chart above).

In alternative scenario 1, I might set out to learn poker on my own. I’ll probably do okay, but I’ll find it hard to motivate myself and I’ll be unsure if I’m on the right track. I’ll also miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off other people or to learn from their mistakes.

In alternative scenario 2, I’m gathering with others; chatting about random stuff that interests us, but if we’re not focused on talking about how to get better at poker this engagement will not support my ultimate purpose of learning how to win at the poker tables. I’ll probably not stick here for very long.

In alternative scenario 3, I can see that others are working together to learn how to play poker. Perhaps I don’t want to get involved, because after all these guys are my competition and I don’t want to give them my tips. Problem is, they’re all getting better quicker than I am. By not participating I lose out.

The sweet spot is the intersection of me and others working together towards a shared purpose. This is where we all win. Now in this scenario I have to actively participate in order to derive benefit. Communities don’t like lurkers and they don’t work for lurkers anyway; because it is in the interactions that you benefit. Basically you have to give a little in order to get something out.

To build a strong community that lasts, community managers need to focus on engendering greater levels of participation and shared ownership of the community. The more individuals that invest greater amounts of their time into quality interactions, the stronger the community.

So the key things to think about when you want to grow a community are:

  1. Ensure that your community facilitates a purpose that enough people care about to want to join.
  2. Facilitate your community members’ purpose in every way that you can, flexing to their changing needs over time. Communities fail because they serve the creator’s original purpose and not the members’.
  3. Support and encourage greater participation in the community by all individual members. You’ll need different strategies to sustain participation by newbies as opposed to more senior members.
  4. Divest ownership to the community so that it can organically scale. You won’t be able to automate all of the management tasks of your community. In particular delegate to the leaders that will start to emerge – these are the people who are most passionate about the community.
  5. Protect the individuals in the community from harm (bullying, flaming, personal attacks) through tight moderation. In doing this you will protect the overall community and ensure that it is a positive place for everyone to be.
  6. Celebrate the achievements of the individuals in the community and of the overall community. Afterall, communities are made up of people who generally enjoy social recognition and like to have fun.

We like to be part of something bigger. Communities give us that opportunity. Plus they help us to achieve our goals, whatever they may be.

What have I missed?