In this blog post, I discussed what might be discouraging your community members from participating. If you didn’t read it, please do! In this post, I’ll be addressing some possible solutions to the problems presented last time—your members’ fears of losing face, of being new, and problems with technological barriers. Hopefully, I can help you on the road to creating a positive community culture!
Are your community members missing in action? Do they lurk but never participate? Well, you can jab people with a stick all you want, but you won’t get them to move if they don’t want to. They’re more likely to turn and snap your stick and possibly steal your awesome cowboy hat. No, just like unruly prairie dogs, community members need guidance, leadership, and a culture that encourages engagement, instead of discouraging it. Here are four ways you can establish a positive community culture for your members.
First, if your community is dull and dead, it might help to ask them why and what you can do to fix it. Communication is the key to almost any problem. If your community doesn’t answer, you’ve not lost anything. If they do, you’ve gained valuable data that you can use to fix the problem.
I’d suggest setting up an online survey, maybe with SurveyMonkey, and getting people’s thoughts unconnected to their names. That way you’re not blocked in your fact-finding by whatever is blocking your community.
You need to find out answers to questions like:
Once you’ve determined what your community needs help with, you can try some of these big picture changes.
If the problem seems to be a toxic environment, establish a set of community principles and objectives and encourage your community members to follow them. In 2008, Structure3C ran a survey on creating a good community culture that I think is still applies today (good community practice doesn’t really change). Of the respondents, all community managers, one of the top three answers to the question “What are the three most important factors in establishing and maintaining a community’s culture?” was “have a clear objective / value statement.”
Make sure your community knows what the goal and values of your community are. Are you a helpful community? A community for collecting knowledge? What are your values?
Establish a set of guidelines or principles that foster your community values. Some good principles would be kindness, caring, and being welcome to newcomers. Basically, all the stuff you learned in preschool and kindergarten. This may be one of the times you might have to use your stick to gently prod your members in the right direction.
Don’t just smack people who are causing problems; praise people who are participating productively. In the Structure3C survey, one of the top three ways that community leaders established a positive community culture was to recognize positive participation. Positive reinforcement is an effective way of raising children and training dogs, but it’s also a good way to develop a positive, nurturing community.
This can mean as little as you or your mods replying, “Great response!” to a great response. You could highlight good responses. Or highlight a particular community member who’s especially good for the community. Make members feel as if their efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
Another way to nurture a positive community culture is to make sure new people feel welcomed and informed. Make sure your FAQ and a searchable archive are easy to find and easy to use. Don’t just assume that every newbie is lazy. Check your search bar to make you can even find an answer to simple questions. If you can’t or if there’s a question you know is asked a lot, make sure that question is answered in the FAQ. Members should refer the new person to the FAQ, but encourage them to do it kindly.
If a new person asks a question or starts a discussion that’s been addressed a long time ago, don’t let your members jump on them and beat them down. And definitely don’t do that yourself. Let the question or discussion stand. Someone else new might be interested and then you’ve gained two new participants with one hook.
Don’t hyper-mod every comment. This is especially a problem if your community is built off the comment system of a blog or a web comic. Spam and trolls can make a site-owner paranoid. You may be tempted to check every single comment or kill comments you don’t like.
To keep spam down, make sure you have the right filters installed and updated. To keep down trolls, only kill trolls, not people who disagree with you. Weeding out dissenters can kill constructive discussion and scare away people who might otherwise participate but for fear of your mighty wrath.
Make sure your UI and layout allow for quick and easy posting. This is especially important on a custom built community site or a forum. You don’t want your community members giving up because they can’t find the post button.
If you can, let your community have posts or comments pushed to their inbox. People don’t participate in a community they’ve forgotten about.
This one’s simple. If you don’t participate, why should your community members participate? Your mods should also be doing more than just enforcing guidelines. They should be contributing to and starting discussions.
These are just a few examples of how you can create an environment that encourages your community members to be active and alive. I haven’t even touched on gamification or other methods. So put down that stick, take some time, and figure out what you can do to make your community shine!
How do you get your community to participate? Managing a particularly challenging community? Tell us in the comments below!