Daily Archives: January 28, 2013

Community Relations Past and Present

Flickr/arkove

Flickr/arkove

Our initial course readings have caused me to think about what contributes to the development, cohesiveness, and maintenance of an online community. My questions include:

  • What makes a diverse range of people want to spend time together online?
  • What elements truly bond them?
  • How does a community manager maintain their interest?
  • How do connecting bonds serve the community itself, or an organization that has developed the community via ongoing conversations and outgrowths?

I’ve related these new concepts to my earlier work of one-on-one, face-to-face, individual and group community-building and advocacy, functions that comprised “community relations” for the organization where I once worked.

Community Relations is typically part of an organization’s public relations, and my varied efforts then had definitive goals:

  • We sought improved understanding
  • We hoped to gain friends (and “acceptance”)
  • We sought better relationships than what existed

One of these CR initiatives was “Community Appreciation Day,” a block party event of vendors, crafters, food trucks, music and dancers (and the perceived chance to build good will and provide recognition through an official celebration of affinity and mutual recognition).

Today, a new technology showed me a much more effective and efficient way to convey that same type of sentiment online. VSnap has instituted a weekly “thank you,” using its 60-second video technology to reach members of its community. The effort was sincere, convincing, and it was easy to see how it could replace other efforts.  Click here for the thank you blog to find out more.

So it seems my work then was somewhat akin to that of online community managers, in developing and sustaining affinity groups or communities. It’s a discipline that’s played by ear, person by person, towards an end goal.  But it’s not easy or simple work. This infographic  depicts the many hats and the multi-faceted elements that go into the complex array of tasks involved in online community management work:

 

http://getsat.presscdn.com/wp-content/uploads/Many_Hats_of_Community_Manager_infographic_Get-Satisfaction.png

 

So what really makes a community of diverse folks want to “hang?”

Our course readings provide some answers:

Enterprise

When the online community is connected to an enterprise, the opportunity to provide consumer feedback may be enticing. For an enterprise, obtaining ideas from the community that embraces its products/services may also be a smart idea. The advantage that businesses can obtain from consumer input, through open source communities, is described in this article from Taylor and Francis online.

Engagement

 The opportunity to belong to an interest group (sociability) attracts participants. In Grace Lau’s article on World of Warcraft, Lau cites elements that WoW creator Wegner says are ingrained in that community of practice: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire.

Lau says, “Communities of practice describes the kinds of learning networks that people build over time in pursuit of a common goal.” Learning opportunities are in themselves an attraction for online grouping. According to Lau, Wegner cited these elements as evidence that a community of practice exists:

  1. Sustained mutual relationships – harmonious or conflictual
  2. Shared ways of engaging in doing things together
  3. Rapid flow of information and propagation of innovation
  4. Absence of introductory preambles
  5. Very quick setup of a problem to be discussed
  6. Substantial overlap in participants’ descriptions of who belongs
  7. Knowing what others know, what they can do, and how they can contribute to an enterprise
  8. Mutually defining identities
  9. Ability to assess the appropriateness of actions and products
  10. Specific tools, representations, and other artifacts
  11. Local lore, shared stories, inside jokes, knowing laughter
  12. Jargon and shortcuts to communication as well as the ease of producing new ones
  13. Certain styles recognized as displaying membership
  14. Shared discourse reflecting a certain perspective on the world.

Do you believe that your organization can support a community of learning, and therefore an online community of practice?

How can your organization benefit from developing a virtual community of interested consumers and advocates?

 

 

 

How Games Make Communities Sticky

Blog1_GamesInspired by the Preece and Lau readings this week, I took some time to reflect on my own involvement with online gaming communities, especially the one I helped form in high school. Back in the day, I spent a good many evening hours playing Counter Strike: Source, an online team-based first person shooter. What started as a casual weeknight activity for me grew into a very involved and structured commitment, as I found a place to interact online with my peers.

In 2004, I found myself regularly playing on a 24/7 “Assault” server – Assault being the name of the particular map, the only map used on that server – where I came to know a few of the other regulars. Over time, we went from casual playing buddies, to forming a clan, starting our own server and forums, and bringing more people into our group. As the co-founder and second in command of our team, I helped form our community of teammates and friends from the ground up, by moderating our online activities, encouraging teamwork and fair play, collecting payments from our clan members to support the servers, and so on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was a community manager, through and through.

This reflection has made me aware of how both technology and games themselves had an influence on how the community functioned. The game server, the forums, and even our Teamspeak server, all provided centralized locations for synchronous and asynchronous interaction. We were brought together by our love of Counter Strike, but we found we had a lot of other interests in common. I ended up going to design school, and tutored two of our members in design concepts, setting up image-creation contests for nothing more than bragging rights. We would also simply join into the Teamspeak server, used primarily for strategic chatter during competitions, just to casually talk when few of us were playing. Technology facilitated a level of bonding and understanding over great distances; while most of us were in the EST time zone, not all of us were American. We had effectively built an international, albeit English-speaking, community from scratch, based on interest alone.

Blog1_Jane

Jane McGonigal presents at TED on how games can “fix” reality.

The value that gaming added, however, is what really intrigues me. Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of Reality Is Broken, has spoken many times on the power of gaming to bring people together. Friendly competition and teamwork in a game tends to build relationships outside of gaming as well, a concept which leads her to recommending “gamifying” activities that aren’t normally seen as games. For instance, her web community Super Better adds gaming aspects, like bad guys and check points, to the act of working on personal goals. Super Better also encourages peer interaction, to have users help each other to get up when they stumble, and support each other to completion. In the same way, though the game wasn’t the sole focal point of our community, it did serve to color our interactions with each other. It allowed us to come together with a common goal, and work together to achieve it, thus building and shaping our relationships with each other. Our teamwork was so strengthened by our high level of interaction that we started competing in amateur gaming leagues, a testament both to our abilities and the confidence inspired by peer reinforcement. In fact, while I’ve moved on to be a member of many other communities, I can’t help but notice most aren’t as tight-knit as the gaming groups I’ve belonged to. I’m not sure if this is because gaming is better at bringing people together, or if it’s simply a factor of group activities being a great bonding agent for communities, but it’s a very noticeable difference in my mind.

What do you think, do games or other synchronous activities make a large difference in community interactions? What are your experiences?