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:
So what really makes a community of diverse folks want to “hang?”
Our course readings provide some answers:
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.
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:
- Sustained mutual relationships – harmonious or conflictual
- Shared ways of engaging in doing things together
- Rapid flow of information and propagation of innovation
- Absence of introductory preambles
- Very quick setup of a problem to be discussed
- Substantial overlap in participants’ descriptions of who belongs
- Knowing what others know, what they can do, and how they can contribute to an enterprise
- Mutually defining identities
- Ability to assess the appropriateness of actions and products
- Specific tools, representations, and other artifacts
- Local lore, shared stories, inside jokes, knowing laughter
- Jargon and shortcuts to communication as well as the ease of producing new ones
- Certain styles recognized as displaying membership
- 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?