Scaling a Community: Alot Like Rightsizing

There are a lot of conversation these days, in business, social, and even governmental circles, about the benefits of “rightsizing.”

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph

From the count of workers on a payroll, to the number of needed legislators, to the expanse of your house or car, to managing the calories you consume at McDonald’s drive-through, individuals, as well as society, perceive significant benefits in keeping things to certain size.

Rightsizing, or “The simple joy of just enough,” is something Diana Beam, of Keeping in Touch Solutions, writes about on her blog. “Comfort in life requires proper sizing,” she advises.

These same concepts can be applied to efforts to scale (grow) online communities.

From their nascent stages to their maturing ones, “rightsizing,” managing the growth and size of online communities is crucial to their success or failure. This scaling is maintaining communities online, our readings this week show.

Here’s how  Julian Stodd, a learning and development professional in the e-learning field, calls it, in his “Julian Stodd’s Learning Blog:

Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg etext 19993

Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg etext 19993

“Bigger is not always better. There’s a scale at which things become abstract, at which they lose their immediacy, and it’s highly significant when we look at the strange world of online communities.”

The truth is, Stodd says, “most people maintain meaningful relationships with about 100 people.”

Some people maintain a larger circle, he says, “but the reality is that you can’t develop an endless number of meaningful social relationships, at work, in the pub or online. There comes a point at which you are just broadcasting to the masses.

“You might get to 200, but not 20,000,” Stodd says.

Richard Millington, author of “Buzzing Communities,” reports the same beliefs. He cites how changes in the size and scale of a community results in changes in the activities undertaken by an online community.

“You gradually shift to macro-level activities. Activity keeps rising, but the number of newcomers which become regulars declines.

The level of personal contact, which was so essential in keeping a member active, is unsustainable over the long term (or non-scalable).

You can’t maintain active relationships with 500 people. Millington cites these four elements of scaling:

1) Social scaling processes – actions performed by people (volunteers, insider groups, rituals, and habits).

2) Technological processes — notifications, automation, and physically handling the increased load without breaking

3) Business/Organizational processes – how the organization interacts and integrated with the community (feedback loops, investing, and growing the community team).

4) Personal processes – how you handle growth personally (how you allocate your time, acquire skills, take yourself out of processes.

The author says that scaling needs to begin in the establishment phase of the community lifecycle, and that community managers need to:

  • Recruit volunteers very early
  • Coach them to build relationships with newcomers
  • Keep the newcomer rate high as you move on to new things.
  • Create a ritual for regular members to welcome newcomers every Friday, or a habit of Provie a unique welcome when responding to someone’s first post.The goal, Millington says, “is to maintain the same level of contact and quality whilst you move to manage processes and not individuals.”

And, he offers 11 processes as practical steps that are technical, administrative and personnel-oriented as the means for community managers to succeed in scaling communities.

Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution

If they are healthy and vibrant, online communities are destined to grow.

That growth can occur when the community is curated and cultivated by a responsive, smart, aware community manager who has recruited delegates to help with various tasks, so that the right work gets done as the community scales.

Like the Native American drum circle as a metaphor, communities that successfully scale have these elements: proper people in the right roles who are interacting and working harmoniously together; common and well-understood goals; processes that facilitate functions; and tasks that fulfill the key actors’ interests, while providing satisfaction for the audience as a whole.


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