Yesterday I posted, Internal communities where visitors can contribute just like members, and two great comments were left by Nancy White and Matt Moore.
I was replying to these comments, but the content got too big so I’m posting them instead. As well as the fact that more people will read this in a blog post, over a comment.
The title of this post is something that Nancy mentioned that encapsulated my thinking:
“Funny, how things are reinterpreted when intermediated by technology, isn’t it!”
And Matt was riding this wave too:
“Membership is often presented as a binary “yes,no” issue. But there are many levels of engagement/involvement and people move between them.”
I agree, your comment excellently hones in on how “membership” is defined and interpreted differently online.
In a totally open community you could have a member that doesn’t reciprocate much (reads a lot but doesn’t comment or post). But then you have this visitor that is always contributing to the forums…go figure which the real member is.
Not to say membership is only about contributing, a members part in a community may be behind the scenes.
But like you say, just because it says “member” next to my name, doesn’t necessarily mean I behave like one.
In the end being a member means you have a stake in changes or direction of the domain, you get to go to telecon meetings, whereas a visitor doesn’t (a visitor doesn’t really have a say “so to speak”). The visitor may come back to the community the next week and things have changed, much to their chagrin.
I think the easiest way is to post to all members that you are having a monthly telecon about the community. The people who frequently turn up to these meetings and contribute to the conversation are your “members”. If this is 15 people, then they should be in a different role than the others.
It takes more effort to devote time to attending a meeting, than just having the word “member” near your online name. This “time” element has more of a care factor towards the community, and the fact that most people are expected to take part in a meeting somehow shows an element of commitment or dedication.
If you attend a book club meeting at someone’s house, you have made the effort to be there and contribute to the conversation, which means you show the characteristics of membership…you are an integral part of the community (club). If you bring a visitor along, they are usually more quite, in months to come they may really swing into the conversation and wavelength of the group. This is when the other members say, “yeah she’s one of us, she really fits into our dynamic”.
Membership is something that is felt, rather than handed out.
But this is the crux of it for me. In an enterprise community, people would be allowed to visit/subscribe to this book club community, but not contribute. All they would be able to contribute is blog comments, rate stuff, and perhaps asks a question in the visitor book. I guess this is similar to interacting with an online newspaper.
If a visitor is interacting quite a bit, they may end up being invited as a member, or they may request membership themselves.
So in all the community runs on a tight ship, and all members have an enjoyable experience as they are on the same wavelength.
But, by not allowing visitors to interact in forums (the heart of communities) are enterprise communities missing out on potentially valuable input, due to permissions.
You have to weigh this up - yes, you may miss out on visitor contributions on forums, but if you opened it up, the visitors could flood your community and change it.
To keep going…
There can be a real difference between online/offline communities when it comes to membership. You may have 10 members in a community and you want to enhance it by turning it into an online community. Over a couple of months, a lax Facilitator adds 100 people as a Members.
Are these people really “members”, do they contribute in any way, do they do anything to make the community what it is.
In the offline world you wouldn’t get a 100 people turning up unless they really wanted to contribute, as it takes effort and passion to get off your seat, or attend a synchronous meeting where you can be seen, and perhaps asked something.
It’s true that lots of the online members may have a shared interest in the domain, but will they care if the domain lives or dies. And will the original members be OK with “domain shift”, which happens anyway as an evolution of the community, but with lots of members, you are gonna get a variation of views and a resulting domain shift in a direction the originals may not want to go.
NOTE: When I say “domain shift” this could mean more of a focus on a topic within that domain, or I suppose a change of domain all together
eg. We have always been a Knowledge Strategy community, then we opened up membership by letting lots of people contribute, and slowly it has turned into an Complex Adaptive System (CAS) community.
The original community would sometimes talk about CAS, but it was decided this wasn’t the focus. But since they opened up membership it has become the focus. The facilitator may have tried to make it clear that this sort of discussion should move to a CAS community of it’s own, but you can’t stop a waterfall. So the originals become outnumbered and reformed into a new Knowledge Strategy community elsewhere.
Or the case could be that opening up the community has not ended up in a change of topic, but merely a change of feel…you may no longer want to hangout there as you don’t feel the same camaraderie.
“There’s really only one rule for community as far as I’m concerned, and it’s this - in order to call some gathering of people a “community”, it is a requirement that if you’re a member of the community, and one day you stop showing up, people will come looking for you to see where you went.”
Something I noticed on PerthNorg, a local citizen journalism site, is that “membership”, or better put, “regsitering to participate” is a one click affair. But then you have degrees or levels of membership, based on activeness eg. cadet, level 1-5 journalist, top level journalist.
Sure you can have a 100 members in your community, but you are a low key member if you are a “cadet”. Look at me I’m a “level 4 journalist”, I’m more of a member, I’m dedicated to this place.
This statement has an element of truth, but it’s not so black and white, as membership is not based on solely the criteria of “contribution”, as mentioned earlier your role as a member may be taking the minutes of meeting at the telecons (behind the scenes).
Plus that “cadet” may have made a few comments and one blog post that have created more discussion and value and than the 100 posts the level 4 journalist has under her belt.
In the end it’s about content (participation and growth), but it’s also about turning up to meetings to talk about strategies to direct, promote, and sustain the community.
Great comment, like Nancy you seem to agree that “membership” is defined differently online, as you say in a more “binary” way, which I guess doesn’t leave much to describing anything about depth. This is something PerthNorg (see above) is getting to from the aspect (which of there are many) of contributions.
Your “community thermometer” is almost the opposite perspective, in the members telling the community how they feel, which the Facilitator can use as a feedback mechanism…if I understood correctly.
I feel your view for internal communities is tight knit groups of the same wavelength, rather than a free for all (for reasons discussed above).
What’s your views on visitors (non-members) not being able to interact some valuable information to a community forum they happened across? Is there anyway to mitigate this scenario?