Originally published March 2, 2016

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I’ve written about Types of Communities & Enterprise Social Network Groups and Social Media Archetypes. This post is about how each community has its own culture, including rules, typical behaviors, and activity patterns.

Community Archetypes

1. Isolated

  • Internal, private, geography-specific, or focused on a niche topic
  • Covers a subject which might be better handled more broadly
  • Examples
  1. Knowledge management community within a single company — questions are often posted which would receive better and more varied answers if they were posted in an external community
  2. Community limited to a specific location, such as European Information Management — sharing and asking about information management would be more effective if done globally
  3. Private community for a topic of general interest such as solution architecture — making it open would make it more valuable

2. Noisy

  • Lots of “Congrats!” and “Great post!” and “Me, too!” and “Looking forward to it!” replies
  • Lots of low-value posts, push announcements, and cross-posted links
  • May appear to be more about members posting selfies than about the community’s topic

3. Defunct

  • Anyone can join and post
  • The lights are still on, but no one is home — the community leaders have departed or are no longer paying any attention
  • Most posts are spam, such as “Are You Looking For A House to Rent or Buy? We have houses starting from $385/per month.”

4. Restricted

  • Sets and enforces strict limits such as
  1. No links to the blog posts of members
  2. No self-promotion
  3. No job-related posts
  • Members may ask the community managers to enforce the rules

5. Debating

  • Discussions are often about fundamental principles, abstract concepts, and theory
  • There are frequent back-and-forth exchanges between the same few people, often quoting each other to debunk opposing views
  • Others may be afraid to post due to the possibility of challenging responses or because they lack the same rigor and fervor as the dominant posters

6. Practical

  • Moderated with a light touch using proven practices
  • Membership must be approved by the community manager, but most applicants are admitted if they appear to practice or have a sincere interest in the community topic
  • Most types of posts are allowed within a few common-sense limits
  • Focus on what is valuable to the members, e.g., job search, job openings, links to articles and posts relevant to the community topic, queries, and requests for help
  • There may be quiet periods followed by spurts of activity
  • Queries and requests for help usually receive prompt, helpful replies from multiple members
  • The tone is civil, friendly, and supportive
  • New members feel welcome and are able to post without negative consequences

Examples: Knowledge Management Communities

There are three long-standing KM communities, two of which remain active. Each has (or had) its own focus and culture.

1. The actKM Forum was a “not-for-profit learning community dedicated to building and sharing knowledge about knowledge management, and contributing to improved organizational performance through effective management of knowledge and information resources. It aims to provide an environment where members can create and share knowledge about both public and private sector knowledge management issues.

Please think of the actKM Discussion List as being like a dinner party. Lively, interesting conversation that is respectful of the other guests is encouraged. Just remember that you have been invited into the home of others and that the host might ask you to tone it down if you go too far.

Our aim in actKM is to provide forums for information exchange, discussion and debate. We have created these Community Rules (the actKM Netiquette) to foster an environment of shared values, mutual respect, honesty and trust.

  • Respect the netiquette
  • Be concise
  • Keep the focus
  • Be responsible
  • Show respect
  • Don’t spam
  • Be honest

How NOT to post on this forum:

  • Five minutes after your initial post you reply to your own post writing something like ‘Why is nobody helping me? I’m sure you know the answer’.
  • When somebody replies to your thread but doesn’t give you exactly the answer you’ve been expecting, you insult them.
  • Posting just to increase your number of posts.
  • Posting anonymously or using a pseudonyms that conceals your identity.”

2. KM4Dev is a “community of international development practitioners who are interested in knowledge management and knowledge sharing issues and approaches, and who seek to share ideas and experiences in this domain.

The KM4Dev list is a practitioner-oriented forum. Although discussions can centre on KM theory and more philosophical aspects, they are not meant to focus on conceptual debates but rather on the implementation of KM principles, approaches and tools within international development organizations. This wiki and other side channels are always available for “side” conversations. We encourage leaders of side conversations to share a summary back to the full group on the mailing list.

The primary purpose of the list is to promote dialogue. Community members are also welcome to post short messages pertaining to:

  • KM events they are organizing or suggesting, including those with fees
  • KM URLs, books or articles written by members or others
  • KM for development job announcements or job ads (please put the word JOB in the subject line of your posting)

The following postings are discouraged on KM4Dev:

  • Postings that are outside the scope of knowledge management and international development
  • Postings of a purely commercial nature (e.g., ads for commercial software or systems)
  • Postings containing political messages. KM4Dev is not to be used as a political platform or to transmit political messages
  • Messages asking for assistance or donations, even if for very worthy causes such as humanitarian disasters
  • Spam or repeat postings of the same content over a short period of time
  • Service adverts or job requests — the Jobs Centre section of the KM4Dev website should be used for this purpose
  • Jobs announcements that are not KM4dev-related

Please:

  • Keep your messages collegial and non-aggressive. This is not to discourage critical thinking or disagreement. Diverse perspectives are welcomed and encouraged. We are more likely to learn from people who disagree with us than from other people but friendly dialogue about disagreements is an art we all need to cultivate.
  • Support your ideas with data and examples.
  • Use questions and active, careful reading which can be useful in gaining understanding in a text based environment.
  • Pay attention so that discussions that could turn into disagreements do not veer into making the debate a personal one (i.e. where members personalize the disagreement). If you see this happening, try and help focus on the content, not the person. Otherwise, the members will be ask to take their disagreement off-list.
  • Don’t flame (name calling). Be sensitive to the fact that our diversity may also mean we have different levels of sensitivity.
  • Because we are a global community, consider how your words might be interpreted by people from any corner of the globe.”

3. SIKM Leaders Community is a “community of Knowledge Management leaders from around the world. It is open to all KM practitioners. The goal is to share experiences and insights on implementing KM programs. Diverse opinions are welcome if expressed in a supportive and collaborative manner. Members are encouraged to share KM-related job openings and details on their own availability for employment in the field.

POLICY: Posts should be personal, relevant to KM, and not spam. Members should not send messages which are duplicates of those distributed through other channels. Instead, post one-time invitations to join other lists.”

Examples: Community Management Communities

Here is a sampling of the descriptions of communities focused on community managementand social media management.

1. CMX Hub’s “mission is to help community professionals thrive. This is where we unite online to support each other, share learning and develop a network of peers. This group is for discussions only. You SHOULD use this group to:

  • Ask questions
  • Share your challenges
  • Start thoughtful conversations
  • Inspire debates
  • Share your plans for future CMX events
  • Work together to build communities that improve the world

You SHOULD NOT use this group to:

  • Promote or share your own products, links or articles
  • Post articles without a focus on starting a conversation
  • Talk about things that aren’t relevant to the community industry
  • Be rude, hateful or insulting (zero tolerance)

Posts that violate these guidelines will be promptly hidden and repeat violators will be removed from the group. Support each other, be kind, and help us keep this community awesome!”

2. The Community Roundtable is “designed to provide a forum for lively conversations and idea sharing about communities, community strategy and the impact communities have on business. We collaborate with clients to implement proven, practical strategies for better communities.”

3. Community Manager, Advocate, and Evangelist is a “place for Online Community Managers to connect. You’re welcome to share useful information that is related to online community management (but that doesn’t mean you share your latest blog post/product — remember this isn’t Twitter (wink emoticon) and ask questions. Job posts are also fine as long as we don’t get inundated. Please report any spam/inappropriate content.”

4. FeverBee Community Discussions’ “mission is to ensure you build a successful community. We help organizations harness powerful psychology to transform audiences, employees, and customers into united, supportive, groups.”

What If Everyone Did It?

“We recently removed a post from FeverBee Experts. The post wasn’t too bad. One member felt information from a personal blog would be relevant to the broader community so posted a link to it. Was it useful information to the community? Quite possibly. Should we have allowed it to remain? Probably not.

Our yardstick on these decisions is what if everyone did it? If everyone shared blog posts to external sites without any filter the community becomes a LinkedIn/Twitter wasteland of links. It becomes impossible to filter for quality.

If, however, everyone shares the same information within relevant discussions instead, then everyone benefits. That’s a valuable contribution to the group. And if there aren’t relevant discussions, the information wasn’t relevant in the first place.

There are other systems too. We could let each member share one great external post a month, or put forward their links for a quality review before posting. Both take up more resources than we have. So for now we use the simple metric — what if everyone did it?

5. Social Media Managers is the “place for Social Media Managers and strategists to connect, share, ask questions, and have fun with fellow SMMs! Social Media Managers of all levels are welcome. Some of us are brand new and some are seasoned professionals. We’re all here to learn and grow — all questions and insights are valued. Community Policies:

  • No self-promotion or spam. Posts with links to your blog, articles, business pages, affiliate offers, lead capture offers, spam, or any other sort of solicitation of fellow group members (including asking for likes/shares/followers) are not allowed.
  • Stay on topic. We’re here to connect and share with each other about social media management and strategies. Please keep politics and other off-topic matters out of the mix.
  • Avoid duplication. Sharing hot new articles or the latest industry is awesome. Please skim through the day’s posts or use the search feature to make sure your post is not a duplicate.
  • Use the moderators. We have a great team of Moderators who will ensure the community policies are followed so we all get the most out of our participation. You can locate our Moderators by going to the Members Tab and selecting “Admins.” Feel free to reach out to them with questions. Also, please alert them to any questionable posts or spam that they may have missed.
  • Participate and have fun. Engage with one another, share your knowledge to answer member questions, and have fun. We’re happy you’re here!”

Examples of Community Culture in Action

1. In one community, I posted a link to Community of Practice: A Real Life Story. I received a private message from the community manager asking me to remove the post and to repost with some context. I did so by adding the following: “This is the story of the internal knowledge management community at my company. It includes insights and 10 tips which you can use. What stories can you share about communities you have joined or led? Please comment on the post. Thanks.”

3 people liked this post, and it received two comments:

  • “Great piece”
  • “Great article. I will be launching three communities in the coming weeks. So this was very helpful.”

But this still apparently violated the community policy against self-promotion:

“We define self-promotion as sharing your own products, links or articles. Even if it’s knowledge sharing (as most articles are), it’s a standard we’ve had here since launching this community that’s important to keep it focused on serving each other. If someone else were to organically post the article here, that’s okay.”

My reply was, “Sharing your own thoughts is the essence of knowledge sharing. Asking someone else to do so is not organic; it is inauthentic.”

In this community, I now only post in reply to a query from another member. I am complying with the rules, but I am sharing less than I might otherwise post.

2. In another community, a member posted this in response to the community policy on not posting links to one’s own articles: “Your limits make it hard to contribute. Yes, this is not Twitter — it’s FACEBOOK! What you’re prohibiting is what we all do.”

3. In a third community, a member posted this in a thread about the policy of not linking to personal blogs:

  • “The perspective or fit-for-purpose of a community probably needs to be taken in to account. The home page says ‘Practical tips to build online communities.’ Since the blog post in question is a thought leadership series about incorporating ideas, there was a genuine desire to share this with everyone in the community.
  • Instead of removing the information, I would have hoped that the community managers would have jumped on the bandwagon and simply created a new category or home for such articles.”

4. A now-defunct, but formerly-vibrant KM community provides several examples of the impact of community culture.

  • It was fully moderated — all posts had to go through the community manager, who edited each one before it was posted.
  • There were some very knowledgeable and opinionated members, who were not shy about voicing their views in a spirited fashion.
  • The community held regular online dialogues led by guest hosts during which a predefined set of topics were discussed for a week. This was an innovative and successful approach, but it also required guest hosts to hold their own during their stints when the opinionated members weighed in.
  • During a few of these dialogues, the guest hosts struggled. In one case, the host just stopped responding, unwilling to stand in and keep replying to the challenging posts.
  • When the community manager refused to post a member contribution, this led to the removal of another member, which in turn led several respected members to leave. This spelled the eventual demise of the once-lively community.

5. I lead the SIKM Leaders Community, and since its launch in 2005, I have only had to intervene twice based on posts in the discussion board:

  • A new member posted multiple times to promote his own community and events. I sent him a private email to remind him that members should not send messages which are duplicates of those distributed through other channels, and to post one-time invitations to join other lists instead. When he persisted, I removed him as a member. That was the only time I had to do so. He sent me a blistering attack in an email, which I ignored. When I later compared notes with other community managers, they told me that they had to do the same with this person.
  • Another new member replied to a couple of posts with harshly-worded criticisms. I sent him a private email to suggest that he take a more congenial approach to commenting. He replied to acknowledge my point, and shortly after, left the community voluntarily.

In general, the community is positive, helpful, and insightful, and I hope this continues. If it sounds good to you, you are welcome to join and participate.

Recommendations

  1. Be selective in admitting members, and then trust them to use common sense when they post. If they violate that trust, then intervene as necessary.
  2. If someone posts things that are not valued by the community members or which go against the community’s guidelines, contact them privately. If they persist, remove them from the community.
  3. Prefer knowledge sharing over suppressing posts. As long as a post provides useful information, don’t worry about whether it was a response to a query, self-promotion, or a link with little or no context.
  4. Don’t turn off those who have valuable content to share by telling them not to share links to their posts and articles. They are unlikely to come back, and the community will miss out on what they had to share.
  5. Maintain an environment in which all members feel that they can post without negative consequences, where their contributions are valued, and where members try to help each other out as much as possible.

Resources

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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