Community
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6-min read
May 16, 2022

Not Everything Is for Everyone Within a Community

One of the most common traps I notice when talking with community builders who are in the early stage of their careers is their obsession with serving everyone at the same pace in the same manner. Not only is this unsustainable — hello, burnout! — it's also a bad strategy in both the short and long run. 

Here’s why: working with people means welcoming diversity

Our members are not all the same — that’s why we have multiple personas. And while they adhere to the same mission, set of values, and overall way of doing things, it doesn’t mean everything captures their attention seamlessly.

Embracing members’ differences

Where they are in their lives: We are people, which means we are in constant motion as we navigate through different moments in life — some of us play multiple roles in our personal and professional lives, some of us make significant changes, some of us move to the other side of the world, etc. All these events impact how we engage with the community. 

If certain members are lurkers or are less engaged with a particular campaign, it doesn’t make your efforts less worthy. Understand that they may not be interested in or have time for this particular campaign right now, and that’s OK.

Where their interests lie: Different people — even those in the same community — will have different interests. There will be an overlap, but members may be more driven towards some things and less driven towards others. We will act and get involved where we can and we want to in a specific moment in time and space. And that, of course, will vary for each of us.

Where they are in the community: If we’re members of the same community for years in a row, we can have increasing expectations from one year to the next. We might need variety in terms of actions and experiences, we might want to play a bigger role within the community, or we might hit the lap where we’d like to move to the next chapter. This dynamic is neither good nor bad, but it’s something Community Managers need to consider when designing programs for community veterans.

All these differences are what make engaged communities the vibrant, active spaces they are. They’re also the reason why not every action you take as a community leader will impact people uniformly.

In the Upstairs Community by Pixelgrade, I experimented with things, such as the Hall of Fame, that created a lot of buzz (you can read more about this in the Community Engagement Playbook). But some of the ideas and trials-and-errors I ran were thin in the outcomes they brought.

Even those that attracted attention didn’t grab everyone. Some members didn’t feel represented, didn’t resonate with our take, and didn’t participate. Quite the opposite — they were skeptical or even concerned, and there was a lot of pushback.

There’s no community out there where everything is a big success or an epic failure. Most of the time, things are floating in between these two extremes. Some of them run successfully, while others not so much. 

It's great to run ideas, campaigns, and experiments that create ripples and get many members excited — but getting things lost into the cracks is also normal.

4 tips for Community Managers on how to respond when ideas don’t resonate

1. Stay away from appeasement for the sake of being nice

This goes two ways — within the company and the community.

While community building is a continuous process that impacts almost all departments, you don’t need to always please your teammates or superiors. Get the buy-in you need, offer clarity across the board, stick to the mission and values, and make things happen.

The same applies when managing your community. It’s totally fine to have folks who are super supportive and willing to get their hands dirty and others who think what you are doing is meh. Focus on both ends, but adjust your communication and overall way of working.

2. Find out why it didn’t work, and respond accordingly

Others’ reactions often have nothing to do with your actions. Your community members have their anxieties, fears, concerns, and triggers. You need to nail the way you tailor your communication to them, and one of the best routes is to find out what exactly made them react in a particular way. 

There are many ways you can ask them: through a survey, by running one-on-one video calls, or by inviting them to fill out a feedback form. Keep in mind that not everyone embraces the same manner of communication, so make sure you offer alternatives.

Create a safe space for providing feedback so that members will be more prone to offer it. You can do that by asking for it continually around each initiative you run, and not only when things seem to hit the wall. By doing so, you can shape a behavior where people feel safe and appreciated for taking the time to share honest feedback instead of throwing up random frustrations when the first occasion arises.

3. Apologize if you were wrong, and ask for help

CMs are human beings too who make mistakes or fail from time to time. If you’re in a position where most members think what you've done or how you've done it lacks integrity, make sure you show up and address the situation with patience, empathy, and plenty of communication. 

Especially in online communities, there's a risk of missing cross-cultural particularities, which can backfire. It's almost impossible to be familiar with all the distinctions, yet it's mandatory to know how to react when things go wrong and you've hurt people, even if unintentionally. The wisest way is to acknowledge your limits and ask for help to make things right. 

The purpose of this isn’t to play games or exhibit fake transparency; it’s to dig deeper and find out why something went wrong. It’s one of those occasions when you can speed up your growth and learn so much about people, relationships, and community building.

4. Let members go or even invite them to move on

While it's always hard to see people leaving your community, it's something you can neither control nor avoid entirely. If your community no longer serves a member, it’s better for them — and you — if they go somewhere that suits their needs better, instead of staying and complaining over and over. 

The offboarding experience is as important as the onboarding one. Design an exit interview where you really set the stage to listen for feedback and get actionable insights, while also protecting the relationship and showing gratitude for what you accomplished together.

Many community professionals obsessively focus on the active members, the never-ending programs, or the ‘next big thing’ and miss paying attention to those who’ve left, and why they did so. Often, the members who leave are the ones who can reveal crucial opportunities you might have missed. They’re a source of learning and getting a nuanced perspective on what’s happening within the community.

Oana Filip
May 16, 2022

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