11 Tips for the founder of a virtual community
Do the virtual communities you belong to serve you well? Have you ever considered what makes one virtual community work better for you than another?
I am part of numerous groups online. What makes one more enjoyable and useful than another is often the way the group is run by the Founder. The group I have run the longest is what we fondly call The Walking Tribe: a community I founded of women all over the world who walk daily and post to a monthly theme. Each person actively commits to accountability, affirmation and celebration, and gives and gets support for doing what we set up to do: walk, connect and stay accountable.
Based on my learning from 50 months of running the Walking Tribe, I now assist business owners to build and sustain great virtual tribes around their purpose (often around the book they have written). I help them create Triple Wins; that’s win for them, those around them and the world. Triple Wins in virtual communities only really work when everyone is both benefitting and contributing as an active member.
Here are eleven tips for founders of virtual communities that make them good and powerful:
1. SET A CLEAR PURPOSE.
Be clear about why the virtual community exists. A clear purpose helps to achieve a good outcome. Your test of the clarity of purpose is if each person in the community can clearly state why the group exists.
2. ENCOURAGE STELLAR BEHAVIOUR.
My experience is that people are generally cooperative and polite. However, online groups can attract trolls and nasties, and you surely want to be sure to avoid this. Even when people don’t mean to, they can trigger anger and resentment by saying what they wouldn’t say to someone face to face. If you are clear about the behaviour you expect from participants (like respect, listening, diversity of opinion), you reduce the risk of problems.
3. SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS AND BOUNDARIES.
Write a blurb about the purpose, expectations and acceptable behaviour of the community. Copy and paste it into a pinned post and ensure that every person who joins the community has read it and is held to account. People who have been in the community for a longer time will often help to guide people to that blurb.
4. DEAL SWIFTLY WITH ISSUES THROUGH THREE-PHASE CONTROL.
It is your responsibility to keep the group safe and effective, and of low irritation value. If group members behave in a way that doesn’t benefit the group or is harmful, write a general statement about what is expected in a ‘founder’s post’. If it doesn’t change, contact the person whose behaviour needs to change in a private message. If it still doesn’t change, remove that person from the group.
5. ENCOURAGE ENGAGEMENT BUT RESPECT PEOPLE’S LIMITED TIME ONLINE.
Don’t panic when there are low moments: a healthy tribe will be dynamic. With limited time to be online and limited patience, people choose what they want to belong to. If the Tribe talks to them and serves their needs, and if it creates a place that they feel safe, they will want to be there. You can be most useful if you offer shortcuts and ways of people being connected without having to live online and be part of every post. Give suggestions about what is ‘enough’ engagement.
6. ENGAGE REGULARLY WITH THE GROUP.
A key component of building relationships in the tribe is occasional one-on-one communication with every participant. This might seem like a luxury, and in bigger groups, it might not be possible. But my experience has been that a monthly check-in via private message (not a group message as these are incredibly irritating to participants) builds the relationship more than any other one action.
7. GET HELP IF YOU ARE NOT AVAILABLE.
When things get busy, ask someone who loves the Tribe to co-host with you. Discuss the kind of help you need and why you are asking for back-up, then make it quite clear what tasks you are asking your co-host to take on. Don’t imagine they know. Only you know what you would like them to do. Be sure to inform the Tribe of their position.
8. KEEP A LIGHT TOUCH.
You don’t need to like or comment on every post. Keep a light touch by expanding comment threads, affirming involvement of community members (especially the kind of involvement you think is good for the tribe) and affirming good process. Model appropriate behaviour. Ask questions, acknowledge people’s wisdom that they bring to the group and their role in creating community.
9. UNDERSTAND THE EBB AND FLOW.
There will be times when the mood is low, the engagement is down, or people are negative. Allow this to be part of the process of the group forming and storming. Discourage people speaking on behalf of everyone about issues or problems; help them to own their experience of the community.
10. REPEAT THE GOALS OFTEN.
Mention the goals regularly. For example, in the Walking Tribe, I mention that the purpose of the Walking Tribe is walking or moving 30 minutes a day plus a ten-minute challenge and that we focus on ‘Accountability, Affirmation and Celebration’.
11. BE SUPER PROFESSIONAL.
Remember everything you do online is there forever. It’s amazing how easily people forget this, believing privacy settings or closed groups will protect them. No. It’s better to err on the side of caution and think carefully before you post. Encourage your community to do the same.
Polish up your online etiquette; be a shining role model. Never talk about one person in the Tribe to another. Be true to your values. Consider whether it’s ever appropriate to swear, and balance how much you open up in the virtual community while holding the leadership role. It helps to be positive and encouraging.
Enjoy being the founder of your virtual community. As I’ve said before, a virtual tribe can be a powerful force for good, and you have an important role as the founder.