Don’t fear the cliques in your online community!

by Martin Reed on 22 May 2012 in Snippets

Too many community managers see cliques as a bad thing (Tommy tried to stamp them out completely). Doing this can bring a community to its knees and strip it of its personality.

Cliques are a good thing for an online community. When members form smaller groups, it makes a community stronger. By trying to stamp them out and making all your members ‘equal’, you’re crushing your community’s spirit.

Cliques make online communities exciting and vibrant. Arguments, debates and rivalry are the fuel that keep communities alive and keep them interesting.

Yes, cliques can make a community seem intimidating to new members – but that’s a good thing. The harder it is to join your community and integrate within the existing membership base, the more committed and dedicated to your community that new member will be.

Instead of worrying about cliques, encourage them.

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Tommy T May 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm


Haha, but I believe I use the term ‘clique’ in a much more specific way than most.

‘Groups’, I don’t mind at all. You get along with some people better than others – that goes for IRL as well as online. I run in groups. We all have a ‘circle of friends’.

When I use the term ‘clique’ regarding to online communities though, I’m pretty much describing the self-proclaimed “elitists” of the community who believe THEY are the masters, what THEY say goes, people are only welcome if THEY say they’re welcome, if THEY don’t like somebody, nobody else should or else! etc

This type of bitter nastiness that these specific kind of cliques that I refer to can’t do any community good. I’m not Mr. Nicey Nice myself, I’m a great believer and if I may blow my own trumpet, quite an artisté of the “chaos creates content” theory – but when it gets to the point where your own staff are afraid of a certain group of regs known as ‘THE clique’ “do as we say or we’ll destroy you” type.. that’s when it’s time to knock them down a peg or two, IMO.

Thought it was important to let everyone know I differentiate between ‘groups’ of friends/regulars/power users, and what I call.. “-THE- clique”. I believe in leniency, fun, banter, letting the members have a sense that it really IS their community – but it’s a fine line to watch, when they literally start running the show and your staff need to start wearing full combat gear just to enter a room THE clique have declared theirs, and only theirs.

Tommy T May 27, 2012 at 12:12 am

Here’s a quick unrelated question if you’d be kind enough just to throw in your thought on please Martin?

I was thinking of launching as “no registration needed” again.. but after carefully thinking about it.. I’m in doubts about it now.

Yes, closing it to registration only would slow its growth and progress, perhaps by many, many, many months.. but I asked myself the question, am I looking for quantity of members – or quality?

I decided I’d be much happier, with 5 loyal core regulars with plenty of conversational power, banter, wit, thoughts, opinions etc to start with, than 50 random guests who scroll ASL ASL ASL CAM CAM MSN ASL all day.

Perhaps it could be opened to guests in the future, but I think this time around, it maybe a good idea for me to start slow, get a small handful of loyal regulars to ‘set the standards’ so to speak, so when the community does eventually grow, the new arrivals will have people to look up to, to follow, to imitate and it’ll improve the quality of not only the site, but of the member’s experience while using the site too.

I know as a new site it’d be a good idea to have it open, internet users are lazy etc, nobody likes a quiet/dead site etc.. but with an extra bit of work & effort in the area of member retention, I think it could work if enough content and interest and incentive to be loyal, keep returning, and keep contributing is given.

Honest opinions?

Joe K June 22, 2012 at 2:35 am

I tend to agree with Tommy T on this one. There are cliques and cliques, and the worst, I find, are the ones who set themselves up as ‘forum police’, not seeming to realise that if their assistance was required, the owner/manager would give them mod powers. Reporting a post is fine, reading the riot act to some newbie is not. I aquired my online name from just such a person, who described himself a ‘trollhunter extraordinaire’ in his sig, when I joined a presidential runner’s (Kucinich) board to expose his *own* trolling. The ‘trollhunter’s, not Kucinich’s.

And the argument that communities *should* be ‘hard’ to join kind of makes me think of ‘hazing’. Messageboards are a difficult medium to make a connection on, with misunderstandings being rife, creating hassle between people who would probably get on like a house on fire in RL, and certainly never consider saying the kind of hurtful things that they will say to a ‘stranger’.

That’s why I argue strongly – though I don’t rule out there being exceptions – that people aren’t trolls, but they do troll occasionally, and don’t consider it a bad thing when they do (though it’s like that line, ‘treason never prospers, for when it does, none dare call it treason’ :)). If you have a ‘good’ justification for doing something, you can’t be a ‘bad’ person (troll). Especially if it’s ‘for the board’.

Nirmal Kumar Pandit August 30, 2012 at 11:08 am

It is very important to engage with your colleagues at any community, which can definitely help to grow in your life.
It meant a community of practice, essentially a community for people that participate in the same activity together. By using that symbol I excluded a large % of readers in exchange for the specific people I wanted to reach.

If you recognized the symbol, you were more likely to read the post. If you didn’t, you were less likely.

Community efforts are usually targeted at a specific segment of the total audience. Your community might live in the automobile ecosystem, but your target audience might be 40+ drivers.

To attract this audience, you need to use symbols that have a specific meaning to that audience. This means identifying words, events, activities, objects and anything else that has a specific meaning to this group.

To learn the symbols you need to speak to the audience. You need to identify the language that comes up (phrases/expressions used), the events/activities they discuss, the culture, the specific interests and motivations they have. Look for the specific things they mention that you have no idea about.

To reach any specific audience you need to flood your community with symbols that appeal to the group you’re trying to reach. Embed these symbols in the community. Refer to them in the website copy, the confirmation e-mail, news posts etc.. Name areas of the community after these symbols. Let members use them in their profiles. Even use a symbol in the name of the community itself

Andrew November 8, 2012 at 11:45 am

Good advice! I hate to admit it, but I’m in a few of those cliques! We welcome new members all the time! Don’t be shy – jump in and join the conversation! I also agree with Tommy & Joe as well. The “forum police” are a spoiler for any community! Allow, accept and be respectful – you may make some great friends or at least acquaintances who may be able to help you open a few doors in the future!

Ian Mann November 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I guess I will agree to what he said that “cliques” are the ones that’s making your online community stronger. Don’t think of them as the ones that are just some annoying stuff, rather, make something out of them. Just accept them make use of their existence.