I have been asked on a few occasions just how personal forum owners should be with their members. Whilst I have mentioned numerous times the benefits of being approachable and personable, some readers have sensibly questioned just how far they should go in getting to know their members and sharing information about themselves.
Of course, it is quite possible to go too far and reveal information about yourself that may not be appropriate. Not sharing any of your personality can be equally problematic, though. This leaves us with the question:
How anonymous should a forum administrator be?
All communities are different. Some come across as corporate, with valuable information but little in the way of personality. Others come across as lively and friendly, with big personalities jostling for attention. Others are small, tightly-knit communities built around trust and mutual respect. These are just a few examples – if I were to describe every type of community I would be here all day long!
You should be as anonymous or as honest as your goals dictate.
The importance of goals
It is essential that you have planned out the aims and goals you have for your community. Once you have figured these out you can determine just how much of yourself you want to ‘give away’. It is quite possible to share information about yourself but still remain somewhat distant from your members, but I would argue that this is not necessarily the best approach to take.
You want your members to trust you. If your members do not know anything about you, it is very difficult for you to earn their trust. An online community needs a personality and very often that personality comes from you. If you are not sharing yourself with your members, you will struggle to establish the personality you want your community to adopt.
Give enough and trust your instincts
Of course you may not want to give away too much information about yourself. If you know an opinion you hold is something that would be considered vile by your members, then it it probably best that you keep that thought to yourself!
Imagine the last time you were introduced to new company. The chances are you didn’t spout off your latest thoughts on political or religious issues – most of us will keep such personal ideologies to ourselves until we really get to know and understand the people we have been introduced to. The same approach should be taken with our online communities – play things safe in the short term. As you begin to understand your members, you will be able to share more about yourself. Consequently, your members will share more of themselves if you take the lead.
If your members ask you questions that you don’t feel comfortable answering, then tell them. Just as in real life, we don’t always want to tell people exactly what we think about certain subjects. Remember that not only can members read your comments, but casual visitors may be able to as well. Make sure you don’t end up saying something you regret – sure, that delete button is there but people have surprisingly long memories!
Do what is right for your community
If you are promoting an open community based on shared thoughts, opinions and ideas then you shouldn’t be afraid of opening up to your community; just be sensible. Think through what you plan to say before you actually do so. Consider whether you understand your community well enough to share you opinions with them. Ultimately you should share as much as you are willing to in order to earn the trust of your members. Once you lead the way in this regard, you can expect to see a far more open and trusting community develop around you. Just don’t overdo it!
Share what you are comfortable with, and be honest with your members at all times – whether you choose to share more of yourself with them, or not.
Have you grappled with the challenge of deciding whether to share more or less of your personality with your community? What approach did you take and why? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.