People love to imitate those they admire and respect. You can use this to your advantage when building an online community; lead by example and watch your members follow your lead.
You begin as your community’s most valuable member
When you start a brand new online community, you are its most valuable member. You are responsible for creating content, encouraging interaction and recommending the site to others. As new members join, you should be welcoming them and asking them questions in order to build a relationship. Members to a new community are not aware of its personality or its culture – it’s down to you to impress this upon them.
The early period is your community’s most influential
Establishing a culture and personality for your community is essential if you want to differentiate your site from the competition. It is almost impossible to change your community’s reputation, personality and culture once it has been established, therefore you need to be sure you pay great attention and attach a large amount of importance to getting it right from the outset.
Know what you want from your community early on, and use this to shape your community and its culture. If you fail to pay attention to this, you may be storing up problems for the future.
Behave as you want other community members to behave
Let’s say you are developing an online community based around sarcastic news reporting; in this case, you want there to be wit and humour in peoples’ posts. In order to encourage this behaviour in your members, you simply do it yourself. Make cheap jokes on a regular basis, and watch as your members soon follow your lead. Welcome every new member with questions and interest, and watch as your members do the same. Write lengthy, intelligent posts and you’ll soon see your members do the same.
I read many comments from community developers with questions such as ‘How do I encourage more questions?’, ‘How do I create a friendly community environment?’. The answer is always the same: lead by example. You want members to ask more questions in order to encourage interaction? Then start asking them yourself! You want a friendly environment? Be welcoming, inviting and accommodating to every single one of your members.
If you find your members tend to flare up over the slightest disagreement, you should try getting more involved in conversations that you may disagree with. When you post, explain that you disagree with their argument and outline the reasons why. Be sure to mention the fact that you respect their opinion and would be interested in hearing what other members think. If you continue to do this over the long term, and members see you doing this consistently, you should be able to slowly adjust your members’ behaviour as they begin to copy the style you have adopted when disagreeing with specific posts.
You won’t find members copying your behaviour overnight, but if you keep your approach consistent you will find members slowly start following your lead. Over time, you may decide that you want to pull back a little from your community to see if it can stand on its own two feet. This is fine as long as your withdrawal is not immediate and abrupt. If your members suddenly lose their leader, you may end up losing them. Remember: you want your community to follow your example without being totally reliant on you.
Have you tried leading by example in order to develop and influence your community’s personality and the behaviour of your members? Have you found that over time, members mimic your behaviour? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences by leaving a comment below.