Last week I read a short post by Richard Millington entitled, ‘Communities aren’t built by loners‘. Although not the intended direction of the post, it got me thinking about how close a community developer or manager should be with their community.
Sure, as Richard says, if you don’t have help you will go crazy trying to develop and foster a successful online community on your own. However, the question that was raised in my mind almost as soon as I read the title of Richard’s post was whether or not as community managers we should be inviting our own family and personal friends to join the communities we administer.
Every little helps
Of course, all online communities need members if they are to be successful. However, there is something even more important than members: conversation. Surely if we get our friends and families to join the online communities we manage, we will have ‘more valuable’ members?
Friends and family always want to help us out. If they know how important our online community is to us and we ask them to join, then surely they will be valuable members? Well, perhaps. The fact is though, bringing in personal acquaintances as members of your online community may cause you more problems than it solves.
How much do you want to reveal?
Let’s say your best friend joins a community you manage or are developing. Remember that wild night at Vegas from last summer? Well now all the members of your community know about it, too as your friend has just posted all about it – complete with pictures. Well, you certainly have some controversy now – and depending on how you look at it, some great content.
The problem is, did you really want your members to see that side of you? The community you manage may not even be your own – how does your boss feel about seeing pictures of you tucking dollar bills in places they were never designed to go? Online community managers need to have a degree of professionalism – sure, you should get involved, show your personality and prove that you are human. But just like in real life, there should be some things that you hold back.
It’s not all bad
Of course, this is just a worse case scenario. Perhaps you will get your wife to join the community, and she will post nothing but praise for you and gush about how much she loves you. Problem here is, you’ll come across as egotistical – yup, even though you aren’t posting it, if members see your friends and family posting about you, they won’t be particularly impressed (unless they are airing your dirty laundry; see Vegas example above).
The thing is, enlisting friends and family as members of your online community can be hugely beneficial as long as you are pairing them up with a community that matches their interests and you lay down some ground rules first.
Involving family and friends in your online community
Your dear old mother would love to help you out, but it’s probably not a good idea asking her to join a skiing community. What on earth would she talk about? She won’t enjoy the community, and this will shine through in her posts. Your best friend who goes to Aspen every year may love to join though, so inviting him could be a great idea.
When you invite friends and family to join your community, be honest with them. Tell them that it’s your community. Tell them that you are the community manager/moderator/owner and don’t forget to lay down the ground rules. Depending on the community you are managing, the ownership structure and your own preference, you may ask them to either:
- Avoid telling members about their relationship with you
- Tell them not to share personal information about you with the community
Trust: One scoop or two?
If you want to be a successful community manager, you need to be able to build relationships built on trust and respect. Consequently, you need to be careful if you decide to tell your friends and family that you don’t want them to admit their relationship with you to the community. This may work fine but if they slip up, your members may feel betrayed. It’s often best to be fully honest with them – there is nothing wrong with members knowing that Mr X is your brother and Miss G is your fiancée; just make sure these people know in advance what they can and can’t share about you.
Oh, and don’t forget to consider what may happen if your best friend has too much to drink one night and ‘forgets’ these ground rules. Or what may happen if you are caught cheating on that fiancée of yours!
Have you invited your friends and family to join online communities you own or manage? Did you lay down any ground rules in advance? Do you think it is a good idea to invite real life acquaintances to join online communities you moderate or administer, or should it be avoided? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences by leaving a comment below.