Do you want real friends to join your online community?

by Martin Reed on 6 October 2008 in Articles

real friends in online communities

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!

Your thoughts

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.

Share this community building advice


Similar Posts

Previous post:

Next post:


Michelle October 6, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Ha, I wish I had this to worry about. I can’t get anyone I know IRL interested in my community. I’ve finally stopped asking because I’m sure I was getting annoying.

Good post, though. I can see how that could be a problem. Another problem is you risk having your community look cliquish if it’s all your friends. I’ve been on forums where a group knew each other and I felt like an outsider.


Tassadar October 6, 2008 at 8:49 pm

I think friends are OK to some point, but you have to be crazy to invite your family members ;). I don’t know about families in US, but here in Poland the less problems with your family the better for you. As you mentioned in this post, sometimes people who know you in real life can tell things they’re not supposed to. So no family in my community :P

Nicole Price October 7, 2008 at 4:35 am

I can see your point about friends and family being really helpful up to a point, but beyond which it may just be a case of sharing too much information; rather more than you would be comfortable with. But I think it would also depend upon the kind of forum you are developing, in some circumstances it may not be amiss to let your members see you for the quirky, interesting, unique person that you are :)

kouji October 7, 2008 at 6:20 am

i probably wouldn’t. having friends and family there creates all sorts of complications. better to keep things simpler, by attempting to draw in strangers. :)

Bat October 7, 2008 at 9:30 am

Inviting your nearest and dearest to join your community is a good idea in theory, but it has to be made abundantly clear from the start that this is YOUR community, and YOU are the boss. They have to be made aware that if they break your community rules, they will be treated the same as anyone else, with no favouritism shown.

Suppose a family member or friend, makes a post that is littered with expletives. You then have to remove the offending post and send them a warning pm, reminding them of the site rules. Are you prepared for the fact that you may end up falling out over this?

Also inviting your mother to join may seem lilke a good idea, but what if she starts posting pictures of you when you were a baby?

Or what if your best friend has a few too many glasses of wine one night and posts revealing pictures of you at a stag night a few years ago.

All in all, inviting family members and friends seems like a good idea, but there are lots of things to be considered.

I was thinking of inviting my mother to Female. I,m not quite so sure now. There is one particularly embarrasing picture of me as a baby I,m not sure I want the world to see! ;)

Amish October 7, 2008 at 2:35 pm

It has been my experience that as a blogger, I am taken for granted by my close friends and family who hardly ever visit my blog! Unless they are into blogging or surfing etc, they rarely if ever visit my blog. Many of my other blogger friends share that they too experience the same phenomenon. Quite how this will translate into an online community is something that will have to be seen. My belief is that they would rather go to a community where I will not be involved!

This however does not seem to hold good when it comes to social networks! Strange behaviour patterns.

Antonio King October 8, 2008 at 7:34 am

I think, if anything, the most that a manager would have to worry about if a friend/family member was invited to their community, is the possible repercussion(s) of having to perform disciplinary action on said invitee.

If there’s a fall out between the two in real life, could that potential damage their community and even career, or vice-versa? Or perhaps there’s a fall out between you and that person on the community, how will that affect your relationship in real life? Personally, that would be my major concern if I were to invite people to my community, on top of what was listed in the above article.

Erin October 8, 2008 at 3:47 pm

You bring up some good points. Having some added interaction can definitely help your blog or forum. I know of a site that is about half information and half social networking. Their employees contribute about half the discussions but they are acting as if they are independent. This really keeps conversations flowing.

Smiley October 8, 2008 at 8:17 pm

I started FC on my own, just one single person, me. Myself and 3-4 alter-ego’s for a few months that is until I had enough organic members to slowly phase them out.

I like to keep it that way. That’s why I never add members to MSN, never get personal with them. I don’t tell them my life story, that is.

I am friendly, however. I freely share my interests, taste in music, age, my love for Real Ale and petty things such as that. But I don’t tell them what it was like growing up and such like that – because there has to be a line between ‘friendly’ and ‘personal’, albeit a thin one.

Only one of my family members knows the site and logs on but he likes to keep a level of anonymity. Everyone knows he’s my cousin, but he doesn’t want me saying stuff about him like I don’t want him me, so it’s a mutual agreement.

Tertius October 8, 2008 at 8:59 pm

A really good issue to bring up.

If you’re a loner it’s very tempting to do some things the more easy way than not. There are some pitfalls, but if your friends and family (the ones you pick to help) are good people, you might just strike the jackpot!

Mr Woc October 8, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Hi there

I think it does depend on your site really doesnt it, wouldnt be nice having to ban family and freind if they broke the rules would it lol !


Linda P. Morton October 10, 2008 at 6:17 pm

I think this problem goes beyond communities.

It’s a challenge to know how much about yourself to reveal. My blog and major web site is on marketing so I try to keep it professional, but sometimes I fear that people don’t really connect with me because of it.

When it’s relevant to my marketing topic, I do sometimes tell stories about my family. For example, I told a story about my daughter when she was four to demonstrate false assumptions that we can make about our target markets and the problems that causes. I told a story about my son to illustrate the importance of knowing your target market’s language.

I’ve also told a couple of heroic stories about my great grandmother to illustrate differences in women, and a couple about my favorite leisure activities to illustrate how revealing leisure activities can be. I won’t give the urls for these because that would be too much.

Still most of my posts are just good solid professional information, but I have a high bounce rate.

Yet I see blogs that are almost completely personal with good traffic.

Which approach do you think works best?

jennifer October 12, 2008 at 11:39 pm

A lot probably depends on the type of community, too. Some may allow for a little more casual attitude while others need total professionalism. But certainly posting that video of flashing your boobs while dancing on the bar at the local tavern is not a good idea in ANY leadership role. ;)

Rika Susan October 15, 2008 at 4:09 pm

This is an interesting post. Just as I believe not to do business with family, I don’t think getting family involved in a community is a recipe for success. There are loads of potential problems. But if a family member is knowledgeable about the subject and joins in the conversation as just another member, I suppose it could work out OK. As long as the community rules are followed.

Daniel Soar October 16, 2008 at 5:52 pm

I think joining a community doesnt need to be just friends only, it should consist of people willing to join a community and to be of use or an asset.

Randy Brown October 21, 2008 at 5:10 am

NONE of my friends or family (other than my wife who helped get the site running, and now hardly ever shows up) even know about my community. Many know that I own a popular website, but none of them know the URL.. they think i’m a jerk or a liar, but ‘dems da rules.
One reason you didnt mention is PPC advertising.. How many of your friends or family might feel tempted to “help you out” by clicking all over your ads – hundreds of times? That would not go over well with most advertisers, especially the big G ..
I even try to limit my interaction with members of the community. I feel that if i get too ‘chummy’ with members it causes too many problems.. I try not to interact – but sometimes it’s just too fun not to join in..

Lisapeary October 21, 2008 at 7:43 am

I think, if anything, the most that a manager would have to worry about if a friend/family member was invited to their community, is the possible repercussion(s) of having to perform disciplinary action on said invitee.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 27, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Michelle – I wonder what it is about your community that the people you speak to don’t find interesting? Have you asked them? Maybe they can tell you what you need to do to get them interested.

Tassadar – Hmmm I am not sure there is often a huge distinction between friends and family; both could make your role as a moderator difficult if they became members!

Nicole – I agree that there are a lot of variables in play here. I think friends and family can be a really good addition to your community, but there are inherent dangers in pursuing this strategy.

Kouji – You’re right; it can definitely make things more complicated!

Bat – Agreed. If you want to invite friends and family to your community you should definitely lay down some ground-rules for them in advance! This includes making them aware that they are expected to adhere to the site rules and will be treated the same as other members. You will also want to ensure they know whether they are permitted to post any personal information about you before they join.

Thanks for the scenarios you described – some good ones to think about there!

Amish – A blog is an online community! I have similar experiences to you; my friends and family know what I do but tend not to get involved – they see it as ‘my thing’ and don’t really want to get involved.

Fine by me!

Antonio – It could definitely create friction in the real world if you had to discipline a friend or family member. Normally, as community administrators, we can ‘switch off’ when we turn of the computer. This might not be the case if we end up having to ban the wife from our community!

Erin – Like you mention, there are pros and cons to inviting friends and family to your online community. You just need to be aware of them and be prepared for them before making a decision.

Smiley – I think it is a good idea not to get too personal with your members. As a person of authority you should be getting involved but keeping some distance at the same time.

Tertius – Exactly; I am sure inviting friends and family can work out great. Not sure I can open-heartedly recommend it as a community building strategy, though!

Mr Woc – I think it depends on more than just your site; it depends on how personally involved you want to get in your community, it depends on the personalities of your friends and families and it depends on your overall strategy. Lots of variables normally equals lots of things to go wrong!

Linda – I think you can have people connect with you without giving too much of yourself away. You convey a sense of your personality in your writing (at least you should), and even if you choose to remain wholly professional when writing your articles, you can still share some of your personality (especially when replying to comments).

Telling stories is a great way of building relationships, and I definitely recommend doing that. It all depends on how much you want to give away about yourself. I think you are following a good strategy – you don’t have to choose between having a personality and remaining professional. You can do both. Remember, you can share a lot about yourself in your ‘About’ page. It sounds to me like you have a good balance.

Jennifer – I agree that boob flashing probably won’t get you a reputation for being professional. It might gain you some traffic, though! ;)

Rika – Exactly; there are pros and cons and each need to be identified before you reach a conclusion.

Daniel – I completely agree with you, and I certainly wasn’t suggesting communities should be open only to your friends and family.

Randy – Sounds like you are the ultimate ‘Man of Mystery’! You raise a good point – friends and family may feel more inclined to ‘help out’ and start clicking on ads, which definitely wouldn’t be beneficial.

Don’t be afraid of getting involved in your community – your members want to see you involved. You can get involved without revealing too much of your personal life – it’s all a big balancing act.

Lisapeary – Well that would definitely be awkward. But surely them sharing highly personal information about you would be just as uncomfortable?

Smiley October 30, 2008 at 4:58 am

I agree on the balancing act comment. I think there are two different extremes where you don’t want to be. One extreme is your members know NOTHING of you. A little mystery is good, but your members don’t want to chat on a site where the owner is basically The Invisible Man, unapproachable; but at the same time they don’t want to chat on a site where the owner is posting baby pictures of themselves and telling everyone their life story. You want to be personal enough so you have a ‘human touch’ about you to your members, but still keep your personal life in a mist.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Smiley – Yup, I agree. A little mystery is intriguing. Complete mystery results in no relationship being developed. It is a balancing act, but you need to make sure you share parts of yourself – if not your experiences, then at least your personality.

Armen Shirvanian November 20, 2008 at 9:14 am

It sounds about right that the only known individuals that should be invited to a forum are the ones that would be interested in the material, or the ones that really would want to assist, even though they aren’t that interested in the material. Any other known individuals should be kept out of one’s forum, as lacking a purpose from the start could lead to trouble. Also, one has to keep in mind that they can introduce someone to a community, but it is hard to remove them from it once they are engaged.

Andrew J. Simone November 21, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Depending on friends and family can lead to disatsers and may even strain relationships in the future.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:23 am

Armen – I agree. Communities are based around people who share similar interests – not similar bloodlines!

Andrew – Exactly! That’s why you need to consider whether you want friends and family to join your online community in the first place!

Sally December 28, 2008 at 2:38 am

Ever been a member of a site where 80% of the members are friends in RL and they keep bringing in THEIR friends to register? It turns into nothing but a clique where every other member is deliberatly ignored. It is instantly political and divisive. I’ve experienced it. It is a nightmare. Just as in RL, people tend to group together and stay with each other. It’s normal behaviour; but for some reason when it is online it only seems to increase and become worse. I myself can’t complain against “member X” because all of his buddies will scream to the moderators about it and freeze me out even more. And of course I’m talking about a legitimate complaint.

No friends and no family!

Frank March 3, 2009 at 7:18 am

I think that if you are starting an online community, getting friends and family to join is the lazy option. You should already be involved in the online community for the topic; in which case getting other interested people involved shouldn’t be too great a challenge.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 10:49 am

I keep many of them out of it definitely; and if I do involve them I try not to promote them or have them promote me beyond what I would do for any other member of their standing on my community. I do have friends and family that share the same interests, humor, etc as myself — the ones that know most of what I’ve done, where I’ve been, etc.. but there are definitely others that I wouldn’t want seeing that. I really haven’t covered my tracks well as far as usernames and how easy I am to track online.

{ 1 trackback }