Something in your community shouldn’t make sense

by Martin Reed on 31 January 2013 in Snippets

I’m not talking about making your online community confusing or difficult to use.

Instead, there should be at least one part of your online community that only ‘insiders’ understand.

One of the biggest threats to online communities is growth.

From a member’s perspective, it’s impossible to be friends with everyone. The larger the community, the more noise it generates and the more distracting it can become.

Make sure older members don’t get crowded out or marginalized.

As a community grows, it needs to have elements that make sense only to certain members. As a result, they’ll always be able to recognize a small part of the community as truly their own – regardless of how it evolves and changes over time.

A very small number of Insomnia Land members are part of the ‘Goat Worshipping Sleep-Challenged World Dominators Club’.

That title appears under their username whenever they make a post.

This makes absolutely no sense to anyone but those on the ‘inside’.

And that’s exactly how it should be.

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Tommy T February 2, 2013 at 5:59 am

Ah good post, Martin.

It’s always important to have an in-joke between the regulars to strengthen that bond and tighten the community feeling up.

Of course, my goats and socks follow me everywhere!

Matt Smith February 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I get what you are saying, but the whole point of a ‘community’ is to be part of a community. While I would expect there to be very different views/opinions held by a large community, I would expect everything to still make sense to everyone.

TommyT March 2, 2013 at 5:08 am

I’m afraid I politely disagree, Matt.

While a community should be welcoming to all those who are interested in the form of community you’re offering, your core regular members, power members and those who fanatical about your community should have a strong bond and a stronger sense of community.

In-jokes, things that don’t make sense to oursiders, will make that community seem more interesting, and those who are genuinely interested in your community -will- dig deeper to try and understand your community’s culture and to ‘get’ the in-jokes. Once they’ve done that.. bam, you’ve got yourself another fanatical, loyal, long-time regular member hooked.

You’re not leaving them out. You’re just waving a carrot in front of their face.

The method works, trust me.

If you’re particularly worried about outsiders feeling left out, though, you could always do what I’m currently writing today. A “Community Guide”, on the first page people see when they login for the very first time there’ll be a brief introduction to the culture of the community, a few references to current running gags and in-jokes. So they’re not left completely out of the dark, but still enough there for them to go out into the community and find out for themselves.

By doing this, the community will become stronger.

Ben Leavitt February 9, 2013 at 11:32 am

Never thought of it that way before, but you want your website to have the street level view where people wonder what goes on in the windows above. Helps drive the curious into your websites elite inner circle and allow the casual browser to carry on.

Brosius February 21, 2013 at 9:05 am

Hi Martin,

I see what you mean with certain things within a community being exclusive to insiders. It makes sense, for example, when I’m with some of my friends we have internal jokes that no one else in the “community” understands.

I’ve seen first-hand how the community of a YouTube channel grew too big and pushed out some of the older members out. I’m saying this because I hadn’t really noticed it before, but have now realized it.

Thanks, Martin!

Richard February 27, 2013 at 12:50 am

For the most part i’d totally agree that every community should have something unique about it; otherwise why join it? I would add that these unique features shouldn’t alienate new users though. In your example there would obviously be a list of group names somewhere to explain what it meant?

Martin Reed February 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Absolutely not! Insiders only.

TommyT March 2, 2013 at 5:10 am

Agreed with Martin. Make them work for it. If people are genuinely interested and fanatical about your community, they -will- get ‘in’ on the gags and the know-how all by themselves; and when they do you’ll see their bond with other members strengthened and the whole sense of community stronger than ever.

Farrell Conejos April 2, 2013 at 9:16 am

Hi Martin,

After reading your post, it seems to me that you want the members of the community to have their own identity so that they won’t be crowded by outsiders. It is true that those who are loyal members of the community should not be left over. It’s just unfair for them to be run down by outsiders. This post just made me think about that. Thanks for sharing this Martin.

Dave April 12, 2013 at 6:53 am

From my experience have little “easter eggs” for your users can indeed foster community building, however a fine line exists between fostering a unique culture and creating an exclusionary, elitist culture.

Jack Martin April 17, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Martin does have a point here. The point is not to segregate users but to maintain the original experience which the more Senior Members are used to. For example, when a community is started it would have around 1000 users. But as time progresses this could rise to maybe 1000. The administrator should make it his mission to satisfy ALL the members but he should pay special attention to the loyal, senior members. As such, a hidden or secret community within the community is not a bad idea. It can even encourage members to engage more actively in the community.

John Demmon May 27, 2013 at 5:42 am

Anything – an inside joke, something that doesn’t make sense, anything out of the normal helps because it causes people to ask why, which leads to discussions. Brilliant!

Julie July 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I’m not at the point of having too many members, but I can see how it will become impossible to keep in close touch with everyone at some point. That’s when you hire an employee or two and let them get to know the members on a first name basis. They do seem to need that personal touch and I agree.

Matt August 11, 2013 at 5:49 am

I dont think there is a problem with growth as long as online community offers features like you mentioned in example, such as groups within a community, options to friend people or other features that offer ability to divide/classify members by interests.