What do you have in common with your community’s members?

by Martin Reed on 5 January 2009 in Articles

Finding what you have in common with community members

What’s the first thing you do when meeting someone for the first time? I am betting that you immediately start to ask questions about them – you engage with them. You do this to find things you have in common with that person. When you find something you both have in common, you will both feel more at ease and comfortable communicating with each other. The exact same process occurs in online communities.

Never ignore an introduction

When someone introduces themselves in your online community, they are reaching out. They are reaching out to you and every single member of your community. They are taking a risk. If they are ignored, you might as well have told that member to get lost, to never come back and to tell their friends never to come to your community. I physically cringe when I come across online communities where members introduce themselves and receive no response. What a failure, and it’s so easily avoided.

An introduction is the beginning of a conversation, and the start of a relationship. You can’t have a community without conversations or relationships. It’s just not going to happen. You need to be involved in your online community. You need to reach out to your members, and you need to find out what you have in common.

‘But I don’t have anything in common with my members’

Rubbish. I developed and currently manage an online community for women. In case you didn’t know, I am a man. Does this mean I have nothing in common with my members? Not at all.

To encourage visitors to register and become members, my registration form is very short. I ask for:

Email Address

That’s it. So if a member doesn’t give much away when they introduce themselves, how do I find potential things I have in common with them? Well, I also have a more comprehensive profile section (see my profile for an example) that members can fill out after they have registered. When new members join, their welcome email invites them to fill out their profile. I also personally welcome all new members via the private messaging system a day or two after they have joined (whether they have introduced themselves or not). If they haven’t filled out their profile or introduced themselves, I encourage them to do so.

You can find something you have in common with every single member of your community. If I find people that have decided to go to university as a mature student, I mention that I did the same. If someone loves reading horror books, I mention that I enjoy reading Graham Masterton. At the very least, if someone mentions they are from the UK I’ll tell them that’s where I am from (originally) and develop further conversation from there.

Initiate new relationships

Your online community shouldn’t revolve around you – it should revolve around your members. Yes, you need to be a visible presence and you need to know who your members are. You can use what you know about your members to initiate new relationships within your online community. Did a new member mention they enjoy stitching? Tell them that you know ‘Member X’ shares the same interest, and drop ‘Member X’ a message telling them about this new member. It could be the start of a beautiful relationship and your community will be all the better for it.

In conclusion…

Find out what you have in common with your members. ‘I have nothing in common with them‘ is an excuse for being lazy. If you disagree, then perhaps you are either managing the wrong kind of online community, or aren’t cut out to be a community manager. Use what you have in common with your members to identify with them and make them feel more comfortable with you and your community. Match up their interests with those of other members and start introducing. You are an online matchmaker, after all.

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Bat January 6, 2009 at 5:40 am

On the point about a user introducing themselves and not receiving a reply, just think how demoralising that must be. You,ve made the effort to say hello to everyone and no one replies.

Whenever I reply to a new member I make a point of asking lots of nosey questions, ;) and try to encourage them to fill out their profile if they haven,t allready done so.

It,s all about making new, and old users feel so welcome that they,ll want to come back. Not only by asking them about themselves, but also by telling them about yourself too. Try and see if the two of you have anything in common, such as a love of certain films or books. Maybe you both love Chinese food. These are all ways to start building a “relationship” with people on line.

It,s worth the effort in the end when users stay and post more and more. By then it,s obvious that they are settled in nicely and feel comfortable in the community. And that is exactly what we want.

Amish January 6, 2009 at 10:58 am

You are so right. If you have nothing common with anyone in an offline community, what do you do? You do exactly the same thing in an online community.

Jared O'Toole January 6, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I think you should always have something in common with your community members. A community is usually based around something. So the people who sign up should be signing up for a reason and you should be able to engage them because of that reason. It may not always be on the surface but I don’t just sign-up for any community I sign-up for things that I have at least some inner interest for.

Greg January 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I like the comparison of online communities with offline relationships. Nevertheless, there are always going to be fundamental differences. You see no facial expression online, which can often lead to misunderstandings and given the great anonymity of online communities building relationships are so much harder. This in turn speaks even more for what you mention in this article – when someone takes the time and overcomes the hurdle to introduce themselves, ensure you answer them! Great post! Once again… :)

Nicole Price January 7, 2009 at 12:58 am

LOL! I agree when you say ‘Rubbish’ in response to ‘But I don’t have anything in common with my members’. I would say that if a person cant find a single thing in common with the members of a forum they perhaps have so business running that particular forum.

Engaging with and encouraging someone who went and introduced themselves is only polite, otherwise what is the point of a forum which by definition is where you invite participation and involvement.

Stephie January 11, 2009 at 8:13 am

very well written. The most important common thing that you must have with your members is at least one type of interest that community is about. If you are not familiar with your members and their interest then you can’t communicate with them and forum will stagnate.

Travis January 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I absolutely agree with your first point about the introductions of new members. For people to stay, you have to give them a reason. If they feel like they aren’t being included in the conversations, they’ll leave as quickly as they came.

JT January 14, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Developing a community online is a very important thing to do. The web allows people to socialize and meet others that are interested in what they are interested in.

Tami Vroma January 21, 2009 at 7:50 am

I have really been soaking up the information on this site. I am a realtor and am about to start a community blog. I just want to start it out right. I have already started a community on Facebook and it got a ton of members really fast! My picture of a well rounded community includes a Facebook spot, a blog spot and a forum spot. So I will be sucking up more information before it really starts. Do you by any chance have an example of a blog that is about a community that I could reference?

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Tami – It sounds like you are off to a great start! I am not sure I understand your question, though. Are you looking for a community based around real estate? If so, nothing springs to mind. It sounds like you are onto something, though – good luck!

Tami Vroma January 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Hi Martin!
Thanks for taking the time to respond! Honestly I don’t want it centered around real estate. I want it to be a community blog with real estate just a part of it. I think a blog just about real estate would be kind of boring for a community. I want it to be a platform for the community and I just so happen to be the one that runs the real estate section. Well I will run the whole thing I guess but I actually want contributors so that at some point I will only be running the real estate part. What I was looking for was a good model to follow- if you can think of one!

Tami Vroma January 21, 2009 at 4:24 pm

One more question-where do I upload my avatar? I like this blog and plan on being around a while!

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Tami – Before deciding to launch an online community, you need to decide why you want one, and what you hope to achieve from having one. Make sure you can answer these questions with specifics before you proceed!

Avatars on this blog are taken from: http://gravatar.com – go there to upload yours :)

Paul November 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm

That is a good idea to only ask them for their name and email. They will be more apt to sign up and participate.

Down the road, they may provide more info and become an active member.