People identify with those they share common interests with. They really bond with those they think are ‘the same’ as them. The more you have in common with the members and values of your online community, the better. This involves having a personality that is relevant.
Empathy is a wonderful thing. It not only builds community, it strengthens it. Your community looks to you for guidance (especially during the early, formative period) – so make sure your members can empathise with you.
Empathy in an ‘offline’ context
I worked in a call centre from 1998-2001. This is when I learnt about empathy and mimicry – I initially worked in insurance claims and we had to reject a lot of these claims. By speaking in a style similar to the caller, and using stories to make yourself similar to the caller, you help build a relationship. It makes people more likely to like you. It is harder to be abusive towards someone you like.
As my career progressed, I moved to inbound insurance sales. Our client demanded a ‘professional’ telephone manner at all times, regardless of the caller. It was harder for us to sell that client’s products. It was far easier to sell insurance from clients that didn’t place such restrictions on how we spoke to customers. Of course, we remained professional but we would mimic the speaking style of the customer to make them feel more comfortable with us. We would share stories. One minute we might sound cockney, another minute we may be doing our best Hugh Grant impressions.
Telephone conversations are difficult – you can’t see the person you are communicating with. Online communities pose the same challenge.
Match their style
If your members are relaxed and informal, you should be, too. If your members don’t care about making the odd spelling mistake, don’t be overly worried about the odd typo, yourself.
If your members use your community in an ‘odd’ way (a way you hadn’t envisaged), and this becomes popular, then make it the ‘official’ way.
Some of your members love to travel? Great! So do you! Tell them where you have been. Tell them where you plan to go next. Ask them to recommend some places for you to visit. Find something that you have in common with your members and use it to engage in conversation.
Bob just had a tax audit. Remember the time when that happened to you a few years ago? Share your experience. Offer advice. Remember when you tried to avoid jury duty? One of your members is looking to do the same. What about the time you got caught drinking alcohol when you were underage? Even old stories help build relationships.
If you manage a community of car enthusiasts, make sure you talk about cars! Just don’t forget to also talk about other topics, too. Talking about cars will help make you relevant to the overall community. Talking about yourself and your members will help make you relevant to your individual members.
Don’t be fake. Just be aware.
Just because you should be emphasising what you have in common with your members, it doesn’t mean you should be fake. I manage an online community for women, yet I am a man. I still develop relationships with my members, though – I just do it by looking for other commonalities, and I emphasise them.
I have a different personality for the different communities I manage. In Just Chat, I am less visible and vocal as the community is well developed. When I do get involved, I am more likely to take a more professional, business-like tone. This is what members are used to, and what they expect. In Soap Forum, I am a little more sarcastic and enjoy playing around with members and am known as being far more light-hearted. Come on, it’s hard to be too serious in an online community devoted to television soaps!
Here, I try to keep the content of my articles professional, but allow my personality to sneak through in some of the posts and in the comments section.
I am not being fake. I am not deceiving my members. I am still being myself – I am just allowing different elements of my personality to shine through, according to the personalities present in each community.
I think you should be doing the same. What do you think?