When to support a community and when to create a new one

Quit asking me to join your new and empty community, I’m busy adding value to my current ones.

There are several tools out there to help create the framework for a community. Ning and Wetpaint offer instant online solutions.  Fledgling (i.e. empty) communities are springing up almost as frequently as (empty) blogs.

A lot of people want to be owners and leaders. They reckon that if they build the framework, then they’ve created a community and that’s a Good Thing.

I worry that the desire to own means that some people feel envious of other successful communities and simply wish to copy and create a ‘me too‘ website. The ‘I didn’t make it, I don’t like it‘ stance is what I’m talking about.

Yes, I’ve created communities…

If there isn’t a (good) community out there then clearly you can understand why one might be created. I’ve created two or three (frameworks for) communities in my time. One was around the voluntary organisation that I founded, and that organisation is unique in the UK, and so demands its own social tools / message board. Another was a niche website and message board, that caters to an alternative lifestyle (no, not gay, gay isn’t an alternative; sigh) that I felt wasn’t catered for in the UK (and I was grossly unhappy with the USA versions) and then there’s the fledgling community around this site, kilobox communiqué.

Well, it’s not really a community, but with blog comments, blog links, Twitter and Facebook, I’m getting to know the people who contribute to my site and whom I’m writing for. I did want to use the Disqus commenting system, as I believed that would enable me to ‘join‘ the community rather than ‘create‘ one, but as you might remember, it just wasn’t working for many of the people who comment here.

Yes, Disqus is phenomenally brilliant, but a lot of my readers don’t engage with other blogs as much as you might assume. Odd as it might be to many bloggers, I’m learning that my (few) readers are very discerning and don’t have time for the ‘blogosphere’ (which is still too bleeding edge for many people).

So, in effect, by inviting people to sign up for an account here, and to leave comments, I’ve created the framework of a small community. I didn’t mean to; I meant to join the blogosphere, but it turns out that my subject of writing and communicating attracts marketers, writers, designers and communicators who aren’t fully interested in ‘everything’. They’re interested in comms – like me. Tell me I’m wrong! (I certainly know that several of you run blogs, and have done for longer than me! Yes, I visit!)

Annoying invites to empty groups

But back to my main point (vague as it was). Isn’t it annoying when you get another invite to a Facebook Group that’s got 3 members and is blatantly just a copy of another Facebook Group with 50 or 50,000 members? What’s the point? Why must people say “I’ll make one” when they offer nothing greater / better?
Do I really want to join a Ning community around the iPhone, or the latest PS3 game? How much time and value can I add to something so, um, y’know, limited in scope?

But you wanna be cool?

Wanna be a leader? Wanna add value to people’s day? Wanna get known? Wanna help people? Wanna meet active role in a community interesting people? Then take an on a (near) daily basis and offer help. Don’t ‘take over’ – don’t assume you’re the messiah sent to save the dull community from themselves. You can lead without wearing a crown and a cape. Lead from behind. Introduce people to people. Welcome people. Write ‘how to’ guides for the community. Help people post pictures. You don’t need to be an owner / moderator to be the ‘go to guy’.

Take my primary community (please!) over on my voluntary organisation. I’m the ‘Admin’ – I make the forums work and the colours right. Am I the first person people turn to when a Private Message goes wrong, or when their avatar doesn’t display right? No way; there are loads of helpful people, including dedicated moderators, on hand to lend a hand. I doubt if half the members even know who I am! I am engaged, and I do post and respond to people when I feel I can add value, but I’m not the all singing all dancing queen of the community. I just help things get done, and I support our moderators (and my Admin colleague) and I lead from behind.

Can I tell you about the two communities I joined and added value to? I was once a very proficient user of Google Pages (now superseded by Google Site Creator). I’m a semi-professional web designer, and I know about usable navigation – something that Google Pages didn’t do well, and the newbie (first time) web publishers knew little about. So I shared my knowledge on my own Google Pages site, and got stuck in to the dedicated Google Group every day. After a long while, and out of the blue, a Google person contacted me to thank me for the guidance I was giving, and they sent me a Google hooded top through the mail. Yes! Actual merchandise was gifted to me just to say ‘thanks’. I was deeply touched, and a little proud of myself and Google’s approach.

Another community I joined (because I really needed it) was a Xandros Linux community. I didn’t know how to install new software on Linux, and I didn’t really understand much. In weeks I was doing sudo bashs like a pro, and I made sure that for every question I asked, I answered two or three of other people’s questions (as my knowledge allowed). Even though I was a newbie, I was the one who got BOINC and Google Desktop Search running on Xandros Linux, and helped other people do the same. It was a fast growing community, mostly newbies, and yes, I left once I found that my knowledge had peaked.

Have you created a community? Was it valued by others? Did you do it with the wrong intention? Are you tired of finding the same-o same-o ‘me too’ communities online? How do you choose which to join?


Photo credit: jimmedia

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