My job and my passion is community building. More specifically, exploring new ways of community building, and teaching them to other people. Quite often, I end up using the metaphor of hosting a party to describe what it’s like to build a community. A lot of what it takes to host a great party is the same as what it takes to build a great community.
My friend and Community Rock Star, Dawn Foster, has been posting a series of must-read posts over at her blog, Fast Wonder. If you work in online community building (and if you think about it hard enough, you probably do, even if you don’t realize it), you absolutely MUST subscribe to Dawn’s blog. She’s brilliant, and speaks the truth. Listen to her, and do what she says.
Her latest post is on who “owns” a community, and the tendency that companies have to sometimes act like dictators when they “own” the community (by hosting it on their site, etc.). They do things like delete any comments that they don’t like, or that portray them in a less than glowing light (rather than establishing a comment policy, and only removing comments that break one of the rules). It’s a great post, and the comment I left got kind of long, so, never being one to waste the opportunity to recycle my own words so more people will read them, I’m reposting here.
Trying to get “owners” to not freak out and do things like delete negative or critical (but otherwise non-rule-breaking) comments is hard.
The company that “hosts” a community should think of itself as en equal member of the community, with some special responsibilities. When you host a community, you’re throwing the party. Sure, you build and “own” the house (site) where the party will happen. You invite interesting people to come to the party, and hopefully have other interesting people for them to talk to, and interesting topics for everyone. You can provide amusements, but not stupid party games (no one likes to be forced into doing something they don’t like at a party). You’re there in case something goes wrong, and needs to be addressed. But if you’re a good party host, you want to make sure things go smoothly, and enjoy the party equally for yourself, NOT make yourself the center of attention the whole time.
Every time I think about it, I find more ways the party metaphor applies to community building. I think in this case, with ownership, you could say that sure, a party host COULD make and enforce abitrary rules, and act like a dictator, trying to control what people talk about, because it’s “their” house or “their” party. But that makes the party suck. No one will want to stay if you start acting like that. And in the end, besides defeating the whole purpose of having a great party/community, it’s really just embarrassing. No one likes an overbearing, self-agrandizing party/community host.
So, when you’re building an online community, or hosting a party in your home, don’t be “that guy”. Think about how to make the party/community more fun, more engaging, and above all, kick more ass. Everything else is just frosting.