This post is the last in a series looking at what I believe to be the five key principles for creating long-lasting community connections at scale. You can read all of the posts from the series in this archive.
The last of the five principles for creating community connections at scale is shared responsibility. This principle underpins all of the others and, while we’ve spoken a lot about growing community using these principles, without this final one tying them all together then we’ve essentially built a house of cards that will always be ready to collapse and isn’t going to create those long-lasting community connections at any scale.
You can do all the right things with your community, but if you don’t empower your community members to be a part of making these things happen then you’ll be actively stifling the gains that you would otherwise see.Tweet
You can do all the right things with your community – create safe spaces, support them holistically, facilitate meaningful shared experiences, and bring them together through social learning – but if you don’t empower your community members to be a part of making these things happen then you’ll be actively stifling the gains that you would otherwise see. Sharing responsibility for the community amongst active members is vital to its growth, especially at scale. Indeed, if members aren’t empowered to act within the community like that, then I would be hesitant to even call it a ‘community’.
So, let’s look at three practical things you can do to facilitate the sharing of responsibility amongst your community members and how this can go a long way towards creating long-lasting and meaningful connections between members.
Documented paths to involvement
In an earlier post in this series, I spoke about using a ladder (or circle) of involvement to provide your community members with a visual explanation of how they can become further involved in your community. With that in mind, I’m not going to rehash things here (go and read that post if you haven’t already) but suffice to say that being clear about how people can share responsibility for the community is absolutely vital to making sure they actually do it. A clear ladder of involvement is an important jumping off point here.
The “trick” to take things further is to document everything, and I do mean everything, about how you manage the community and what kinds of processes, methods and tools you use in your work. Not only does this make your community practices transparent, which has the side-effect of an increasing feeling of safety for your members, but it also makes it possible for others to get involved in your processes. Bonus points if you include the average length of time individual tasks take to perform – this helps people figure out if they even have the time to become further involved in the first place.
Deputies are vetted, trained, and actively supported members who assist the community team in the day-to-day operations of the community.Tweet
With your processes documented you will find that new opportunities become open to you. One of those is that you now have the resources available to launch a ‘deputy program’. This is something we’ve done successfully in the WordPress community so the terminology might be new to you or you might have a different name for it. When I talk about a deputy program, you can think of it as a cross between a power user, contributor, and ambassador program – deputies are vetted, trained, and actively supported members who assist the community team in the day-to-day operations of the community. They will usually form an inner circle of sorts and will have a dedicated, ideally private, space where they congregate. They will be selected and vetted by the community team, and will have been trained in tasks relevant to their role (feel to browse through the training that WordPress community deputies are required to complete – it’s a balanced mix of theoretical and practical content).
When you implement these features of a deputy program effectively, you will end up with an exclusive group of people who are qualified and trained to volunteer their time to help you manage your community. If that idea doesn’t make a community manager even a little bit excited then I’d be very surprised! You can enhance this program by making the names of deputies available to the rest of the community and being clear about what tasks they perform. The effect of a deputy program like this is twofold – you will be able to get more work done due to having a larger team working on things, and your members will take more personal responsibility for the community.
Ultimately this means that you will find your members to be more invested in the community and they will find it easier and more natural to form close connections with others. A deputy program is a win for everyone.
So far I’ve looked at two very practical things you can do to empower your community members and create a greater sense of shared responsibility – one of them is about providing information to your members and the other is about actually handing that responsibility to them. This third and final one is a sort of mixture of both of those things – I’m talking about creating personal links between members.
Want to watch an excellent video on this? The brilliant Carrie Melissa Jones has previously published a video about this exact thing.
If you’ve been managing a community for any length of time then there’s a good chance that you’re doing this already without knowing that it’s A Thing (in which case – well done, you!). What it comes down to is keeping track of all your community members – a CRM or even a basic spreadsheet works – and, in particular, keeping track of their interests and skills as they relate to the topic of the community. If you’re running a social learning program then you probably already have a lot of this data. The immediate advantage of this, of course, is that you actually get to know the individuals in your community – that’s great on it’s own, but it also enables you to create personal links by connecting individuals based on what you know about their interests. These personal links are what I’m getting at here.
You can use your knowledge about people to nudge them to answer the questions of their fellow community members. When you see a question being asked on your community platform, instead of immediately jumping to answer it, take some time to reach out to someone (or even multiple people) who you know to have knowledge in the relevant area and privately invite them to respond. This shows the person that you have listened to them and you value their opinion and it gives them a clear opportunity to make a connection with another community member. As you do this more, you will find that you can eventually start doing it less as these connections come more naturally to all community members. If you have implemented a deputy program as discussed above, then you can even make this a task for your deputies to perform alongside you.
You can share responsibility for your community amongst community members by documenting everything you do, actively empowering people to take ownership of community tasks, and personally linking people together.Tweet
So there you have it – you can share responsibility for your community amongst community members by documenting everything you do, actively empowering people to take ownership of community tasks, and personally linking people together. This will work for a community of any scale, and it will be most effective for a larger community if you started all of this while it was still small. It’s never too late to implement these ideas and it’s never too early either.
That wraps up all five of the principles for creating community connections at scale – the tag archive will continue to list them so feel free to read back and reflect on any of them. Thanks for reading!