All Dressed Up With Somewhere to Go

  |  April 5, 2012   |  Comments

Three ideas to communicate regularly and often with your community to make sure everyone can enjoy the party.

Recently, I went to a wedding reception, packed with people, eager to celebrate. The only problem was, after the vows were said and the attendees made their pilgrimage to the reception, none of the guests knew what to do. They were literally all dressed up but didn't know where to go. What was the program for the evening? Where was the food? Where was the bar? Where were the bathrooms? Where should they sit, stand, or dance? What table were they sitting at? Ready to party, the guests were left spending time and energy on logistics, rather than the purpose of the event - celebrating the happy couple. Needless to say, a great party has quick and easy ways of sharing logistics so the guests can focus on the main event. The same rules apply to thriving online communities - it's important to keep housekeeping logistics in order to ensure new participants and old feel at home in your community and have the experience of being all dressed up with somewhere to go.

Here are three quick ideas to communicate regularly and often with your community to make sure everyone can enjoy the party:

  1. Mission. Take time at regular intervals to make sure you remind the community of your purpose. Is it to connect about your brand? Is it to share lifestyle tips? Whatever the purpose of your convening, it's important to remind and welcome newcomers with the focus of the conversation. This leads to deep and rich conversation, and a sense of purpose for everyone involved.
  2. Roles. Who is doing what in the community? Is it moderated by the members or led by employees? Depending on what you are trying to achieve with your community, it's imperative to be transparent about the roles in the conversation. It never pays to have employees pretend to be participants or feign enthusiasm or support masquerading as someone else. Similarly, your transparency encourages transparency by your community members. You can spend some time clarifying to folks what your role will be as the host and what their role is as the member. Will you be monitoring the conversation or actively commenting? What are your expectations of the role of community members - do you want them to moderate or is it best for them to look to you to kick trolls or lurkers out?
  3. Rules of engagement. This is the most important aspect of the community to clarify. Having led thousands of in-person and online seminars and trainings, 99 percent of the time people respect the rules of engagement if they are laid out consistently and often. Don't want people using cellphones at your staff meeting? At the beginning of the meeting, share the rules of engagement and people won't use cellphones. The same goes for behavior in your online community. Make sure people know what conduct is acceptable. We've had a bulleted list of what behavior is appropriate that we send out periodically or post on a regular basis. Most people don't want to drink from the finger bowl - pointing out how best to participate helps ensure you've got a safe and friendly space for your members.

By employing these three guidelines, you're actually strengthening your brand by implementing a standard operating procedure. Bet you didn't see that coming, did ya? Now your community members will thrive within your brand, which provides them (and let's face it, you) with some understated but necessary rules of engagement. Once these routines are met, you'll find yourself having a stronger confidence in your own brand along with community members who have a greater appreciation of how you run it. So whip out your fancy shoes, you've got places to be!

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Laney Whitcanack

Laney Whitcanack is Federated Media Publishing's chief community officer. Prior to joining FM, Laney co-founded BigTent in 2006 and focused on innovating online and offline ways to connect people with communities they care about. She spent the decade previous to BigTent coaching and training hundreds of community leaders, in the U.S. and Mexico, most recently as the director of community programs for the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

A published author and speaker on entrepreneurship and community organizing, Laney received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2008. She is currently a board member of Zeum: San Francisco's Children's Museum and The Princess Project and is involved in even more community groups after the birth of her daughter, Campbell, last year. Laney has a B.A. from UCLA, and MBA from the Simmons School of Management, and an Ed.M from Harvard University.

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