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Community Management Facebook Quinnipiac Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 06 – ICM501 – Virtual Groups & Online Communities

Virtual Groups & Online Communities

As John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island.”

On the internet, there seems to be a similar but not identical truth – few people want to be an island. And so we create enclaves.

Some of our enclaves mimic those we see in the offline world – we associate with people we went to school with, or work with, or live near. We associate with the people who used to be in such relationships to us as well. And we associate with family, and sometimes even ex-family. We might expand our horizons a little, to also include members of the same political party, or age group, or others who enjoy the same activities as we do, like knitting, or the same entertainments, such as Browncoats.

Online Dynamics

This changes online with virtual groups, but maybe less than naysayers had originally thought. The online world is not restricted by geography. It’s not restricted by socioeconomic background, either, except that you need to have access to a computer. But you can often get that for free from a library, so you don’t necessarily have to own the hardware, although that does make it easier.

As McKenna, K.Y.A. (2002). Virtual group dynamicsGroup Dynamics, 6(1), 116–127. [Library Link] says, “One of the most basic interpersonal needs is to ‘belong,’ to feel that one is a member of a group of others who share similar interests and goals, and to feel that one is a valued (and unique) member of that group ( Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Brewer, 1991). On the Internet, there are a wealth of venues where one can connect with like-minded others who share core interests and values and thus fulfill this important need. Chat rooms, newsgroups, electronic mailing lists, message boards, interactive games, and major interactive Web sites provide individuals with the opportunity to join existing online groups or to create their own.”

Belonging

This need for a sense of belonging appears to drive a lot of members of virtual groups. There is also a need to break the internet down into more manageable bite-sized chunks. With trillions of webpages online (estimated, See: http://www.factshunt.com/2014/01/total-number-of-websites-size-of.html), no one user can experience it all, not even if that person makes an executive decision to only look at sites written in Norwegian, or uploaded after June 15, 2012, etc. Therefore, users look for something smaller and easier to take. Otherwise, the scale is unfathomable.

Clay Shirky’s Take

As Clay Shirky says, in Shirky, C. (2003, July 1). A group is its own worst enemy. Networks, Economics, and Culture Mailing List. [Link], “You have to find some way to protect your own users from scale. This doesn’t mean the scale of the whole system can’t grow. But you can’t try to make the system large by taking individual conversations and blowing them up like a balloon; human interaction, many to many interaction, doesn’t blow up like a balloon. It either dissipates, or turns into broadcast, or collapses. So plan for dealing with scale in advance, because it’s going to happen anyway.”

Communities that become too large tend to suffer, as the number of conversations grows faster than the number of users (e. g. for three users, there are four possible conversations; user A + user B, user B + user C, user A + user C, and all three users). Users like to feel that they belong, and that a place can be understood.

Safety

Adventures in Career Changing - Virtual Groups

At the same time, they also want to feel safe. In Dibbell, J. (1998). A rape in cyberspace (Or tiny society, and how to make one). In My tiny life (pp. 11–30). New York: Henry Holt and Company. [Link | Alternate Link], Julian Dibbell argues that a behavior whereby one user’s account was able to control another user’s account (against the second account holder’s will) was practically a cyber-rape. The site’s lack of moderation seems almost laughable today, that the designers and administrators of a large online community would leave it to its own devices with zero supervision. After all, even the most libertarian or even anarchic of users usually wants the spam to go away quickly.

Closeness

Beyond basic safety, they often want positive support, too. As Wellman, B., & Gulia, M. (1999). Net-surfers don’t ride alone: Virtual communities as communities. Networks in the global village: Life in contemporary communities (pp. 331–366). New York: Westview Press. [PDF] say, “Even when online groups are not designed to be supportive, they often are.” (Page 7)

Finally, the use of internet communities is sometimes for even greater closeness than what the members can get in person, perhaps analogous to telling your troubles to a stranger in an airport bar who you will never see again.

As McKenna,  (Ibid.) says, “The relative anonymity of the Internet allows individuals to take greater risks in making disclosures to Internet friends than they would to someone they know in more traditional, face-to-face settings (McKenna & Bargh, 1998; McKenna et al., 2002). Users are more likely to express how they truly feel and think (Spears & Lea, 1994) when interacting on the Internet, and when identity salience of the group is high, those who interact under conditions of anonymity are more likely than their nonymous, face-to-face counterparts to conform to group norms (e.g., Postmes, Spears, & Lea, 1999).”

When users mourn the deaths or departures of people they have never met in person, when they hug and kiss relative strangers when they finally do meet, and when they can provide comfort to the lonely online as a function of kindness and not for a quid pro quo, that’s when users move from a Gesellschaft to a Gemeinschaft, or from a rough collection to a true community.

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Community Management Content Strategy Social Media

Community Management and Social Media into 2011

This post is a riff on 10 Community Roundtable Member Predictions for 2011. If you don’t follow the Community Roundtable, you should — they are very knowledgeable about an aspect of social media that is very near and dear to me — the creation, nurturing and management of online communities. I only wish that my Friday Worcester schedule didn’t conflict with their biweekly lunches!

I am particularly interested in #2, #3 and #4 on their list.

#2. Managing international social initiatives. Language is only one complex dimension to this and it also includes tools, regulatory environments, and culture. The combination makes it very challenging for large corporations that operate in many countries around the world. Social structures may mature into more localized or regionalized entities. – I well recall, a good seven or so years ago, attempting to come up with a good list of words for the profanity filter on Able2know. First, you round up the usual suspects, such as George Karlin’s Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television. Then you move on, to abbreviations, synonyms and the like. Racial epithets, religious slurs, etc. But then it starts to get tricky, when you add in an international element. I don’t find the word “bloody” to be offensive at all, but British friends can find it to be downright awful. As a woman, and a Jew, did my own personal sensitivities color my perceptions? Was I laying into the list more heavily skewed as against slang terms for female anatomy, or terms that offended my religion but weren’t even being used anymore? Relatively recently, when Able2Know added a thumbs up/thumbs down voting system, plus the ability to ignore topics, posts and users, the profanity filter was dropped. Now that forum is more open (although the Moderating Team continues to eliminate spam and pornography and does watch out for comments that are beyond the pale), and there is a certain thing to be said for allowing consenting adults to let fly if they so desire. A contrast to that is Trek United, which continues to have a filter (they replace every naughty word with “Phlox”, the name of an alien character. That can make for some rather amusing exchanges). That forum is more genteel, to be sure. But are the restrictions better, worse or just different? Of course there are many, many words out there that are not offensive ones, and there are many more differences in language and culture, and not just with English speakers. But I think the point is illustrative — cultural differences matter, and they can matter in unexpected ways that can cause quite a ripple effect.

#3. Changing the 90-9-1 rule. It is no longer good enough to only have 1% of constituents actively participating so training and mainstreaming the use of social functionality will be a theme going forward. – Regular users often fret about a lack of response, and a skewed ratio. Often views versus responses are 10-1 or even 100-1. Here’s a topic where the ratio is more like 500-1. But I think that skips a bit of the point. It’s certainly less than an issue on a free site like Able2know, but converting lurkers to creators is not going to happen overnight. And, it might not happen at all. Creating good content is important, and vital, and it’s particularly important for the content to be created by a lot of different people with dissimilar perspectives. But you can lead your members (horses) to the topics (water). You can’t always make them post (drink).

#4. Creating a content supply chain and managing it with the same discipline as physical product supply chains. – This is of particular interest to me because it can often be a chore to come up with new things. For Neuron Robotics, it’s not so difficult because I can either comment on something we are doing or I can spin out a robotics news story. It is something of a hot topic and so people are posting about it all the time. But with Social Media, it’s trickier. Sure, there are news stories and blog postings, but these can often be posts about posts. There is still good, original content, but my riffing on it can eventually begin to resemble yet more embedded riffing. At a certain point in time, you can’t spin yet another nutritious meal out of leftovers. But creating original content isn’t easy. Inspiration doesn’t always strike, or it might not be appropriate or perfect or on time. The only suggestions I can provide in this area are to (a) repurpose if possible, (b) save content up for a rainy day and (c) continually keep yourself open to experiences, viewpoints and circumstances which will help you to gather and nurture ideas.

What does 2011 hold in store? As always, my crystal ball is cloudy. All I can tell you for certain is, there will be plenty of Social Media, and there will be people like the Community Roundtable, and like me, who spend our time trying to make sense of it all. Your comments, as always, are more than welcome.