Running a Community is like Throwing a Party

Running an online community is like throwing a party. That’s what Jenna Woodul LiveWorld’s Chief Community Officer told me sometime in the 1990s. I have always liked the analogy.
I attended my first meeting of a particular meetup group recently. I arrived with my artichoke dip and entered into a house full of strangers. I did not know whose house I was in. Even by the time I left, I still did not know who was the owner of the house. I did not know where to put my dip so I stood there for a few minutes like… well… a dip. I talked to some people but there were no name tags and no introductions. No one said “Chris, you are new here, I would like you to meet…”. The main presentation was by a husband and wife. It was interesting but the couple bickered the entire time. It is unlikely I will return to that group. Some changes to that meetup or to you community will increase the chance that people will return.
Whose house am I in?
Well run communities have context. When I come to your community I want to know whose community this is and what it stands for. Some of this sense of place should come from the branding even before I interact with anyone in the community.
Where do I put the dip?
How do things run here? Prompts, categories and seeded content help give me a sense of how this community works. A lot of communities put up a community standards in the registration process and think they are done. But why do I decide to register? Why should I join your merry band? Did you let your lawyers write your community standards? Do people read it?
Think about a time or place on your community where people can introduce themselves. People like to be welcomed and acknowledged.
Who in your community is an official host or an unofficial one? If you are greeted when you join a community you will be more likely to see that as the way this community works.
Some people here are new
In a lot of communities that I have seen over the years the new person finds out what the expectations are by breaking them. Think I am exaggerating? How about this answer from a typical forum:

what camera is best.. really is stupid unanswerable question and
its time we starting saying so to the myriad of people that keep
asking it…

…and welcome to the community. When that kind of answer becomes tolerated or expected then the community will have a hard time attracting new users.
It is very awkward to sit through a presentation where the presenters bicker with one another. Communities are the same way. As communities age sometimes cliques or factions can develop. I am not necessarily even talking about the big picture differences between people who arrived with different world views on politics, religion or the New York Yankees but people who have developed bad blood over time. Ever been to a family reunion or a family wedding like that? Even the best communities need ongoing hosting.
People will imitate the behaviors they see you model, promote or tolerate on your community. Does your community reflect what your company or organization values?
recipe for artichoke dip

Author: chris2x

One man's view of life in Silicon Valley from Chris Christensen - a podcaster, blogger, programmer, entrepreneur


  1. Hi Chris,
    I took your Saturday morning, “Blogging for Profit” class a few weeks ago, which by the way was one of the best classes in social media I have ever taken!
    I loved this post! I loved this analogy. I am taking Stanfords class on ” Building an Online Community”.and this encapsulated the important subject matter so very well. Thank you.
    Where can I dowload the slide deck from your Blogging class?

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