This is the second post about the controversial subject of gating and culling.
The first post discussed why you should gate and cull. This one covers who you should gate and cull, and what they do to deserve it.
Here are some of the key characters who can both undermine the community’s core purpose, as well as its operation.
Who should you reject and eject?
I’ve seen five categories:
- Spammers: abusers of access.
- Social Toxics (including Trolls): abusers of social norms of behavior.
- Flakes: abusers of expectation.
- Non-believers: abusers of purpose and values.
- Passengers: abusers of mutuality
What do they do that’s so bad?
These are the people that abuse access. They pitch to a membership that’s not signed up for being pitched at. Spammers may have joined for that reason. Or they’ve become members with the best of intentions, but can’t resist the juicy ‘captive audience’ they’ve happened upon.
Julia’s tough about these people. She ran two Meetup groups in Southern California: a social group for Fibromyalgia sufferers, and one for Dutch-speakers.
“I’ve four main rules. One of them is that you’re not allowed to sell anything, period. Some of the girls started selling stuff since they joined. They go “Oh how wonderful, I have this whole potential client base here for my magic juice that’s going to cure everybody.” And I’ve had to kick them out of the group because they’ve refused to stop selling to members.”
Intrusive behavior that’s inconsistent with the purpose or norms of the community constitutes abuse. If the group is about selling and buying magic juice, then fine. If not, stop, or find a group where that is the purpose.
For Andy The Chicken Whisperer the individual he was forced to deal with was not selling stuff, he was selling ideas.
Andy was dubbed the Chicken Whisperer after he launched a network of Backyard Poultry Meetup Groups. He now has two books, a radio show and 38 Meetup Groups internationally that cater to people who want to learn how to raise poultry in the suburbs.
Andy delegates, which allows him to adopt the role of ‘guru’ and guiding light of the mini-movement. But every now and then he has to step in for some hands-on management.
The person that demanded his involvement was quite senior: an ‘Assistant Organizer’ of a Meetup Group.
“And I always have to keep an eye on him, or assign one or two people if I can’t always have an eye on him. I have to remind him to stay on topic. If we’re talking about vaccines for chickens, he’ll turn it into the corrupt CDC giving vaccines to 11 year olds to prevent cervical cancer that they would’nt have got if they weren’t sluts to begin with.
He’ll turn it into a conspiracy theory, anti-government rant, and he’ll really go over the top and make people uncomfortable. And I have to go over to him and say, this is a chicken meeting and I appreciate your views, but we want to keep the subject related to chickens. He doesn’t really have social skills. I don’t’ have to ban him, I just have to keep him on a short leash.
2. Social Toxics (including trolls).
Social toxics are the people like the obnoxious guy in Caterina Fake’s book group. They have poor to zero social skills. They’ve not necessarily joined with the intention to disrupt (unlike Trolls). Sometimes these people can’t help themselves…it’s just the way they’re made. In any event, they have to be managed, neutralized or removed for the sake of the group’s survival.
Trolls are a different matter. Where social toxics may or may not be deliberate about destruction, Trolls are. They tend to derive malign pleasure from upsetting the fragile ecosystem of the group. They seek to provoke anger and dissent in online by inflaming noxious debate and encouraging personal (online) assaults.
Social toxics and trolls don’t tend to constitute a large population within a community. But their influence is disproportionate to their numbers. Almost every organizer has told me in a voice loaded with bitter experience that when encountered, they have had to deal with them with speed and resolution.
Flakes take a while to emerge. They’re the ones that promise to host an event, or do a leaflet campaign, or sign a speaker, or post on a blog, or even just show up…but don’t.
Flakes are not just annoying. They can become a major drag on the community because:
a) Stuff doesn’t’ get done. Not following through obviously handicaps the community in reaching its goals.
b) It erodes the morale of the group
The latter is a more significant that you might imagine. They create a disappointment that’s deflating and a sense of injustice that can undermine the high-functioning members of the group. There’s a ‘fair trade’ dynamic that operates in most groups. People will play their part (taking on roles and responsibilities) because they feel others will play theirs. Mutualism is the signature of strong communities. And collectively, progress is made.
c) They’re a time-suck.
They take time to chase. If you find that you’re on the phone, emailing or showing up at the person’s house to check on whether they’ve done something, it’s not worth it. Demote them, because they’re taking too much of your energy and distract from you concentrating on those who can make a real difference in the network.
For groups that meet face-to-face, the no-show-flakes can be a big issue. You might have booked a venue for a hundred, paid a deposit, but only forty show up. A Meetup organizer in Northern California told me he would book limos or buses for wine-tasting tours to the Sonoma and Napa valleys based on the number of Yes RSVP’s only to see that half would show up. This made the cost for all the others higher, aggravating the active members.
The cult-like organizations I examined…which included religious cults, companies, sororities, fan-clubs, religious groups, the Marines and hundreds more…had cultures that were palpably strong. Those cultures were informed by coherent beliefs, big visions of how the world should be and lines drawn in the sand about what was important and what wasn’t: values.
These were universally known and bought-into by all. And, critically, lived by all. The leadership of these organizations credited the clarity of the worldview and the homogeneity of its believing membership as key instruments of their organizations’ success.
Collins and Porras wrote one of the most influential and best selling business books of all time: Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. They examined the core reasons behind the long-term success of (the few that qualified) American Corporations. Visionary was their term for those organizations that succeeded due largely to their commitment to big goals and differentiating values that seldom, if ever, changed. In their chapter on cult-like cultures (a key ingredient) they write:
“Visionary does not mean soft and undisciplined. Quite the contrary. Because visionary companies have such clarity about who they are, what they’re about and what they’re trying to achieve, they tend to not have much room for people unwilling or unsuited to their demanding standards.”
For visionary companies read any organization, community, group or network that has a differentiating ideology at their core.
I found that without exception, communities that generated commitment had a clear Purpose and Values and a membership that was totally bought into them. Those that didn’t buy-in, and didn’t live the creed, were politely asked to leave and find organizations that were more aligned with their values. More often, these people would self-eject, because they didn’t feel ‘at home’. They didn’t belong in the most fundamental way: on the basis of values. They weren’t amongst ‘like-others.’
Porras and Collins quote one of their researchers who had been examining the likes of Walmart, Procter and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson and HP:
“Joining these companies reminds me of joining an extremely tight-knit group or society. And if you don’t fit, you’d better not join. If you’re willing to really buy in and dedicate yourself to what the company stands for, then you’ll be very satisfied and productive-probably couldn’t be happier. If not, however, you’ll probably flounder, feel miserable and out-of-place, and eventually leave-ejected like a virus. It’s binary: You’re either in or out, and there seems to be no middle ground. It’s almost cult-like”.
When I was a partner in a marketing agency that helped launch jetBlue, a senior exectutive told me a story to illustrate their commitment to the company values and how that commitment was manifested by the values’ rigorous application to who they hire and fire, and now they train.
A highly promising flight attendant trainee was a high-performer in every respect. However, when he muffed a procedure during a mid-course test he asked a more senior employee to cover for him. The individual was fired not because of the mistake (that could be trained) but because the company values of transparency and trust had been abused. They said goodbye to a promising employee because that individual compromised the organization’s creed.
So why is this important?
It goes to the core of a successful community. Having a ‘believing’ membership:
a) Predisposes the organization to reach its goals because its members are not just aligned with them, but motivated by them to do more.
b) Avoids stalling debates about “why are we here, what are we about”. These tedious debates interrupt progress.
c) Potential recruits will see a coherent community and make a more accurate decision whether it is for them or not.
d) Members will have a clearer picture of whom they should recruit (are they one of us?) thus minimizing future difficulties for both the leader and member if it’s not working out.
And most importantly, there will be all the key characteristics of the most sticky communities:
- There will be solidarity and fluid action around shared values and aims.
- There will be bonding founded on identification with both the organization and fellow members at the most profoundly important level of worldview and values.
- There will be a sense of safety (see glue ingredient # 4) that enables self-actualization, a critical ‘gift’ of successful groups.
In other words, there will be a sense of belonging and meaning that the most successful communities are able to generate.
The clarity of creed and homogeneity of a believing membership is arguably more important for some communities than others. For vision and values-driven communities (like visionary companies, some military organizations, non-profits, Unions, political parties, movements, cult brands like Harley and of course religious organizations) it is critical. For others, such as social groups, perhaps less so. But these tend to be in the minority. Every organization should be conscious of why they exist and the values they live by, and ensure its membership aligns with them.
These people are not active detractors, they’re just not active.
Why should this be a problem?
For many communities it isn’t.
Beyond you having an inflated sense of your real community’s size, members who contribute little or not at all aren’t necessarily detrimental to the experience of the rest. Perhaps some of those members have joined, stuff has happened in their lives that prevents them from fully participating, but they expect to in the future. Or they’re getting value from the community by reading posts and downloading information and newsletters. Whilst a fully active membership is likely to increase the value to all, a partially inactive one does not necessarily undermine the experience for everyone.
Except where the community is predicated on mutuality.
In these cases the community only really functions optimally when all are playing an equally active role. This can be especially true of support, networking and social groups where the experience of all is dependant on the participation of all.
Cheryl has had to confront this issue. She’s an ‘accidental leader’. But one that has learnt quickly to take some of the tough decisions that more experienced organizers would find intimidating. She never intended to start and lead a Meetup Group of parents of autistic children, but when other sources of support failed her (online resources and government agencies) she decided that the only real source of help was going to come from parents in her situation. Peer support was likely to yield not only the most relevant sources of information, but also the emotional reinforcement that would get her through the week.
This a support group in the true sense of the word. Without each member contributing advice based on their experience, and without them sharing medical and practical help they’ve uncovered, the group’s purpose is compromised.
“We’re all families dealing with a tragedy. I started the group so that we could all come together as a community and learn from each other about how to adapt to this new life. People have learned that the best help they can get is from other parents.”
The trouble was, many people were joining, not contributing, and just taking. There was little sense of mutualism. Critically, beyond starving the collective knowledge of the group and limiting the resources for support and care, it demoralized the ones who were doing all the work. This was an especially dangerous problem. There were five key people who organized events, raised money, and communicated with the group.
Because of exhaustion and a growing sense of injustice, these ‘gems’ were feeling like they should scale back their own valuable contributions.
“We started feeling some kind of resentment. All these people claimed they’re going to do this and do that, and that they needed this kind of help, but when it comes time to ask them to put in what we give, basically an equal amount of participation, we give you so you give back, they don’t do it. We’ve experienced that people come on board, they get all the resources and then they leave….they take advantage. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
The group played an incredibly important role in her and other key members’ families’ survival. She would not jeopardize it for the sake of members who weren’t prepared to share.
Despite being an ‘accidental leader’ with no experience of leadership prior to founding the group, what she did next struck me as a very wise and fair in the face of a difficult and potentially inflammatory issue (as we’ll see in the ‘how’ section below.) In short, she redefined the terms of membership to require basic minimums of participation. If existing members could not commit to these basic minimums, they had to leave (but would always be welcomed back when they could commit).
Julia, who had had a lot of experience running groups professionally, is quite clear how much she hates passive members, even in a social group:
“We have a lot of joiners in society today. I think it’s important for a community builder to realize that getting people to commit to participating is important. With the Fibro group I’m actually quite hard-assed about it. If you don’t participate, I will actually throw you out of the group. Our group is about getting together and participating and if you don’t want to do that this isn’t the group for you. By me pushing them they’ve pushed themselves.”
In the next post we’ll look at how you gate and cull these kinds of members.