“ARE THEY LIKE ME?” “WILL THEY LIKE ME?”

These are the two universal (and often unconscious) questions people ask when deciding whether to join a community. They’re the two fundamental social needs that should be met if you’re going to successfully recruit potential members.

ARE THEY LIKE ME?”

At Meetup, we found that Member Profiles were one of the most highly trafficked places on the site. Once someone has decided that they want to join a Beagle-lovers Meetup or practice their Spanish, their first concern is “am I going to get along with the others?” Or, as some people would put it: “I want to check there’s no weirdos there”. A community is predicated on sharing. Getting a fix on whether the others are enough like you to make that possible is important.

What’s even more important is to enable a feeling of belonging. Without this, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build a strong and sustained community. Finding ‘like-others’ is, of course, critical to enabling belonging.

I first discovered this when I interviewed members of cults and cult-like organizations while trying to deconstruct why and how people commit to things. This may be a surprise, but people join cults not to conform, but to become more individual (‘The Great Cult Paradox’). Like all of us, they are looking for others with whom they can be themselves. We will change companies, join a clique of jocks or geeks in High School or change churches because we want to find a place where we feel at home. We’re all looking for a place where the others are enough like us that we don’t have to compromise who we are, we feel safe enough from criticism to express our true selves and thus self-actualize.

Harley riders admitted to me that it’s only when they’re riding out with their brothers can be themselves. They may be dentists or management consultants by day, but when they slap on their tattoos, don their leathers and ride out with the others, that’s when they become their true selves. It may be taboo not to feel like your beautiful home, your lovely family and your career is who you really are. But whether they were someone on the lam, an architect or a cop, they all admitted that when they’re with others who recognize that deep down they’re a rebel do they feel who they really are. They become themselves. They feel more individual.

 

So what does this mean if you’re designing a Community Platform or if you’re a Community Manager or Leader? Do as much as you can to clearly show what the membership is like…and equally, not like. It will hurt the community if people join who are not like the others.

1. Showcase the existing members.

Have rich member profiles and mini-profiles. Make your Member Page attractive and enable potential members to examine rich profiles in detail and skim mini-profiles to check that they share interests, goals, values or…they get their kicks from similar things.

2. Showcase what they do.

Enable potential members to see not only what members are like, but also what they do. Showcase photos and videos of recent activities or key posts that enable them to get an idea of how they’ll be interacting with each other.

3. Highlight pre-existing relationships.

There’s a high chance that if a potential member already knows someone within the group, they are likely to fit in. Meetup has social connections feature that shows how you’re linked to existing members of a Meetup Group. If you have joined the site by Facebook Connect or already attend other Meetups, friends and fellow members will be highlighted and rank ordered on the member’s page. And they rank those members on the Member Page accordingly.

4. Have an explicit Purpose/Mission/Goal statement

Being very clear not only about the benefits of joining but being explicit about who should and who not should not join is one of the fastest and best ways a prospect can assess whether the community is for them. It should enable them to answer for themselves whether they share the same goals, want the same things, share the same values, and are the same kinds of people as the other members.

WILL THEY LIKE ME?

Once the first social need has been answered: “Yes, these are people are like me”, the next natural question we tend to ask sounds slightly neurotic…but it’s a type of social anxiety we all feel: “Yes, but, will the like me, will they accept me or am I going to be left dangling, awkwardly nursing a drink alone or having my posts and questions unanswered?

The first few days or weeks after someone joins is critical. They’re effectively ‘in the airlock’, neither truly in or out of the community. They will quietly and quickly make an exit if they’re not made to feel welcome or can’t connect happily with anyone else.

Welcoming a new member with a personal message works wonders. Moonies had a term for this that I find helpful: ‘Lovebombing’. They would bed new members into their organization by pouring enormous resource into ensuring the vulnerable new member felt they truly belonged by celebrating everything they did and appointing buddies to help with every new task.

Lovebombing the Moonie way may be overkill. But it’s a good way to think about how you should treat new members:

1. Welcome new members personally

An auto-generated welcome email is never enough. If you’re the leader of a new community, welcome them personally. If the community has grown this won’t scale so appoint a member of the leadership team as the ‘welcomer’. Or highlight new members on the site so that existing members will feel compelled to drop them a line.

2. Highlight pre-existing relationships

The same feature mentioned above serves two purposes. It can reassure new members that they’re already known and liked because there are people they already know. Joining a community is a bit like showing up at a party alone where you will probably know no one. Technology now enables us to show that that may not be true and that in fact you already know quite a few people at the party (remember the joy when you spot someone across the room you already know). What’s more, encourage those members to reach out and welcome the new member.

3. Ask them to do something.

Asking a new member to do an easy task (such as introducing themselves to the group, uploading a photo etc.) pushes the member into engaging with others. It also gets them to make an investment (albeit small) in the community, predisposing them to do it again if they get a good response.

Asking them to do something also acquaints them quickly with the intrinsic…but not necessarily apparent…benefit belonging: engaging with others. It’s too easy for new members to make the leap and join, but never experience the real benefit of the group because they’ve not engaged with it.

 

It goes without saying that a community won’t grow without new members. But it probably is worth saying that it will grow strongly as long as you get the right new members: ones that share goals, values and needs with the rest of the group.

So having these two questions in mind as you design a community platform or lead your group is critical for effective community growth:

1. “Are they like me?”

2. “Will they like me?”

A MOVEMENT VS. A COMMUNITY. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE? DOES IT MATTER?

Yes, a huge one. And yes, a lot. Yet I’ve recently heard people using the two terms synonymously. This is a mistake, because if you don’t understand that the goals and the means of the two types of organizations are very different, you’re unlikely to succeed in building either.

In short, the differences are these:

  • The goal of a movement is to effect significant social change through the means of mobilizing millions to take action.
  • The goal of a community can be to learn something, do something, and yes, change something, but normally on a smaller scale and through the means of a smaller number of people with more intimate relationships doing a multitude of stuff together.

Here’s a rough summary of the differences with a brief explanation of each following:

Here’s a brief explanation of each of the differences:

Goal-Movement:

Movements exist to make significant social change, often when the government is unwilling or unable. Equal Rights for Women, Civil Rights for Blacks and, more recently, Equality for LGBT are examples. I’m on the Board of AllOut, which is a global movement for LGBT equality. It will not rest until the ghastly statistic of 76/10 is 00/00. That is, the 76 countries where it’s illegal to be gay and the ten countries where you can be executed for being gay change their culture and laws for the better.

Goal-Community:

Most successful communities are explicit about their goals or purpose, which tend to be about learning something (e.g. Spanish) doing something (e.g. hiking) or supporting each other (e.g. dealing with diabetes). They can also be about change (e.g. eating healthier) but it tends to be change on a smaller scale: to meet a personal goal (like losing weight) or improving a local environment (e.g. cleaning up a river).

Means-Movement:

The huge goals of a movement are achieved by mobilizing huge numbers of people.

It’s only when significant numbers of politicians’ constituents or companies’ customers demand change does intransigence turn into reluctant compliance. For example, when AllOut presented half a million signatures gathered within three days from around the world to the Ugandan Parliament in April 2011 did they decide to abandon debate of the infamous ‘Kill The Gays Bill’.

It’s not just about huge numbers. It’s also about Action. Your goal when running a movement is not for members to have ‘conversations’. Your goal is for them to take action together. Signing a petition, making donations, having house parties, marching en-masse. These are actions that effect change because a multitude is leveraging their mass by doing the same thing at the same time.

Means-Community:

When you’re amongst ‘like-others’…others who share your values, worldview, interests or needs…that’s when you can get support, pursue your passion or make some change more effectively than simply doing it alone.

‘Conversations’ (you can probably guess I don’t’ really like this word) can help deliver the benefits of community. But your goal should be to increase the numbers of members who do significant stuff together and contribute content. Read here for more about this.

Benefit-Movement:

It’s power. Millions of people acting together with common cause can make history because of the leverage of a multitude. Few governments or companies can withstand the power of well-organized population acting in concert for a justified cause. And few things can make an individual feel so powerful: being part of something bigger to make a change that could never be achieved alone.

Benefit-Community:

The Big Benefit of community is Belonging (beyond the benefits of learning, doing and supporting.) Read here about the ultimate benefit it confers: self-actualization, which it does by creating a safe space amongst like-others to become yourself.

Interaction-Movement:

There tends to be less interaction amongst members of a movement than a community. How can a million ‘good friends’ talk, do and meet together? That being said, strong grass-root action groups often fuel the most successful movements, where close ties are made between members who talk and meet often. It’s been noted that the American Civil Rights movement was largely mobilized by local Churches. Even today, online movements find sustained strength by acting both locally and globally.

Interaction-Community:

Without rich and frequent interaction via forums, chat, video chat or meeting up face-to-face, communities won’t deliver their benefits. Read here about the importance of interaction and intimacy within communities. And about how relationships and friendships grow as a result of rich and repeated engagement between members.

Shared-Movement:

Movements tend to bring together people who share a common cause or activist agenda.

Shared-Community:

Most communities exist because of shared interests or needs. Members tend to be unified by, say, their passion for zombies or desire to learn how to knit. These commonalities may evolve through frequent interaction to share a desire to become friends, colleagues or even partners.

Relationships-Movements:

Modern movements…that is, those organized online…tend to have little interaction between members. The focus is to act together vs. with each other. However, local or sub-groups within a movement can obviously build the cause’s strength as well as give the opportunity for more intimate relationships between members. Obama’s 2008 election that used these techniques also employed many local events and house-parties.

Relationships-Community:

Successful communities are the ones that have many members with strong ties to each other. Read here about how rich and frequent interaction leads to a feeling of mutual responsibility and support, which leads to strong social glue.

Size-Movement:

I’m going to say it: size does matter when it comes to movements. At AllOut we’ve grown from 2000 to 1 million members around the world in 18 months. Leveraging that motivated population has helped us achieve huge milestones in a short time.

Size-Community:

You can have a successful community with four people or forty thousand. Although once you get to above c. 150 people (the Dunbar number…the number above which it becomes increasingly difficult for an individual to know who everyone is and how each person relates to every other person) ties are likely to weaken. Read here about what happens then and about how to maintain intimacy and satisfy needs as your community grows.

 

LESSONS FROM THE WORLD’S OLDEST SOCIAL PLATFORM

This is a picture of the world’s oldest social platform.

Actually it’s a picture of a frame of bees and comb from one of my beehives and it’s only about two years old. Honeybees have been around for about 185 million years and have clearly created a very successful and complex social structure of mutual interdependence on this platform. There are many lessons that bees can teach us about community (and even democracy) But let me tell you a story of what Queen Victoria (for that is what I named her) did in May and how you should expect the same thing to happen to your community…if you’re lucky. By the way, you can see her in that picture. She’s the big one.

Vicky had been doing her job well. She really only has one: she’s an egg machine. Contrary to popular belief, bees don’t operate on a Medieval Monarchical system. Her life is more that of a slave. She lays about 1500 eggs a day until she’s exhausted and dies. Her doing her onerous job well, plus a mild winter and warm spring meant that her colony was growing fast. I was walking towards the hive to do what is called a ‘split’. This is something a beekeeper does to prevent what actually happened when I got within ten feet of the hive: they swarmed.

In a way I was lucky. It’s rare to see one happen. It’s an awe-inspiring and slightly frightening sight to see 30,000 bees stream out of the hive in a writhing, noisy, black cloud. Had I come half an hour earlier, I could have prevented my loss of those bees and my favorite queen. So I simultaneously cursed my extra time in bed and cooed in wonder at the sight. Below is picture of them swarming out of the hive.

Swarming is a perfectly natural thing for bees to do. In spring, if a colony is growing fast, it will decide (we’re not quite sure how) to subdivide and thus increase the amount of bees and colonies in the world.

So this is a story of community subdivision as a natural consequence of growth.

Back to the bees for a minute to complete their story and then I’ll attempt to draw an analogy to human communities.

The queen and half the colony will swarm out of the hive to find a new place to live. The bees left behind will collectively say to themselves “Bugger, we’ve got no queen!” (or something like that) and immediately make royal jelly to give to some of the eggs and thus make a new queen in about a fortnight. Or, more likely, the colony will have prepared in advance and have already grown some new queens in preparation for the old queen to leave.

Here’s a picture of the cluster they made thirty feet above the original hive in a tree. This is just a temporary place where they hang out for a day or two while the scout bees find potential new homes (your garage wall or a hollow tree). They will all vote on the best one and fly off in a big cloud to start over in their new hive.

So what’s this have to say about human communities? What is likely to happen if your community grows is there will come a point when it simply gets too big. Meaning that it will have grown beyond the point where people feel they know everyone, beyond the point where they feel such a bond with each other that there’s a close identification with the group. What nearly always happens is that the original group has grown so large that people will want to maintain the sense of intimacy they enjoyed so much at the beginning and so will break off and create their own, smaller groups.

Another reason and way that large and growing communities spawn is that breakaways will form that more narrowly satisfy the needs of its now many and diverse members. For example, the largest Meetup in the world is the one started by Meetup’s CEO. Scott started the NY Tech Meetup with about six other people about a decade ago. There are now 25,000 members in NY alone and many others around the world. At that size, it can’t really be called a community any more. How can you know and feel an intimate bond with twenty five thousand of your best friends?

However, it’s spawned over six hundred other NY Tech Meetups that cater to more specific needs. There’s a NYTech Video Meetup, a NY Mobile Meetup and even a NY Jewish Tech Meetup. The members have mostly remained in the original Meetup to keep in touch with the NY Tech scene, but have come to depend much more on the smaller children of the original for information, friendship, connections and even future business partners. I’m working with a healthcare community platform right now where exactly the same thing has happened. The Cancer community has spawned the Breast Cancer group, the Carers of Cancer Patients group and so on that enable a feeling of intimacy and belonging to a group of others with almost exactly the same needs.

The trick is to do what I didn’t do with my bees. If want to hold on to all those members who are likely to ‘hive’ off into smaller or more specific groups, manage that act of spawning by finding interested members (maybe via a survey) and a potential leader and encouraging them to form a new sub-group under the patronage of the old. Some community platforms such as Ning enable you to form sub-groups and local groups within the original.

What I’m suggesting you do is a ‘split’. A split is when a wise and conscientious (clearly not me) beekeeper inspects his bees and notices that they’re getting a little crowded. This smart beekeeper takes five or six frames of comb that have eggs young enough for the attached bees to rear a new queen and puts them in a new hive. He now has two communities of bees instead of one…and twice the honey.

Be a smart community-keeper by anticipating the swarming instinct of your members and encourage an ‘artificial’, or managed swarm that both increases your communities, members and the needs that are satisfied… and rewards you with whatever your equivalent of extra honey may be!

‘SOCIAL’ VS. COMMUNITY. ARE THEY DIFFERENT? AND DOES IT MATTER?

I’ve been working with a big online content brand where the very smart and well-informed people who work there often use the terms ‘Social’ and ‘Community’ interchangeably. I’d like to propose that they’re not the same. The type of behaviors that you see in a highly functional community are not the norm on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

And this is important because if you have the same expectations of those platforms as you might of a highly functional community…such as intense loyalty, material contributions and participation by it’s members and proselytizing…then you’re likely to be disappointed.

Here’s my summary of some of the differences:

Strictly speaking you do see community behaviors on those social platforms if you take the rather limp definition of community found in most dictionaries: something along the lines of “a group of people who share something in common”. On Facebook we often share the fact that we’re already friends in the real world, or friends of friends, or are family and we can conveniently share our latest activity, pictures or videos. Or on Twitter we might share someone’s worldview or like their content.

That’s fine. But I’ve found it useful to use a more exacting definition of community. One where members join because they get support, get to change something, learn something or do something together. And as a result, they’re highly committed to the community and prosletyze it to others.

Here’s a member of a community that I talked to last week that’s hosted by this brand. Listen to the benefits she gets and the emotional commitment she has to the community:

“There isn’t a community like it in the U.S. I was relieved I didn’t have to walk alone. I hoped to find understanding…I found it. I’ve made some very good friends…we truly support each other. It’s not just support…we’ve moved on from that to true friendship. It’s all about trust and having a safe place”

This community is about health…so you’re likely to hear the benefits of true community expressed this way. But we’d hear the same kind of sentiments used by members of Meetup groups about extreme frisbee, fashion, or hiking when we’d gatecrash them around the country…just expressed in not quite such emotive terms.

IT’S NOT ‘SOCIAL MEDIA’ GODDAMNIT!

Please indulge me. This is a short rant about the term ‘Social Media’. I hate it.

I hate it because it implies that the tools people use to conduct their daily social and community lives, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Meetup et al are simply another channel to be exploited by Brands and Companies to sell more stuff.

Indeed the only people who use the term ‘Social Media’ are the people who sell more stuff: Advertising and Marketing Agencies, Brand people and the people who work in the channels those companies have traditionally used to pitch ‘consumers’: The Media. (And let’s retire that other out of date and frankly insulting term…they are people goddamnit not consumers).

The people who actually build the likes of Facebook, Ning and Foursquare never use the term ‘Social Media’. They call the things they build “Social Technologies”, “Social Platforms” or “Community Platforms”.

You may be saying: “Who cares? Let’s just figure out how to use it.” Or “Atkin, you’re getting your knickers in a twist about a semantic nicety. Get over it”. And you’re probably right. I think I’ve lost this battle anyway.

However, within that semantic nicety lies an important truth. The people who build these platforms know what they’re doing. They’re building, literally, a neutral platform on which people engage in simple and complex ways with each other. These platforms are answering important and frivolous social needs that are universal, eternal and part of the human condition.

So, if you ever try to use these platforms like a channel…a media for your message or offer…you’ll screw it up. As a very large packaged goods multinational did a few years back when it tried to use Meetup like just another media and make the same kinds of offers there as they would on Print or TV. They very quickly learned their lesson and recognized the social needs of community members with a social response instead.

Even if you know all this because you’re one of the evolved and smarter breed of marketers who ‘get’ social technology, please don’t ever use the ‘M’ word. Subconsciously you might drift into old habits. Or, more likely, a less evolved person standing near you will think it’s OK and screw things up royally with lazy, old school, default thinking.

 

 

 

HOW TO RAMP PEOPLE UP THE COMMITMENT CURVE

The Commitment Curve is an excellent tool for modeling how to ramp up people from low-barrier-to-entry actions to increasingly difficult ones. The idea is to move your members from lower investment/lower reward actions (like completing their profile) to higher investment/higher reward ones (like attending an event) that yield higher levels of commitment. It’s a tool used by some activists to rapidly build and mobilize large numbers of people to create social change. I explain how it works here.

In short, it can also be used to ensure your user experience doesn’t ask too much, too early of the user (like being asked to run an event immediately you’ve attended your first). Instead, the idea is to ramp the user up escalating levels of commitment by making ‘asks’ of increasing-but appropriate-levels of investment of time, energy and emotion.

Here’s the List of Community Features plotted on The Commitment Curve. You can debate which ‘ask’ demands more or less investment by the user- like making a blog post vs. attending an event. But you get the general idea. The point is, if you’re going to ask people to show up to events, you might want to ask them to do things lower down on the curve first (like participating in a forum) that demand less investment before the bigger ask (but higher reward) of attending an event.

The other thing to bear in mind is that lower investment actions tend to predispose people to make higher investment actions. Because they literally become more invested in the community and are inclined to do more, especially when asked.

THE COMMUNITY CHECKLIST

I’ve taken the Community Checklist I wrote about earlier on this blog when making a distinction between fans/followers and real community members and turned it into a feature list. It’s a list of features that you should look for when starting a community and are looking for a good platform or are, in fact, building a community platform for your cause, blog, magazine, TV property, brand, movement or whatever. The Feature List is in the next post.

In the meantime, here’s the Checklist again.

 

The Community checklist

If you can answer “Yes” to these questions, you’ve got a good community on your hands.

  • Does it satisfy a real need? Do its members learn more, have more fun, get more done or get support?
  • Does it have a clearly articulated purpose?
  • Is it clear about who belongs and who doesn’t?
  • Is there interaction between members?
  • Are there enduring relationships formed between members that go beyond the original reason for connecting?
  • Do they contribute, do they participate, do they work together to achieve the common purpose? Being an audience is not a community.
  • Do they feel responsibility for each other and the community at large?
  • Are there roles, responsibilities and jobs performed by the membership?
  • Is it self-policing? Do people censure or eject unruly or unreasonable members?
  • Are there guidelines, rules, or norms of behavior?

To be really sure that you’ve enabled a real community ask the following questions of your members.

  • Do they identify with the community? Does it reflect, in part, who they are as an individual?
  • Do they have a sense of belonging?
  • Can they be who they really are without fearing rejection?
  • Do they have a sense of confidence, safety, even protection?
  • Do they feel part of something bigger than themselves?
  • Do they have a sense of purpose and meaning?

 

THE ENGINE OF LOYALTY IS COMMUNITY. THE ENGINE OF COMMUNITY IS MUTUAL SUPPORT

The most powerful agent in creating Loyalty is Belonging. There will be more justification for this assertion later in the blog, but in the meantime I would argue that the main ingredients of a successful community all create a degree of loyalty that is hard to match by any other means. Ingredients such as:

-An emotional bond with others in the group

-An alignment between your own values and those enshrined in the community’s worldview

-Therefore an alignment with the values of the others in the group

-Shared experiences, memories, rituals and goals

-In some cases, solidarity in the face of a threat.

And I’ve not included the most obvious sign of, and outcome from, a successful group that leads to unbelievable stickiness: mutual support.

From the hundreds of interviews I’ve had with members of all kinds of communities…brand communities, cults, religions, bands of activists, knitting groups…I’ve found that you can tell you’ve got a successful community on your hands when you see evidence that its members are helping each other out. And this is often in ways that have nothing to do with the main purpose of the group. Here is a typical quote taken at random from a member of a Meetup that explains what I mean:

 

“We have such a diversity of members from all backgrounds and professions, from plumbers to dentists, tree surgeons to television directors, car dealers to accountants.

From this, if you’re ever need advice with something (e.g. a blocked sink, what’s the best second hand car to buy, or how do you do a tax return) there is always someone in the group who can help out – usually in exchange for no more than a beer or a smile.

We’ve got a great community.” Matt – Poker Meetup, UK.

 

Why is mutual support a good indicator of a high-functioning community? It suggests the community has developed to the point that a feeling of mutual responsibility exists between its members. And mutual responsibility normally occurs when there has been enough social contact between them via face to face meetings, video chats, commenting on blog posts, and so on, that they’ve developed a familiarity with, an affinity for and a resulting sense of responsibility to each other.

Generally, you can track the following stages of community development that result in mutual support and stickiness:

 

Interaction = Bonding = Mutual Responsibility = Mutual Support

= Strong Social Glue

 

The richer the social interaction (meaning not just liking and commenting here and there, but attending events, working with others on some goal of the group and so on) and the greater the frequency of interaction tends to result in stronger bonds. And this leads to a sense of mutual responsibility and the resulting mutual support.

This has been tracked by sociologists of religion amongst those organizations where frequent interaction has been built in as a membership requirement. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) work hard to ensure Sunday isn’t the only day when you engage with other members. Whether you’re in Manchester of Manila, virtually every day is assigned to some kind of church-related social interaction undertaken by members of the Church (there is no paid clergy except for a few leaders at the HQ in Utah).

This is Peggy, a Mormon who also runs her own marketing agency. She marvels at how good her church is at keeping people. She describes how rich and frequent the social interaction is that leads to mutual support and an enviable degree of loyalty:

“I mean a missionary can convert a member, but how do you keep that member involved?  Because the church becomes your life.  And when you’ve got a bishop checking on you, and his two counselors checking on you, and two home teachers checking on you, and two visiting teachers checking on you, plus you’re given a church job to be a home teacher if you’re a man, a visiting teacher if you’re a woman.  Plus, you’re probably given a job to teach a primary class or a youth class or an adult class on the Sabbath.  Plus you’re maybe assigned to the activities committee to plan a ward activity.  The church becomes your family.  The church becomes your social life, as well as your spiritual center.  Because the church is brilliant at marketing.”

Which brings me to important finding. You can ‘legislate’ for mutual support to happen versus just waiting for it to occur. And the organizations that do that, together with organizing themselves in a way that ensures frequent and rich social interaction, get incredible levels of commitment.

You can make it a goal. Don’t just wait for it to occur.

When you join the Marines, you join for life. As a grizzled old veteran once told me “there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine. You’re a Marine. Period”. The Marines would argue that they’re the most cohesive, absolutely loyal-to-each-other force in the military. From the first day, the idea of mutuality that’s enshrined in ‘never leaving a fellow Marine behind’ is reinforced in everything they do. “We have a ritual in the Marine Corps early on that if a person falls out of a run, you just circle until the guy captures his wind, and he becomes ready to go back in. They don’t leave him behind” as a young lieutenant told me. The grizzled veteran thumped the table as he said: “In combat, we are notoriously famous for never leaving a Marine on the battlefield. We are the only service that does that. Others say they do, but they don’t. We will do whatever it takes to go back and carry our wounded and dead off the battlefield. That ethos, if you will, is bred in you from the outset”.

A convincing argument has also been made that the success of the Christian religion in beating out its competitors in the first three hundred years of its existence (it was just one of several Mystery Cults in the eastern Mediterranean two thousand years ago) is owed to the fact that the value of mutual support was at the heart of its ideology. Rodney Stark in an excellent little book called ‘The Rise of Christianity’ suggests that the religion might have remained one of the minor cults had it not been for its response to two major plagues throughout the Roman Empire in 165 A.D. and 251 A.D.

Unlike the conventional reaction to a devastating plague…leave your friends, family and neighbors alike to succumb to the disease while you run for the hills, literally…Christians were invoked to tend for the sick. Modern medical experts have calculated that even the basic kind of nursing care likely to have been administered by the early Christians would have increased survival rates by two thirds compared to non-Christians. The increased survival rate naturally increased the ratio of Christians to non-Christians following the plagues (from 0.4 percent of the population before the plagues to roughly one Christian to four pagans following the second). This significantly increased the religion’s influence within the society (not to mention the perception that Christians miraculously survived the devastation) and was ultimately declared the State Religion by Theodosius in 380 A.D.

Now, I’m not suggesting you have to start a religion or crack military unit to create a successful community. There are plenty of examples of regular everyday communities that make mutual support an explicit goal. Healthcare groups, for example. Whether you look at the more famous examples such as the AA or Weightwatchers, or local cancer survivor groups or even hiking or yoga groups they all tend to make mutual support their core purpose.

And even in the world of business there are communities that ‘legislate ‘ for mutual support. Thrivent is Mutual Fund Company with more than $60 billion in assets. It baked Community into it’s offering well before the founders of Facebook and Twitter were conceived. They make mutual support an explicit goal  “Our community is who we are, so their goal is our mission – helping our members with financial security and caring for others. We like to think about it as security, generosity, community” says Stacy Eckes-Borys. And it’s not a hollow ‘caring for our community’ claim that you see in most corporate mission statements. Well over 40% of their 2.6 million members participate in volunteerism through the company. More of this interesting case in this article I wrote for Forbes.

So, whatever the purpose of your community, whether commercial, religious, military or just for fun, try and engender the circumstances that favor mutual support: getting people to interact with each other so they form bonds and develop a sense of mutual responsibility. Then you’ll have an extremely sticky community on your hands.

Gating and Culling: How to #'s 6-8

This is the last in the series about gating and culling.

And the last of the ‘How-To’s of accepting/rejecting/ejecting.

6.  Accountability. Self-Policing. Transparency.

Col, an Aussie Karting guy has predisposed his community towards good behavior by making each member ‘visible’ and knowable to everyone else. He disallows anonymity, which would otherwise be an awfully convenient shield to hide behind when indulging in anti-social behavior.

High functioning communities work because there are mutual expectations, plus consequences for infringing the social norms of behavior. Accountability can only operate successfully if people know who you are. He has also found that the community polices itself, leaving him to focus on the members who are the real contributors. Here’s some excerpts from his post on the Ning Network Creators discussion boards. This is his summary of his Code of Conduct:

I had two goals for Kartbook: 1. That people would behave in a civil, friendly and hopefully FUN manner. (Something which had not generally been the case on the previous forums). 2. That the truth, no matter who it did or didn’t suit for it to be known, would be allowed to be published, and remain unmoderated.

He insisted everyone use their real name, and he created guidelines that “basically said ‘no bullying, no spam, no worries’” and he “refused to delete anything that didn’t contravene those guidelines.”

His Network grew to about a third of all Karters in Australia, much of them active. The community ‘howled out’ any who did not use their real name.

“We see intelligent, sometimes heated but always fair discussion about a huge range of topics relating to karting, and best of all, the majority of the membership THINK before posting a message! Why? Because whatever they say, it’s got their name right next to it, and they KNOW it’s going to stay there, even if they regret it after a cooling off period. Lots of people therefore saw the negative effects of “opening mouth before engaging brain”, and it now happens VERY rarely!

Strange as it may seem, by REFUSING to moderate in all but the most extreme cases, I’ve made the NEED for moderation almost disappear altogether!

Transparency forced accountability. A culture of accountability predisposed the community to self-police, leaving the leader freer to focus on building the network.

7.   Charge a fee

This is a very handy way of making the prospective member pause and consider whether they’re indulging in CJS: Compulsive Joiner Syndrome. It’s a way of making the act of joining real. And it’s an ever so small, but surprisingly effective dissuader of social toxics and trolls: there’s a real cost to being thrown out.

Paul Reader, a member of The Glue Project Community wrote:

“One way of gating that is less threatening and can even be encouraging is to charge a nominal membership fee and providing some benefits that are exclusive to members-such as discounts on cost of social functions or fundraising events.”

Importantly, paying even a small fee can represent the first in a series of investments of time and engagement. Investment can be habit-forming. Each successive act of engagement predisposes members to another as they feel that they’ve put in too much to stop now…also assuming that they’re also getting value form increased involvement.

It’s a key dynamic of the Commitment Curve-a strategy used by movement-makers in the political and cause world. A small enrollment fee can be the first step on the path to making more significant investments such as posting, uploading pictures, showing up at meetings, organizing meetings, becoming member of leadership and so on.

8.  Have courage and kindness…and don’t let it get you down.

I’ve heard this a lot from community leaders. It’s inevitable that you’ll get difficult members. Sometimes they’re trolls or social toxics, and they just have to be smartly dealt with. But most often they’re people who are in the wrong place, or who are going through a tough time. Dealing with these people can bring you down, especially if they are abusive to you. But you have to gird your loins, give them the benefit of the doubt and be firm but kind.

Here’s part of a post from Jen, a Ning Network Creator that sums it all up well. I’ve quoted it at length rather than providing a link, because some of you may not be member of Ning and therefore not have access.

“I’ve learned that a little bit of kindness returned, instead of adding fuel to the fire, goes a looooooong way. Without getting into Psychology 101, since I’m not a trained Therapist, I’ve found these steps are successful in most situations:

Take a deep breath.

Consider the source.

Consider that this person may have a miserable life, and you may be able to add some light to their life, instead of returning their darkness.

Keep it professional, but do show compassion when appropriate.

Don’t answer Trolls.

Don’t take it personal. This is the most important rule, for your success. If you can take a step back, look at the situation from a professional and logical point-of-view, you will almost always succeed.

Know how to recognize a Troll.

Don’t “go off” on people, who are simply in a panic. I’ve seen this over and over, again. I’ll receive a hateful email from a member, who is typically a nice person. Sometimes, and especially when dealing with a person who is passionate about their online “cause”, and/or their online business – – people get a little crazy. It’s all “in the moment”. Most of us are capable of this behavior. I’m certainly guilty of it. Don’t accept abuse. But, when time allows – – do try to give them a chance to vent. Interject kindness and understanding. Typically, if you can do this, the situation will have a happy ending.

And to finish this series about gating and culling, here’s Cheryl’s speech with which she opened her two meetings. It’s kind, clear, firm, inspired and led by the purpose and values of the community. The latter are the inviolable, and unarguable terms of membership, and are extremely useful in defusing the possibility that these kinds of encounters are taken entirely personally.

Cheryl’s speech.

“As I read to you later the terms of use agreement we have drafted so far, please understand that the terms of use is not intended to reject or offend anyone in any way. NONE OF THIS IS PERSONAL. The purpose of the terms of use is to help teach families how to walk the Autism journey one-step at a time, as they should already want to walk for the sake of their own child. The terms of use agreement is to ensure that all members of QCPAC are active and equal participants. The terms of use agreement is the way that QCPAC needs to run to keep its mission. After all, QCPAC IS A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION although it is not housed in a brick and mortar building yet. .

QCPAC was founded based on creating a community where families of individuals living with Autism could become a part. QCPAC was founded to be these families’ escape from the typical world in which these families felt lost, overwhelmed, and isolated. QCPAC became a place where other individuals walking the same path could go to for comfort, solace, support, education, and training, and of course, fun!

For almost 3 years, QCPAC operated without any set terms because QCPAC assumed that everyone would walk this journey on their own. Nevertheless, what has come to realization of all those involved with the operation of QCPAC, is that some individuals need guidance and systematic direction. As QCPAC begins to move forward, changes must occur.

QCPAC has a mission and with this mission, it is necessary to align members who are willing to walk actively the journey and go the extra mile. Everyone who is on board must be willing to carry the cross that Youla and I carry for our children every day. QCPAC has the potential to be an organization that many families living with Autism can truly benefit. However, strength comes in numbers. Eventually, I will take QCPAC to new heights. By myself, it will take several years. With dedicated, passionate, and ambitious individuals on board, we could all do it together in a few years less.

QCPAC is NOT for everyone. Therefore, everyone is free to go if he feels QCPAC is not for them because they cannot adhere to its terms of use for whatever reason. However, QCPAC will always welcome these individuals back should they decide to return later. Moreover, QCPAC is always willing to work with any individuals and accommodate him as much as it is able as long at the individual is willing and keeps the lines of communication open. We cannot help those who choose not to be helped.

We cannot continue to chase after individuals who disregard our time and our efforts. It is not fair to the other members who are active.

We all have challenges. Life challenges, work challenges, family challenges, marriage challenges. Life would not be life without these challenges. Convenience seldom exists. With Autism in our lives, convenience is next to never. We all have to make sacrifices for the things we truly care about. Truly making time is difficult, but time management is NOT impossible if you have the initiative.

Youla and I along with the QCPAC team are always willing to help individuals attend workshops or outings through means of car-pooling if they have transportation issues. They just have to ask us in advance. Members who attended the first session of this same meeting last Wednesday voiced perhaps rotating baby sitting services among members. The possibilities are endless, but heads must come together to brainstorm. However, we do not know if anyone needs this help if he does not let us know what the issue is. The lines of communication need to remain open in order for the organization to work together as a whole and resolve conflicts if any. Even though we go through different challenges and some more badly than others do, we all walk the same path when it comes down to our children living with Autism.

Although, Autism is highly prevalent, organizations such as QCPAC are still minimal. That is what brought each one of you here in the first place. I know this first hand, because that is why I founded this organization in the first place. Anyone can type in the word, “autism” in a search engine and pull up a million resources. However, how do you know what pertains to your child? How do you know what resources are in your community? How do you know what benefits you can receive for your child? The answer to that is simple…by constantly networking with and immersing yourself with other parents who are living the same lifestyle as you. I have learned along my Autism journey that the parents are the ones who provide the best resources, NOT the professionals. The children depend on their parents to be the project manager of their lives. A life, which includes things like constant therapy, appropriate schools, and qualified physicians are constant projects Even when things go smoothly in these children’s lives, sooner or later the families will hit a bump in that road. QCPAC was founded to be the map to help families stay on track of their journey.

QCPAC is a community that has settled in Queens, New York and is pushing to conquer the vicinity to find other individuals like them. They ARE out there, but everyone must work together in order to keep the community strong, and prosperous. On September 1, changes will go into effect. Some will stay, some will go, and some will be removed, but the remaining, I am confident will be those who believe strongly and act upon the mission of what QCPAC originally stands for. If you are listening and you are the ones who feels that you don’t know how to walk the Autism journey, then I ask you to ask and we will surely show you as best as we can.

This quote describes community and teamwork well, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

On a personal note, I honestly do not know my life to be any other way besides QCPAC. The families I have grown close to and have developed relationships with I can honestly say they accept me and my family for what we are. We call each other up on the phone and chat, laugh, cry, and vent about every day life, but especially about Autism. We share ideas and resources. We have each other over for coffee, dinner, and play dates. My typical children as well as my Zariah know their children. We’ve bonded and become like family, and when I founded this organization THAT is what I was looking for.

I don’t want my life to be without Youla, Lisa, or Lina, or Fran because the life I had before them was much, much too lonely.

I hope that each of you listening will continue to be a part of this community. Thank you.”

What is The Glue Project?

It’s about the stuff that binds community together

It’s a resource for leaders of all kinds of communities to learn from, and help each other, create strong social glue.

Why do this?

For decades communities, groups, clubs, unions and associations of all kinds have been in decline.

And we’ve felt it. Data shows that we’re craving more connection with our neighbors and family. And that we’re frustrated we don’t have enough time to pursue our hobbies, passions or causes with other people.

Things are changing.

Facebook and Twitter have given us a taster of what it’s like to connect with others. We’re finding those that share our passions on networks like Ning. Local groups are cropping up with the aid of sites like Meetup. Some are even using these tools to retool their societies.

We’re rediscovering the power of community. What has been neglected for too many decades, or not gotten to because of relocation, work, family and the sheer busyness of modern life, is making a comeback.

But we don’t necessarily know how to do this well.

Our grandparents’ generation joined clubs and associations as a matter of course. They knew how important they were. They knew how to run them, how to be high-functioning members and how to get things done.

Those skills have been lost. In the 1950s, 5% of American adults were presidents of some club or association or other form of community. Now you’d be hard pushed to find 5% who are simply members of anything.

The purpose of this site is to be a go-to place for insight on how to run successful communities of all kinds.

Whether it’s a wine club, a social movement, a union or a sorority, the idea is that here you’ll find the practical advice and the principles to create thriving communities.

These insights will be sourced in part from my own interviews and research, but also from people like you…people who are trying to run effective communities.

You could have just started an online network. Or you’ve been running a local PTA for years. You could be a world-renowned expert on how communities work, or the leader of a large business.

Whoever you are, and whatever the purpose of your group, this place is designed to help you do it better, and for you to share your knowledge of what works with others.