In this sequence of posts about how to gate and cull, we’ve looked at the first tool you can use: your purpose or ideology to accept/reject/eject people.
Now we’ll look at #2 through #5: Use Rules, Approve membership, Cultural Sieve and Like-get-like.
2. Have rules and enforce them consistently and fairly.
Codes of Conduct in most communities tend to establish the very basic norms of civility and expectations of engagement.
When I asked a selection of community organizers what 5 pieces of advice they would give to newbies almost all included having Codes of Conduct. Here are some of the responses:
-Set very clear guidelines to your network and then stick to them. If you compromise you will pay for it. Treat everybody the same
-Be just but firm: If you have a Code of Conduct or some posting guidelines, stick to ‘em like it’s your job!! It’s important to be consistent and for members to feel safe and treated fairly. No favorites allowed!
-Post clear rules about spamming, fighting, trolling, etc, and don’t feel even the slightest twinkle of guilt about banning people who cross the line.
Jeff, in a response to my question about whether all communities should be gated, wrote the following on the community part of this site. Clearly, he puts having an active membership as a key plank of his Network:
“Good question. We already impose such a feature on our network. In our TOS we clearly state that if a member does not contribute and/or sign in to their profile within a 90 day period their profile will be taken offline.
There is always the option to re-instate their profile. However, it is stressed and followed up with a quick reminder that their profile has been inactive and basically on the chopping block if they don’t answer our message within a 48 hour period. This keeps dead profiles off the network and allow the NC [Ning Network Creator] to concentrate on those who are actively contributing to the network.
Many new community organizers feel queasy about establishing rules of any kind. But most discover that not everyone understands the need to be civil or engaged. They quickly realize that you have to establish basic minimums of behavior. And this is best done at the foundation of the community. It’s much harder to grandfather them in when the need to have a Code becomes acute.
3. Approve membership
“At first I thought this would be “just the worst thing on the planet,
LOL”. Turns out, it’s really not bad at all. It only takes a few minutes to look over a
member’s submitted page, and approve or disapprove. This has cut down on nasty
spammers and spambots, around 95%.”
This is from a Ning Network Creator and she’s talking about keeping out spammers. She’s making the time-consuming effort to review every ‘application’. She considers it a sound investment in time versus handling the fallout that Toxics and Trolls cause.
There are, of course, much more comprehensive ways to winnow out potential mistakes and let through only those who are likely to be high-functioning members. The strongest of communities…those that generate cult-like attraction and loyalty…are extremely careful about who belongs and they invest heavily in the ‘recruitment’ process.
They’ll use the ideology, and the following two tools to ensure consistency with the organization’s goals.
4. Have a Cultural Sieve
Scott Heiferman, Founder and CEO of Meetup would half-jokingly, half seriously, would pull a photo out of his wallet of a Chihuahua Meetup Group, pastel polyester-panted women and all, and show it to a potential company recruit. If they snickered, he wouldn’t hire them.
“When I showed it to people, I was looking to see if they’d smile at the beauty, laugh at the absurdity, smile at the potential… and bonus points for a tear.” Scott Heiferman.
Meetup is about reviving local community and it has a profound belief in the transformational power of groups. The company is on a social mission. They want a real local group available everywhere for people when they need it, because “groups have the power to improve lives and change the world”.
The people who work at Meetup HQ are there primarily for that reason (we know, because we survey ourselves twice a year). The company has a Manifesto, and a culture document (that’s now used as a cultural sieve since Scott had his wallet…and photo…stolen) and expects whoever works there to be a high-functioning member of its own community. That means that there is total buy-in to the Manifesto and values. Here’s an excerpt from the Culture Statement that shows why sneering can’t be tolerated:
‘We love that our members want to have fun…or fundamentally change the world. Or both. We admire these people who tell their stories, expose their vulnerabilities, fear that people think they’re freaks (let’s remember that we’re all freaky one way or another).
We cheer this multitude of ordinary people who are crazy enough to meet complete strangers and fearless enough to start a Meetup Group. Never underestimate or under value what it takes to do what they do. Meetup Culture Statement.
Interestingly, when we wrote this Culture Statement, we also reiterated the importance of self-organization and decentralization…the key principals behind the Meetup’s Ideology and platform: that people should be enabled and inspired to self-organize into communities, groups and networks.
But what dawned on us once we’d written it, was that we weren’t applying that principal to our own internal community. Instead we had decision-making was hierarchical and centralized. We were shocked to see that we had a traditional corporate structure predicated on control. The Culture Statement was a mirror to ourselves, and we weren’t looking as good as we thought we were.
Once we realized this we went through what amounts to a revolution…of not just our working practices, but of those in business generally. I’ll write more about this in later posts because it’s instructive about the power of rigorously applying a community’s ideology to itself. In the meantime, check out the article that Business Week wrote about our adventure.
Some highly qualified job candidates were repelled by the new environment we had created. And we didn’t hire them. And some existing employees self-ejected. This was exactly the outcome we wanted. Good skills weren’t enough. There had to be a cultural fit. And that means total buy-in to the ideology, values and behavioral norms of a community, which in this case was within an Ideologically-driven company.
For cult-like groups and societies like the Masons, fraternities, groovy urban clubs and some companies, you can use the ‘like-get-like’ strategy.
Peer recruitment can pre-empt problems by using existing members to target, win and ‘pre-approve’ recruits.
Existing members are the most likely means of identifying others who will align with the values and aims of the community. And of course there’s some accountability involved to make it real…a mistake can create blowback on the referrer.
When I worked at a branding company we produced a card for the first few employees of jetBlue (we were helping launch the airline) to hand out to people whom they thought would meet the tough criteria to be a member of the jetBlue ‘crew’ (all employees are crew members, including the people who clean the planes). JetBlue only hired ‘virgins’, those who hadn’t been soiled by previous experience in the poisonous airline industry. They handed the card to those they thought clearly enjoyed other people and who had strong social skills, whether they were serving behind the Starbucks counter someone they met at a party.
Of course this was well before the multitude of online tools now available to community leaders to inspire existing members to recruit people like themselves. That being said, good old-fashioned real-world like-get-like tools can still work.
Steve Ressler who runs Govloop, a twenty three thousand strong online community for innovators in government, uses a charmingly quaint offline device to recruit the right kind of members. It’s a lanyard: a ribbon from which people can string their government ID cards. They have several slogans printed on them, of which “Bureaucrats need not apply” is typical. These are worn proudly by existing members and often provoke conversations with prime prospects who are curious about the kind of organization that would be populated by such people. Steve has run Google ads and done PR in an attempt to recruit, but instead has found the lanyard and other like-get-like techniques have yielded better quality members.
Next I’ll post the last three tools you can use to gate and cull.