Managing an online community can be like being on recess duty at middle school when all the kids are hopped on sugar and have been stuck inside for a week because of rain. Having a set of rules that everyone understands and agrees with beforehand can help restore order when everyone is really excited or a fight is about to break out.
We are human beings having a human experience through technology, and in online communities, we are having the experience together. As human beings we show up to life (and online communities) with our own beliefs, expectations, values and desires. In an online community, the conversations we have and actions we take together become our rituals. Online communities need to be designed and managed with all of this in mind.
Having built, launched, and managed more online communities than I can remember, I’ve learned that the community managers who invest in developing, validating, and managing their community cultures have more productive, fun, and resilient communities.
So what is Community Culture? Here is my take that I have adapted from what I’ve read about culture and my own experience:
Community Culture is the shared set of beliefs, expectations, values, desires and rituals that influence the ways in which individuals, groups, and teams will interact with one another and collaborate to achieve common objectives.
Our clients who run GovDelivery Collaboration for their online communities typically do so to increase the effectiveness and efficiencies of member capacity and to increase awareness and change behaviors of those they influence. As Director of Engagement Services at GovDelivery, my team helps government organizations discover the beliefs, expectations, values, and desires of their community members during the Assessment phase. Then, we infuse the cultural knowledge learned in this phase into the design of engagement flows. In addition, this knowledge is used to customize features that increase the value of member participation, driving ongoing engagement that results in productive, fun and resilient communities.
Below I’ve shared the template we use at GovDelivery as a starting point — feel free to use it. Keep in mind this is meant to serve as a general statement for the community as a whole. I recommend you use this as a part of your community guideline and/or moderation policy. It’s important to remind members of the guidelines periodically and when moderating, point to the guideline to remind them of what is acceptable and unacceptable.
Beliefs: When we are connected, and use common tools to collaborate, we are more effective and efficient at meeting individual, organizational and collective objectives.
Expectations: We contribute what we can about what we know; ask for what we need; keep doing what is working; communicate about what is not working, and when possible, offer suggestions towards the solution.
Values: The spirit in which we take actions:
- We are thoughtful, respectful and helpful.
- We encourage each other.
- We celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
- We appreciate the diversity our approaches.
Rituals: The actions we regularly take:
- We read and comment on each other’s discussions and blog posts.
- We share our best practices and success stories.
- We ask for help and help each other out.
- We are factual, cite sources, and make it clear when something is our own personal opinion.
Desires: What we have in common that motivates us:
- We strive to serve others.
- We seek to serve each other.
- We choose to learn and empower ourselves.
Common Objectives: What we are working towards together
- Objective 1
- Objective 2
- Objective 3
Another lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have all the answers and the best place to look first is the community itself. And so I humbly ask you:
- Do you have any suggestions of what we should consider adding to this template? Is there anything you don’t agree with?
- How in your experiences have you seen beliefs, expectations, values, desires and rituals contribute to or hinder a community’s productivity, fun, or resilience?
GovDelivery & GovLoop Engagement Services