Getting to know your community: breaking down the divide
by Jesse Coombe, eModeration Community Manager. You can follow Jesse on Twitter @emodjesse
Yesterday, something Tamara said got me thinking about the word
“user.” Within this industry and others it has become the catch-all
term for people who visit a site, post on a forum, or play around in a
For a long time I’ve held the belief that we’re really using the wrong
term. “User” implies exclusion and a one-way relationship. It
suggests that they consume the services provided and give nothing
back. Shouldn’t we all strive for a sharing culture in our
communities, where visitors see our content and are inspired to create
something for the next visitor to read or look at? Perhaps if we were
to adopt a more inclusive term we’d be halfway there?
The other problem with the word “user” is that it’s very impersonal.
“User” is a word made for marketing and corporate back-patting. “Our
site has 1,000,000 registered users producing 100,000 ad impressions
per day!” That may be all well and good for the board room but people
don’t want to feel like they’re a commodity. Furthermore, when office
buzzwords leak out into official forum posts or newsletters it serves
only to fuel the reader’s belief that we’re entirely detached from
them, even to the extent of speaking a different language.
So what would be a better word to use? You could try “member” –
indicating inclusion and belonging. Perhaps “contributor” – reminding
them that they provide for the wider community, just as you do. I feel
that either is an improvement on “user” but why not refer to John, or
Sue, or even xXsephirothgoku1337Xx?
The larger your community gets, the harder it is to genuinely know your
members. Even so, the investment of time to establish a relationship
with at least your most active members can produce invaluable results.
Read their posts, respond to them, start a dialogue. They’ll
appreciate the effort and so will anyone else who comes across the
thread! It shows that you, the community manager, are friendly and
accessible but by extension these positive attributes will also be
attached to the brand you represent.
Once upon a time I was the community manager for a massively
multiplayer online game. I was fortunate enough to be involved with
the project from the very beginning so it was relatively easy to
introduce myself to new members as they registered and give them the
shock of their lives that a community manager on a gaming project was
actually willing to chat with the fans of the game!
By demonstrating that I was in fact human they were much more willing
to treat me as such. I wasn’t just the shadowy supervillain, existing
purely to tell them what they could or couldn’t post and periodically
deliver bad news about release date slips through a maniacal grin.
They acknowledged that these were unfortunately necessary aspects of my
job but they knew me and understood that I had their interests at
heart. The game missed more deadlines than I’ve had hot dinners but we
never incurred even 10% of the nerd rage I’ve seen in other gaming
communities and I attribute that entirely to the time my colleague and
I spent hanging out with the members. I ought to point out that I
hired that colleague from within our own community and he hit the
ground running as only community alumni can. Having already fostered
relationships with his peers as a member, he was instantly accepted as
an authority figure.
As a community manager, as a moderator, and as a plain old “user”, I’ve
seen so many communities with a profound “us and them” divide and a
membership that actively rallies against the management, like teenagers
against their parents. What I hope you’ll take from this article is
the knowledge that this doesn’t have to be the norm. Treat the members
of your community not as users but as people and it won’t take long at
all to see the difference in how they respond.