About communities

18 08 2013

There are thousands of communities you easily can register for.
What I learned while engaging in social networking is on the one hand satisfying and on the other hand quite disappointing.

What you should know about me …

I myself engaged in blogging here on WordPress since about 10 months and got my first accounts on social networks in January 2013. So I’m a real newbie and I thought it could be interesting for you to read about how an older (60+) newbie recognizes the scene.

Let me talk about the disappointing experiences and my faults as well on Google+ and other networks.

I was kicked off from totally 3 communities and 2 forums. You may ask me why?
Well, all bans, I suppose, were based on the argument of self-promotion and cross posting over many communities within a narrow timeframe. Just in one case a moderator notified me because I was a bit off topic. I understood his arguments, the post staying not 100% (but 80%) on topic was deleted and the case was closed, an indication of a well managed community. In a forum somebody had a serious problem with an Apple device and I posted a link to an article on my blog which contained the workaround to finally fix the problem. The notification I got was: Banned for lifetime because of self-promotion.

What is ‘self-promotion’?

If you are a content creator you usually have much work with researches, writing the contents, adding images, and setting the final layout. Posting a link to this article may result in a punishment. But if you just post a link to an article written by others it’s allowed. Admittedly posting links to your own blog might be self-promotion if the blog is for commercial purposes, contains ad, and articles vendors pay for. My blog is in no way commercial and so I think the moderators banning me without notification should better do another job. Authors of contentful and non-commercial blogs commenting on hundreds of articles of other members are the ones who are really active members in a community. But in some cases none of that counts at all.

Promotion is a term used frequently in marketing. Elements are personal selling, advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing, and publicity. Fundamentally, there are three basic objectives of promotion:

  • To present information to consumers as well as others.
  • To increase demand.
  • To differentiate a product.

There are different ways to promote a product in different areas of media. Promoters use internet advertisement, special events, endorsements, and newspapers to advertise their product. Many times with the purchase of a product there is an incentive like discounts, free items, or a contest. This is to increase the sales of a given product.

Does an uncommercial WordPress.com blog (where the TOS disallow ad) fit into this categories?

Stats, not valid for all parts of the internet but for communities show us:

Creators Contributors Lurkers
1% 9% 90%

Wikipedia
The “90–9–1” version of this rule states that 1% of people create content, 9% edit or modify that content, and 90% view the content without contributing.
The actual percentage is likely to vary depending upon the subject matter. For example, if a forum requires content submissions as a condition of entry, the percentage of people who participate will probably be significantly higher than one percent, but the content creators are still the minority of all members. This is validated in a study conducted by Michael Wu, who uses economics techniques to analyze the participation inequality across hundreds of communities segmented by industry, audience type, and community focus.
This can be compared with the similar rules known to information science, such as the 80/20 rule known as the Pareto principle, that 20 percent of a group will produce 80 percent of the activity, however the activity may be defined.
The 1% rule is often misunderstood to apply to the Internet in general, but it applies more specifically to any given Internet community.

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What is a community without the 1% creators? Well, the community wouldn’t exist.

These stats, independent of it’s general validity, reinforced my disappointment about some communities. So I placed a question on Google+ Discuss community. An intense discussion started but sadly none of the suggestions could convince me.
Summarized, all the contributors advised me to become a hybrid by stashing that it’s me who created the content by leaving out the link to my completely uncommercial blog.

Here is one of the answers to my question how to avoid self-promotion:

Post your entire article to the communities with no link to your blog.

Transferring a WordPress article via clipboard to a post on Google+ means:

  • You loose all formatting and have to format again with the limited capabilities offered by Google+ like bold and italic text.
  • You cannot assign text to images.
  • You cannot refer to former published articles although it might be useful for readers.
  • The article looses clarity and attractiveness.

What about spam?

Contributors to my question on Google+ brought forward the argument that it’s seen as spam if I post links to my blog on many communities. Even this argument I don’t really understand.

Two posts per week per community: Is that spam? Spam is unwanted, useless and often dubious information for commercial purposes. Are links to non commercial blogs with well researched content spam?

Ten posts per day linking to websites where the latest fashionable cases for an iPhone are offered, that’s spam but it will not be punished. Why not? Well, I don’t want to speculate. Anyway, what I see is that there is no visible separation between leisure driven and commercial driven communities.

A flaw in the concept of Google+ and other networks.

It’s the prerogative of moderators to ban members of communities but they should do it with reasonable points and a short notification. Be friendly must also be valid for moderators. A quick look on a post should give enough information to decide whether a ban must not or should be done with notification.

Note
I’m definitely no social scientist and so my article may be rejected by experts and marked as useless. But this time it’s ‘Advantage Thomas’: I’m not afraid of being banned from my own blog.

All these experiences forced me to look a bit deeper into this topic.
To make it clear:
I’m not talking about communities build up for improving business but on what I call leisure communities.

First let’s define a leisure community.

Community can refer to a usually small, social unit of any size that shares common values or interests. By definition, a community is a group of people who develop relationships around a strong common interest.
In support communities, those relationships don’t happen. People come, ask questions, get help, and leave.

Social networks are not necessarily communities. If you think about followers of your Twitter account I cannot see any properties that build up a community. With it’s limitation to 140 characters an exchange of opinions is simply not possible and content is reduced to bubbles. There is no structure neither in tweets or followers nor in content. I saw tweets just consisting of hashtags and I must say:

That’s bullshit, without content, and consequently useless.

Facebook allows content management but it does not really allow to structure and summarize content you are interested in. And: I don’t want to talk about the UI and all the shady dating offers.
Stats say that on Facebook the three most popular brands are Coca-Cola, Disney, and Starbucks while on Google+ it’s Android, Mashable, and Chrome.

Admittedly there are strong benefits of Twitter and Facebook when it comes to spread important information all over the world e.g. information about the Arab Spring.

Unlike Twitter other social networks like Google+ allow extensive exchange of information and understandable statements. Connections can be organized in so-called Circles and content is organized in so-called Communities where the main topic is structured by subtopics. Information exchange can be done privately with your connections as well.

Summarized …

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For a further analysis of communities I first want to classify them, the authors and the content.

Types of communities …

  • 1 Fan communities
    The members are passionate followers of a company, new technology, or other areas of life like photography or arts.
    Many posts are short and contain feelings agreed by all readers but containing nothing new. Authors are better named as writers or link forwarders.

    These communities mostly have no commercial purpose at all. Members are free to post their opinions. Progress in knowledge is not targeted.

  • 2 Business driven communities and forums
    These communities are often created by business owners or people who operate websites to earn their living by external advertisement.
    Creators and moderators often see authors with valuable content as competitors and a ban might be the consequence.
    I saw moderators who were pretty much authoritative, showed extreme shortfall in arguments, and craved for recognition.
    Admittedly there are some companies providing community members with more than advertisement and are willing to communicate with their members. Use these communities as an information pool for products you are interested in. Usually it’s not the right place to communicate with others.
  • 3 Anything goes communities
    The content published in these communities is like the content of the yellow press. Articles are not moderated, authors are no experts, and content is almost always not validated. Self-proclaimed experts are the authors, sorry I would call them writers. Flaws in common parlance and spelling is a daily fare. Leave these communities because any attempt to post sophisticated content will not be recognized.
  • 4 Thinkers communities
    These communities are moderated by people who’s main target is to present valuable content regarding special topics. A chosen team of authors provide readers with validated content. Stay in this community and improve your knowledge about topics you are interested in. Don’t hesitate to even ask simple questions. If the community is interested in building opinions it should be also interested in introducing newbies to the topics.

    A good example for a high quality community is the Google+ community ‘Mind mapping’ where I got sophisticated comments on my posts from experts.

  • 5 Expert communities
    These communities are created by scientists and the content is mostly not intended for the public because of complexity of the topics.
  • 6 Gadget communities
    These communities often have a high number of members. A wide variety of content is presented. Uncountable rumors, tips, and accessories are presented and users feel a never ending craving for news. News are news for just one day, some hours, or just on a three-second glimpse. Then they all are trashed.
    In all cases the author is not recognized as the contributor.

    Unfortunately these communities also contain unvalidated reports about products. In many cases these products are not really tested by the author. Posts are mainly driven by the pressure to frequently compete with other posts.

    If you are disappointed leave the community.
    There are many alternatives to get an active member of another community of people sharing your interests and willing to communicate.

Community rules …

Here is an example of a well verbalized set of rules.
It’s from the Google+ community ‘iPad Apps’ moderated by Patrick Jordan.

Stay on topic!
This community is about iPad apps. Not Apple news and rumors. Not iPhone jailbreak tricks. Not the latest Android device or apps news. Just iPad apps.

Whenever you share a link, tell us why you share, why we should read your post.

For every post you share, please read 1-2 other’s posts, and let the author know by liking or commenting.

Post to the correct category
so that all of us can find relevant discussions more easily. If you have a category you think needs to be added, let me know.

App Promo Posts Go in the ‘Promoting Apps’ Category
I’m seeing too many promo posts from people who never comment or post here but just pop in to spam an app they’re involved with. These are OK for now, but only if they’re in the proper category. Any posted to the general discussion area will be removed.

Use Common Sense on Etiquette
This should go without saying, but be a good community member. Get involved in discussions, post interesting things or pose interesting questions. Don’t just come in shouting ‘Hey, look at my thing’ and never do anything else.

If nudity or hate speech is found or posted, will be grounds for removal.

Repeated violators will he removed from the group without notification. This group will be monitoring member complaints about postings.

Patrick tries to run a community with active members.

What does that mean?

People posting links all the time without commenting them just crave attention. It’s in easy job to collect links, post them and that’s all. In many cases the linked articles are not even read by the poster. You can verify this when asking a question in the comment section and getting no answer.

You don’t have to join these communities because you can do this yourself by simply starting a Google search e.g. “new cases iPhone”. If you recognize that this behavior of posters is allowed in a community leave it so that the number of members decreases. There are many alternatives and quoting a comment to my question on Google+

It’ll sort itself out. Poorly run and mismanaged communities will flounder, well run and properly managed communities will flourish.

Causes of conflicts …

I found this comprehensive overview of Blaise Grimes-Viort about conflicts in communities and couldn’t express myself better. So here are the main considerations:

Expectations related causes of conflict
Your community members may have expectations that aren’t being met, or don’t match up with other members’ expectations. These can include:

  • 01. Differing principles & mismatching values: Are your community principles prominently displayed and are you attracting the right people to your online community?
  • 02. Diversity of perspectives: do you have such a diverse membership that their perspectives are clashing too much?
  • 03. Lack of focus: Is your community wandering aimlessly or do they know what the purpose of engaging is?
  • 04. Disagreement over strategy or execution: does your membership agree with where you want to take your online community and how you are going about doing so?

Personality-driven causes of conflict
We’re all very different and have our own unique personality. While this makes your online community interesting and encourages a range of debate, sometimes personalities and ways of communicating clash, for example:

  • 05. Limitations of reading and writing capabilities: are some of your community members less literate, or less careful about how they write or making sure they understand the message they are responding to than others?
  • 06. Immovable opinions: Have participants decided their personal positions in a debate and are incapable of flexible debate?
  • 07. In-articulation of differing values: Are participants in the community not making differing sets of values clear enough for productive discussions to take place?
  • 08. Dismissiveness: Is there an element of patronising, demeaning or condescending language being used in the debate?

Environmental causes of conflict
Sometimes, the environment you provide for your community can cause problems. When communicating we rely on tools, both interpersonal as well as functional. When these are lacking in some way, the following can happen:

  • 09. No physical communication cues: Are the lack of non-verbal visual cues causing problems for your membership in identifying mood and tone?
  • 10. Impersonality of the medium: Are your community members losing their inhibitions and saying things they would not dare say face to face?
  • 11. Misinterpreted silences: Is the inherent asynchronicity of the medium your community uses to communicate resulting in the time delay in-between responses blowing issues out of proportion?
  • 12. Perceptions of public vs private spaces online: Do individuals amongst your membership have differing understandings of how public or private their discussions are on the web?

Emotional causes of conflict
Over time, underlying emotional issues will develop between your online community’s membership which will affect how they communicate.

  • 13. Historical problems: Do certain community members have previous personal arguments affecting their ongoing interactions?
  • 14. Prejudice: Are there personal prejudices at play when people butt heads in your online community?
  • 15. Perception of injustice: Is one member in particular complaining of being persecuted by other elements in the community?
  • 16. Power dynamics: Have a few cliques developed and are they vying for supremacy and control over your community?

This list is by no means exhaustive! Other causes could be related to jealousy, revenge, wanting to abuse authority, rudeness, a victim complex, a lack of trust, passive-aggressiveness, or simply people’s desire to be ‘right’. I’ve written another post on How to approach dealing with conflict in your online community.

Stats …

I reviewed some communities on Google+ for one month (Mid-May to Mid-June 2013)

Community Members Contributors
Mind Maps 37 6 (16.2%)
iPhone 707 54 (7.6%)
iPad Apps 2406 48 (1.9%)

These are definitely not representative numbers and without tools (I counted manually) it’s a time-robbing job to get reliable results. But nevertheless it roughly follows the above mentioned 90-9-1 principle if the community consists of a large number of members.

Usually only a small number of members are posters and the number of content creators is a very small percentage of members who just share links whereas the number of people commenting on posts is a bit higher. You can superficially verify this by activating your memory and scroll through community posts.

If all these stats are near to reality communities are basically comparable with magazines that means reading posts is much more common than writing. It’s the typical behavior of consumers.

Benefits and importance …

There are no cons for you personally as you can leave every community anytime.
But there are many benefits for you found out the right community which meets your requirements:

  • Establishment of new connections to people with different opinions, religion, and culture in other countries
  • Consolidation or change of opinions
  • Improvement of knowledge
  • Presentation of news

or just jogging for your brain.

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Related links …

Socialize Me: Google+ Etiquettes

Herb Firestone: New to Google+

Jonathan Bishop

Social Media and Online Marketing Stats

Socious com

Mashable

Blog Lies Damned Lies Statistics

Thanks for dropping by.


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