Sunday, November 2, 2008

Leveling the Playing Field

In all communities there is a tendency to rely on overtly vocal members who derive their meaning from commanding staff presence when it may not be the best community strategy. Invariably, focus on special interest groups serves to create discrepancies and the members notice the differences in how staff treats certain individuals or forums. While the special interest groups may have well organized information to share with the staff and other members, they are driven by meeting their own needs which are not always the same as the needs of the rest of the community. Members learn to respond in negative ways when they feel their input is not as valuable as input from other factions. They will often use aggressive, disruptive tactics as a bid to demand attention.

One challenge is deciding where, when and who to ask for input and also how to frame questions. Since one of the objectives is to provide a clearing house for opinions, it is intuitive to recognize that most site specific issues cross all strata and that the newest member may share common concerns with the established leaders.

It is important for community managers to develop enough familiarity with the interface to teach and enable employees to "hear" and acknowledge the user who makes a single post as loudly as the user who makes a hundred posts. Adding employees who are able to address specific questions from their area of expertise along with generalists provide many more ears to listen to the community and take input.

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