You Can Lead a Community To Water…

HorsesYou can lead a horse to water, the old saying goes, but you can’t make it drink. It’s much the same with online communities: You can present them with an idea, but you can’t make them embrace it. However, if they do embrace your idea, they will run with it as if it was their own.

I had a couple of recent experiences with the communities I help manage on Delphi Forums that brought the point home for me.

The first was the reaction of our members to the Stop Online Piracy Act (and its Senate counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act). At my urging, Delphi Forums took a position that SOPA was a bad piece of legislation and potentially devastating to our business. We even resigned from the Better Business Bureau in order to protest their support of SOPA (see previous blog post). We undertook an education campaign to urge our members to learn more about SOPA. If they came to agree with our position, we asked that they contact their congresspeople to let them know how they felt.

The response was amazing, as our hosts and members took to the cause with gusto. Delphi Forums did not take part in the January 18th Wikipedia-led blackout protest, but several of our hosts took it upon themselves to shut down their communities that day. Many members added anti-SOPA images to their message board signatures. Even though SOPA is now dead — or at least dormant — conversation about the topic continues in our host support forum in a thread that has grown to hundreds of messages. Their actions went way beyond what I had hoped for.

The other experience was the way our members embraced Community Manager Appreciation Day. Although CMAD has been around since 2010, this is the first year we observed the event on Delphi Forums. On Delphi, all of our communities are created and managed by our members (assisted by our amazing support team). To say we appreciate these volunteer community managers would be an understatement. Without them, we simply wouldn’t have a business. Marking CMAD seemed like a great way to let these people know how much they mean to us.

It was a huge success.

The vast majority of our members had never heard of Community Manager Appreciation Day, so we educated them about the event and made a few suggestions about how they might want to get involved. On Delphi, we have a sizable community of “signature artists” — artistic members that create message board signature graphics for other members. We asked these artists if they would be willing to create special signature graphics for CMAD, and they came through with some great designs. We also left messages in our top 20 forums addressed to the host, thanking him or her for their time and efforts. The reaction was terrific. In nearly every forum where we posted, other people started jumping in to add their thanks. It seems that our members truly appreciate their forum hosts. They just needed a reason to express those sentiments in the forums.

You can never force online communities to do what you want. But these two episodes showed me that when you present an idea to the community that people genuinely agree with — and do it in an open, honest, and collaborative way — they will respond.

Photo credit: Steve Shattuck

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