Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

This is Part Four in a Four-Part Series on Observations on Community Building

Somehow I’ve reached the 4th post in my experiment. Nice. I’ll end off with some suggestions on where community managers can look in order to get a deeper understanding of our own work.

Even though companies hiring people to nurture communities is a new thing, the dynamics of communities go back a looong way. So its not surprising that lots of other disciplines have great bodies of knowledge to draw from.

If you’re like me, and are trying to seek out and learn from a few of them, here are some places you might want to start:

1) Open source

Open source is pretty much the grand daddy of modern digital communities. People donate their time to a project to contribute to the greater good, and the results are owned by everyone. Now if your community surrounds a for-profit product, its probably structured a little differently. But when you’re considering how to create buy-in and foster a distributed sense of ownership, there’s much to be learned from open source practices. To start, check out the Starfish and the Spider, and read up extensively on Linux.

2) Behavioral Psychology

The study of why we do what we do is pretty important when you’re looking to reach large groups of people and persuade them towards positive actions. Like it or not, as humans we have patterns to the way we respond to things, and behavioral psychology puts many of those patterns into tidy little packages. Influence by Robert Cialdini is a fun read on the topic.

3) User Experience and Interaction Design

UX design is all about understanding your users, and Interaction Design deals with crafting sequences that engage and delight them. They shape the way a platform interacts with its users, then we as community managers mold the way users interact with one another atop that platform. After users have spent some time with your product, usually they begin to have suggestions, which can then be sent back to Product, creating a positive feedback loop. Getting to understand how product designers think, and working together seems wise, given the meaningful ways our work impacts each other. I strongly suggest reading Seductive Interaction Design, and Subject to Change.

I hope that as community management develops, we all get smarter about drawing from established disciplines. The sooner we can put into perspective where this stuff comes from, the more effective we’ll be.