Awais Bhattee from the IACT19 Committee sat down with Tabassum Fakier, IACT15 alumnus and founder of Artifex, to discuss with us what it takes to overcome the challenges in managing online communities.
The internet has undoubtedly been one of the most amazing achievements of human society. Apart from the access to information, it has provided us with access to other people. It has allowed for an uncountable number of people to become part of communities that share the same interests. For startups, this could be communities of customers, users, employees, etc. – the possibilities are endless – but they do also pose unique challenges unseen before: how do you manage groups of people who you have not met in person, especially if they span across the globe?
Luckily, to provide insight to our local IACT community, we have Tabassum ‘Tabs’ Fakier to share some pointers she picked up from her decade long experience in managing online communities. When Tabs first joined the IACT15 cohort, “I was looking to grow the global communities I managed, and was looking for software to help me do that, but the search came up with very little”.
She continued to explain that the tools that existed out there were designed for managing simple communities and for specific circumstances. Communication tools like Slack and Facebook existed, but were designed for specific types of groups, and the management tools that existed were out of the budget for social groups. Tabs joked about how we could write a book on the topic of the different types of communities and different ways to manage them. It’s often not apparent which tools are suitable for which needs.
“Discord and Slack are made for single communities. You can have one global community, or a small local community, but multiple communities gets really, really messy. Trying to manage that with current apps looked to be a nightmare and the closest thing I could have done was Facebook groups, but with the way Facebook works, engagement is very difficult if you are trying to foster relationships”.
Slack is great for single structured groups like workplaces. You have specific people who the admins know are going to be performing certain roles and need to be part of certain communication groups. However online communities can grow dynamically and unpredictably, people are not recruited one by one for specific roles. Facebook is great for people who share interests like fan groups, but these groups are for sharing cool tidbits, and not necessarily aimed at achieving coordinated goals. The groups Tabs was managing did not fit these moulds.
The gamers reading this blog may be aware of the genre of MMO games, short for Massively Multiplayer Online games. When video games met the internet, it created a new genre of gaming where thousands and even millions of people could play in the same environment at the same time, unlike traditional sports which were limited to the same geographical location. Games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Minecraft evolved to be places where people could have fun while also enjoying the social benefits of playing with others. The developers of these games decided to make challenges to foster positive relationships between players and to grow the online community around their product offering, by creating tasks that were impossible to do individually, and required you to coordinate with others to complete tasks. This is a prime example of these unique community groups that require work-like coordination in a recreational setting, with team members spanning the globe, again, with their own unique challenges.
“Miscommunication happens often, especially when people are debating in text. In voice, it is often better because your tone matters a lot and people don’t just focus on just what you are saying but also the general meaning of what you are saying. When they have just text they just sit there and analyse. They may read between the lines or overthink. In solving this issue, Tabs’ advice is to “encourage verbal conversation for sticky topics, by jumping onto voice communication, such as Discord, TeamSpeak, or Skype. Just by talking, at least they can hear that you are not trying to be confrontational”. Startups may consider this, particularly when their ventures require engaging in sensitive or challenging conversations with stakeholders. Consider the type of experience you want that community to have when interacting with your venture.
“You have to pay attention to people, take the time to listen to them. You have to be genuine in your interaction, and consider them on a level that is personal. If you approach people personally they can generally tell and that makes them feel welcome.”
The practices of creating healthy online communities are the same as creating any healthy community, but with the added barriers to communication. There may be a tendency to ignore things we would have done in person because we may forget about things we don’t see in front of us. But if you want a healthy community, those things that are often harder to do are also the ones that are sometimes the most important.
A community is a web of connections and relationships between people. This evolves constantly – “If a community is tight, people are there for the company more than they are for the game.” And the same principles apply for when considering communities around a startup. Users may choose to remain with the company, or to move onto the next one, and whether they stay or go the decision is very much relative to the relationships that were developed and experience they had interacting with the company and surrounding community. If you want to manage a successful community, it is more than administrating a page you create online or filling out the paperwork to start a club, it is about fostering positive relationships and maintaining them. Think carefully about the type of community you’re trying to foster, the nature of the communicative relationships you want to be developing, and make sure you consider appropriate channels, tools and strategies to best manage them.