Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Community doesn't sell

Last week, I got an mass email from a virtual environment I once contracted with while they were just starting. I haven't really dropped in since they went public so I really don't consider myself a part of their community. But I am still on their mailing list.
From: The There Fun Times
Subject: Community Building In There!

Dear Scott,

Help build a stronger community by becoming more involved in the daily happenings in There! Welcome new members to our world or just do your part by nominating someone for the Member Advisory Board. It's a small world and you are a big part of it!
Unfortunately, I think this message misses the intended mark on several points. My point is not to pick on There, but to voice some thoughts I have on communicating about online communities.

Don't market the word "community" - community is a term that is subjective to the people who are participating in that "community". It's not up to the host of any social space to declare that someone else is or is not a part of the community. My recommendation to organizations hosting community spaces is to ban the use of the word community in all communications. We've followed this edict at for the four years I have been there. It's forced us to be direct about what we offer and what value it can have for parents.

When you can, target your audience - There knows that I haven't logged into the system for at least six months. It's obvious that they are trying to drum up visits to the service, but why ask people who have not been in the world for a while to come in and start welcoming new people? And since I haven't been around, how do I find out about this mysterious (to me) Member Advisory Board. The message seems targeted for people who haven't been in the service for a couple of weeks, not months. It would not take much to tailor three messages: one for people who are there all the time, one for people who haven't been back in a few weeks, and one for people who have been gone a very long time. Pull the mailing lists based on the last sign in date and send out three batches. No complicated systems needed. Just a little more effort.

Use inclusive language - The newsletter is all about me. What about them? Are the There Fun Times editors part of the community? Why even allow the distinction to be raised? It sounds like a good idea, but I've recently come across the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini who studies influence and persuasion at Arizona State University. His recent article, What Lovers Tell Us About Persuasion is aimed at the use of inclusive language by people in negotiation, but an earlier work, Crafting normative messages to protect the environment examines persuasive language in signage at national parks. These are probably worth a separate post at another time. For now, I offer that "Come visit us daily", "Join us in nominating people to the Members Advisory Board" are a little more inviting.


  1. Good stuff. I keep meaning to check back in on There. It was cool in the beta phase. Lots of fun...more fun than Sims Online.


  2. By the way, drop me a note when you get a chance - jakeATcommunityguyDOTcom. I've got a couple things I'd love to chat with you about, but can't find your email on the site.