Community as No System. 7 Lessons Learnt from Years in Communications

A friend of mine came back from a communications conference in Austin, TX. Naturally, I asked her how it went. “Stacy, nothing seems to work these days. People don’t respond to traditional sales pitches any more”. (Not much of a surprise here, right?)

“So what? Should marketing machines stop annoying people with their bullshit and become more human?” — I grinned at her with my usual troll face.

However, she remained serious and nodded: “Yes, nearly everyone there emphasized the importance of emotional connection of your brand with your customers and building human relationships!”

So I ticked another check box — the community IS important, more than ever before.

Four people raising their hands, each in their unique manner.
Four people raising their hands, each in their unique manner.
There’s no ‘right’ attitude. The sky is the limit to what your community might have for you.

Before giving a talk on the non-linear approach to community, I decided to go back to basics. I learnt those lessons through years in journalism, marketing, L1 support, IT events, HRM and internal communications (yeah, my current team is enjoying the informal job title I invented for myself — Jane of All Trades).

Lesson #1. “People are not logical, even those whom you supposed to be super logical”

People are toughest. Systems don’t mean to hurt you. People can hurt you, deliberately or not. Every person is a combination of their national culture, own code of values, religious beliefs, passions and health parameters affecting their psyche. A complete mess, right? Too many factors! If we compare a community to a system, this system will have a lot of critical vulnerabilities and demonstrate unexpected behavior. And the one caring for it will always be on fire.

Lesson #2. “You never know how far those virtual handshakes can lead you”

Speaking about fire… Another friend of mine from the security industry shared interesting statistics. 90% of all sensitive information leaks come from current and past employees. (Never argue with those who do vacuum cleaning in your office — those are the real people in charge!) You might be shocked with how fast people’s bad experience triggers unpleasant discussions or even leads to money losses. A disaster is just one tweet away. In a connected world too many tweets are retweeted.

Lesson #3. “Most people deal with the deprecated version of yourself”

Yes, loyalty can be lost at once. Acquisition of supporters (friends, subscribers, partners, customers) takes time, while just one minor thing that slipped out of your control might ruin what you gained. Restoring a reputation costs more than building one. Labels are sticky, especially when they contain bad words. And when you decide to change the course, perception will be async — even in a perfect system a copy of your data can’t be updated simultaneously across the entire set-up. And your community is not a perfect system, nope.

Lesson #4. “Communication tends to be good till the start of a prolonged silence”

Similarly to tech world, you can do the support and maintenance on a regular basis — communities are usually good to someone feeling the pulse and knowing where things really are. If you care for people and pay attention to their needs and problems, you’ll thrive. When you stop doing this, you’ll lose people’s trust — just like good software systems require regular updates, communities live on continuous delivery of new info containing some value. Otherwise only negative stuff piles up.

Lesson #5. “The best communications professionals look (a bit?) crazy for a reason”

Why the hell? Most people tend to forget good things. Let’s optimize it even more — people tend to forget things. And forget other people, too. So being unforgettable isn’t optional for a community leader — it’s a must. That’s very similar to a checksum — you should be 100% sure that your audience remembers who you are and what for they may need you.

Lesson #6. “Don’t serve only sugary food in your restaurant. People expect bittersweet stuff”

Does that open door approach mean staying positive all the time? Yes, and no! It takes a 0 and a 1 to get a digital message encoded. A lack of dynamics shows that you’re trying to hide your true self away. You’ll look suspicious if you pretend to be an ever-smiling person from a TV commercial. It doesn’t mean being sad. It does mean being empathic and supportive. Finding compassion is key. Use your mirror neurons — they’ll connect you to your companion’s mental Wi-Fi and bring you the right mood.

Lesson #7. “Never play a piper in front of your army of rats. People do feel who you are”

So you still want to be the community oncall… The good news is that an illogical system pre-assumes having no firm rules. To be more precise, you can invent your own way to organize the mess. Just do it with people in mind, not yourself. Knowing a bit more about social technology doesn’t make you an emperor of the world. When trying to cheat in this game, you allow a more powerful cheater to hack you some day. Some bugs of the human nature are features. When you learn this, you’ll be able to hack every human. But you won’t want to do this because of deep respect and mercy. Someday you’ll see yourself in everyone you meet.

Yes, let’s meet in person! Federico Razzoli is hosting a community edition of his popular open source database meetup in London. Colin Charles will be speaking there, and I’ll also give a talk. In addition to this, we’re going to have fun and discuss the worst practices of community management (complaints are welcome!). We’ll create a ‘stop doing this’ list together and make our world a better place sharing it around afterwards!

Disclaimer. All views reflected in this article are my own, please don’t regard them as an opinion coming from any of my employers.

Written by

Charismarketer, Event Junkie, Russian Poet, World Traveler

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