10 Social Psychology Tips for Managing Online Communities

Let’s take a scientific approach to managing online communities. The following tips are based on the science that describes the nature of human interactions – social psychology.

1. Beware the Fundamental Attribution Error

Don’t take for granted that a community would understand the motivation of your actions, especially if they don’t like them. The fundamental attribution error describes the fact that most people will assign you bad will and turn away from you, rather than look for external conditions that shaped your decisions. In order to minimize the effect of this error, you need to put a lot of effort into explaining the situation and your motivation.

2. Get Closer

Being close to someone makes it easier to become friends with them, based on attraction theory. Become closer to your prospective community members, join the social networks they participate in, comment on their blogs.

3. Be Positive

People associate their feelings towards others with their current state. If they are in good mood when they get to know you, it increases the chances they will want to join your community.

4. Like Them

If you like me, there’s a bigger chance I would like you back. This becomes apparent for example on Twitter: if you follow someone, there’s a better chance she will follow you.

5. Design

Physical attractiveness is important. In the online world, it’s the design (of your blog, your social network, your website) that matters.

6. Become an Expert

Influencing your community requires power. Expert power, extremely relevant in the online world, comes from experience or education. If you are recognized as an expert, people will count with your opinion and are more likely to follow your leadership.

7. Earn Trust

Even more valuable than expert power is referent power. Referent power comes from admiration or respect. In the online world without hierarchies and boundaries people with referent power are the most influential ones. This power comes from character, the values and integrity that a person represents. It translates into trust that your earn in the online world.

8. Leverage Social Facilitation

Social facilitation theory assumes that when we are in company of other people we tend to perform better at simpler or well learned tasks and worse when it comes to complex, difficult or new tasks, as compared to performing the same job without other people present. In online communities we are at the same time in company of others, but we are also anonymous and able to hide behind our screen. People may be more creative and risk-taking in such environments, so there’s a big chance that in future most complex projects, difficult tasks and innovation will be sourced from online collaborative communities.

9. Sometimes Smaller Is Better

Social loafing theory claims that as a group gets larger, the individual contribution tends to decrease. In other words, the level of ownership for tasks, decisions or deliverables drops as there are new members joining the group. As online communities are normally open and we tend to consider large size of a community as an asset, the leader needs to be aware of the social loafing effect. Sometimes it may be effective to limit the size of the group to obtain best results.

10. Prevent Bystander Effect

In online communities, the bystander effect explains a tendency of group not reacting to problems they witness. However, the community would normally react when someone does it as example. Therefore, the role of a community manager, or community leader should be to role model the desired behaviors.

If you have experience with any of above tips in your online community, please share them in the comments!

Photo credit: Wurzle


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