[Interview]Community Catalyst's Derrick Hildman interviewed Venia about what it means to have a meaningful community
Darrick: We are a part of a lot of different groups and organizations. What does a "Meaningful Community" mean or look like to you?
Venia: For me there is a progression in your community's relationship with your members - A "useful" community provides value to its members. A "successful" community accomplishes the goals and mission of that community by imparting "value" to its members. An "engaged" community encourages relationships to grow beyond the value a member initially desired and encourages them to give back.
The #1 metric I use to determine how "meaningful" a community is, though, is self-disclosure.
A member's willingness to disclose more about themselves shows a genuine affinity with other members. A meaningful community is exemplified in those moments when a person's relationship with others in the community transcends the community's purpose or the value-added engagement that keeps them interacting. A meaningful community creates a real feeling of affiliation that proves to a member that this is where they want to spend their time.
The #1 metric I use to determine how "meaningful" a community is self-disclosure.
Darrick: How would you describe your role when it comes to the communities you work with?
Venia: As an online community manager and full-stack marketer, I usually work with brand communities and generally oversee a somewhat tenuous relationship between the community and its leadership.
Many communities are viewed similarly to a beehive.
Brands and more powerful stakeholders in a community can approach their community like a bear getting the honey, or a flower feeding it nectar. It's my job to tell a brand or executive team when they are being the bear, when they're being the flower, and when that's okay. \
Sometimes my job is to "speak for the bees" in their executive meetings, so the community has a voice. At other times it's to report cold facts on whether the community is providing real value to the people paying for it. I have to navigate my positions of authority and subservience to both the brand and community.
Because of this tenuous relationship, my job primarily involves navigating misconceptions about how the community really works, using analytics and social science, and that's why my co-founder and I created SociallyConstructed.Online.
Darrick: What gives you joy when working with communities?
Venia: It's been my Raison D'etre (pretentious but true), to enter any community and know that I've left it better from my presence; to know I've improved people's lives somehow.
I know it may be weird to think, but analytics has a special place in that.
I love the social-scientific aspect involved in being a community manager. I really like the notion of measuring a community's health, reporting it to those in charge, and seeing those people implement one thing that will change that community for the better.
Sometimes my job is to "speak for the bees" in executive meetings, so the community has a voice. Other times it's to report cold facts on whether the community is providing real value to the people paying for it.
Darrick: What are your biggest struggles when working with communities?
People like to think that because they spend every waking moment in their community, they know its pain points and how to improve it, but more often than not, once you get above a "tribe" or around ~250 people, they're wrong.
I would say many people in their communities use the lived experience of their time in a community to make decisions rather than the learned experience of their community members. They see problems and advocate for them without determining the nature of that problem from other people's points of view.
And this makes sense. As a community member you've become so fond of something, and you've gained enough clout to be considered a veteran or expert. It puts the blinders on so-to-speak.
This further underscores the importance of processes, though.
As community leaders, we have a responsibility to gauge and report out the metrics on our community's health - not just because everyone deserves to know, but because it's a social contract that keeps our decisions in check and makes it easier to figure out when we're the bear.
Darrick: Any last words or thoughts when it comes to meaningful communities?
Venia: Well that sounded a bit ominous.
I guess I would say community is a social construct.
Online spaces, especially communities, are built out of the very communication they facilitate. That means putting together a community charter of transparent practices and measuring your community success. You don't need to develop infrastructure for the future, but you need to have the infrastructure necessary to measure what's happening in your community today. You need to learn to listen.
That's (not) all I wrote!
After this interview I also spent a good period of time reflecting on what exactly Darrick meant by "meaningful" in his conversation so I reflected a little more on my first question's response. I think a lot came out of it. Click below to read it and join me in the community catalysts group if you want to reflect more on this :)