Various tasks and roles performed by different members of your virtual community should align with your community’s goals and objectives. Avoid centralising your activities within a small group of core team members.
Instead, activate others to take on tasks and broader roles based on their interests, abilities, and connections. Some members will even take on multiple roles.
It is important to note that in the early stages of a community’s life-cycle, most tasks will be completed by a core team without clear separation. This is part of establishing your community but must evolve in time to activate others and clearly define roles.
This evolution is critical for virtual communities to flourish. Community managers must
make space for members to become active. This is done by creating a role-structure that holds open space for members to fill as the community grows.
Examples of activated member roles provided by the Pantheon community:
Each community must develop its own roles according to their members’ skills and readiness to take on a role.
In order for roles to be effective, Pantheon recommends each member takes on 2-3 roles, drawing from each of the different columns. Each role is different in nature. Some are more market-oriented (external) and others are more administrative (internal).
There is a tendency for internal, more administrative tasks to be given to a certain profile of person, who is not normally visible or recognised. You may need to redirect some members to take on more of these internal tasks to
maintain balance between more visible or obvious tasks. Internal tasks and roles can sometimes seem less exciting but are essential to the survival of the community. Another approach is to pay a member of the community to fulfill a key role. If the person with the necessary skills is not available within your community, hire an external person (budget permitting).
A key role is that of the
community catalyst. A community catalyst activates a broad group of members and keeps the community alive. This role can be filled by different members of a community. Catalysts are in constant communication with different members about their needs and spread information and knowledge within the community. They also boost morale and connect members to one another. At the same time, catalysts are culture holders and embody the values and culture of the community.
The League of Intrapreneurs, for example, has catalysts in 12 countries that collaboratively build the global movement while focusing on supporting their local intrapreneurs. They play a crucial role as the local arms and eyes of the community as they place activities into the local context while also meeting new potential members.
Each person taking on a role must be given the opportunity to bring their individuality to their work.
Think about what kind of tasks might be included in each role and what decision-making power each person will have i.e., defining decisions they can make independently and when to involve others.
Virtual communities change quickly and roles must change, adapt, and evolve as the community changes. Allow room for reflection and conversations about how member roles can evolve to better serve the community.
Different levels of member involvement
Some members will be more involved than others. Not every member of your community will take on a role or internal function or task. Begin by activating your most engaged members first. In fact, it is not unusual for only a small percentage of members to become consistently active. This is important to remember when filling roles.
There are two factors that determine a member’s level of engagement: confidence and commitment. When confidence and commitment is lower, a member is more likely to help out or participate only. When confidence and commitment levels are higher, a member is more likely to collaborate, take on a role, and engage others. This is illustrated in the table below.
Another method of classifying member engagement is to assess their level of contribution and their level of commitment (see infographic). The members in the upper right quadrant are the most active and have more information. This creates a self-reinforcing loop where the more active members are, the more information they have and the more power and influence they gain. As a community manager, you need a mechanism to balance out the power and influence of highly active members. This could include scheduling regular exchanges between the member and the community to share information and knowledge. You can also create rotating roles to ensure knowledge and information are better distributed among members and that no one person holds power for too long.
Over the long-term,
you must commit to regular conversations and knowledge exchange sessions with highly activated members and develop a strong understanding of how power is distributed and spread in your community.
If your decision-making system is not decentralised and members do not have the power to make decisions within their roles, this will create frustration and stall their work.
The key element to activating others is to give individuals a level of responsibility that reflects what they want and what they have time for. Set low entry barriers and distribute small work packages (roles) to make it easier for members to get active.
For example, The WWF Innovation community reached out and offered catalyst roles to 10 community members. The catalyst role required those 10 members to check the community platform regularly, post something occasionally, write comments, and like content. Because this role required a lower time commitment and was easier to fulfill, the catalyst members became more engaged. In your own community, pay attention to who is taking their role more seriously and approach those individuals to discuss more complex roles and engagements.
To avoid friction and enable members to participate, set small roles (work packages). These roles include all of the information and resources a member will need to do their work. It also helps to set and communicate a clear timeframe for completing a project or task. Time frames also provide members with healthy exit points if they are no longer able to fulfill a role.
Working groups are a great way to activate members who are unable to fill ongoing roles. Reach out to your virtual community members directly or post an open call asking members to join the group. Setting clear expectations and commitment timelines is central to positive engagement.
Working groups also help members get to know each other better and produce work that meets the community’s needs.Depending on how relevant the task is for the community you might want a long-term member or someone from the core team to be part of the working group.
Expect that the concentration of information will be an ongoing issue. Members who are more engaged will have more information than those who contribute occasionally and/or have difficulties keeping up. It is the community manager’s role to ensure information is documented and easily accessible for all community members when they are ready to be more active. Make it clear where members can find information and always extend an invitation for increased participation.
Decide what sense, culture, or feeling of community you want to build and design your activities and messaging to cultivate a participatory culture within that framework. In their psychological Sense of Community framework, McMillan and Chavis say that four basic elements are needed when developing the sense or feeling within your community. They include:
- Membership – Do members feel a sense of identification with one another?
- Influence – How are members influenced in the community and how can they influence the community in return?
- Integration and fulfillment of needs – How are members appreciated and recognised for their participation and contributions in the community?
- Shared emotional connection – Is there a shared history and emotional connection among members?
When trying to activate members within your community, discuss these four senses of community questions. Identify potential weaknesses and areas you want to work on in order to create a culture and structure that empowers responsibility.
Rituals to create belonging, foster trust, and celebrate
A virtual community is a space where members can celebrate victories and milestones together.
Many people join communities to experience a sense of belonging while contributing to a shared purpose. Make sure your community has mechanisms that show appreciation for the work done and contributions made while celebrating goals achieved together.
Members will join your community for many different reasons including helping the community achieve its mission. When creating mechanisms for appreciation, spend some time thinking about your members’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This will help ensure appreciation mechanisms make members feel seen and valued.
A virtual or in-person meeting where members share what they appreciate about each other. This can be done either in the large group or small in breakouts.
Specifically thank and appreciate active members in writing, via phone calls, or publicly at events. Because human beings are imitators by nature, showing gratitude in this way can inspire others to become more active themselves.
Thank you gifts
Meaningful or thoughtful items that reflect the recipient’s contributions and individuality can have great meaning. Swag, shirts, and items bearing logos should not be given as thank you gifts.
Public posts shared with your broader community like a “high-five” or “success of the week” feature success stories and moments of personal growth while highlighting a member’s contributions.
Participatory tools and methods
Make it as easy as possible for members to interact with one another. A tool for interaction that has too many barriers or is difficult to use can prevent collaboration and action. Sometimes, a barrier can be a single additional click or a poor usability on a mobile phone app.
The key elements that drive participation are often invisible. However, the design of ongoing interaction models are what make people feel invited to collaborate and co-create. Interaction models can be implemented both off- and online. Design your virtual and physical spaces with group dynamics in mind. Use a set up that includes everyone. In-person, good interaction design includes things like how you set up chairs in a meeting (long conference tables or sitting in a circle). During meetings, ask specific, relevant questions directly to vocal and quiet members.
Tips for creating a culture of co-creation from iac:
- Create a focus group of power users and listen to their feedback. Then use that feedback to direct the growth of the community and the platform.
Create little incentives for leadership.
Let your members suggest their own project or activity ideas and empower them in the implementation. For this to be most effective, you need to provide clear rules and processes for community decision-making.
- Be realistic when it comes to what you can expect from volunteers. When members put in their time and effort on a voluntary and unpaid basis, they can be unavailable, unresponsive and their levels of engagement can shift dramatically.
To help you learn more about facilitating in a space designed for interaction, check out these materials on facilitation, hosting methodologies, and practices. Two of the most used are the Art of Hosting and Liberating structures.
As your community becomes more decentralised, more of the work will be spread out among various, activated members each fulfilling different roles.
It is critical to guide and support activated members in taking responsibility for their role. This ensures members are empowered to lead the community and limits the misuse of power. Clear guidance and responsive support from the community manager also ensures that members have the info they need to create great products and limits frustration due to miscommunication or lack of information.
It is important to provide tools, training and guidelines to members or set up local chapters where they can get support when needed. Below is a list of resources you may want to create for activated members taking on a role within your community.
Clearly articulate what is expected and required for each role and indicate if there is room to expand it. It can be as short as a few paragraphs but will help to provide guidance. Here is an example from Enspiral of a stewarding role description.
Setting up events
Oftentimes, potential members are attracted to a virtual community following an event. Reflect on what have you learned from setting up events in the initial chapters of your community. Collect your learning in a simple document so that the future chapters can benefit from this knowledge.
Unblock decision-making barriers preventing members from moving forward with a project or task. For example, at Singularity University, members wanted to organise local events were trying to set a reasonable ticket price. But varying purchasing powers across countries meant getting a single price was not possible. Their solution was something called the Three Cappuccino Policy. This policy dictated that ticket prices could not be more than the local price of three cappuccinos. After implementing this policy, members still came and asked what kind of cappuccino. So, they clarified the policy even further: single shot espresso with whole milk.
Create a brief toolkit for local chapters that includes best-practices and methods for activating others as well as effective icebreakers for different occasions.
Support in communication
Create a branding and communication guide helps activated members take on new and varying responsibilities. Try to integrate local events into the global website and create sub-websites for local chapters to use as their communication tool.
Create guidelines or protocols to support working groups that are taking on activities directly related to the core work of the community. See an example from Enspiral.
On-boarding new roles
After inviting community members to take on a new role, schedule a one-on-one conversation with them to talk about how they understand the role. Openly discuss expectations from both sides as well as decision making and reporting.
Offer training sessions in cases where many individuals take on a new role in a single time period. Singularity University, for example, forms a new cohort of new chapter heads quarterly and those who enroll are trained as a group on things like diversity and inclusion.
It may be appropriate for your community to use structured recruitment processes to select members who want to do things like run local chapters.
Think about what conditions need to be in place so local chapters can be formed. Hold formal interviews with the potential members and create some momentum around the chapters once a candidate has been selected.
Any initiative that is designed to activate members of your community must:
- Fit their needs to ensure the role serves them well and create tools that members will use.
- Use a plug-and-play style meaning it is simple to use and adapts to their context.
- Be updated regularly to include relevant and up-to-date resources and learning materials.
- Be advertised so members know resources are available.
Borderland is a community that creates events to “explore the space between dreams and reality”. Their work is characterized by self-activation and stepping out of leadership with enthusiasm and a poetic vision that is broad enough for people to identify with. Events are heavily influenced by the 10 principles of Burning Man in addition to their own unique set of principles and culture. The official organization exists only to conduct a single annual event, although some see Boderland as a community of event organisers.