All hail the welcome bots

New members of online communities are more likely to stick around if they’re welcomed by fellow members — but Nickerson and his team found that new Wikipedia users who interacted with advisor- and protector-bots were significantly more likely to become long-term contributors than those greeted by humans. That remained true even when the bots were contacting users to point out errors or delete their contributions, as long as the bots were cordial and clear about their reasons.”

Rise of the bots (Science Daily)

Since 2017, Discourse — an open source forum platform that’s an absolute delight to use — has welcomed new members via Discobot. You can think of it as a customizable autoresponder taking on the form of another user.

This sort of automation, when used transparently, can offer a good deal of scalable utility to help with new member onboarding. It acquaints users with the platform and sets expectations out of the gate.

It’s kind of like the introductory levels or tutorials in a multiplayer game. You learn the gameplay mechanics in a safe space before jumping in with real players.

The ROI of supporting existing community groups

“In variety of other ways — with the launch of community events, youth workshops, and other programs — Katz and her partner continue to double down, investing back into the culture and creative community that provide Paper Chase business, and in turn, support and nurture its growth.”

The Creative Entrepreneur Behind Paper Chase Press (99U)

I’m big on supporting existing community groups. Why? Because the people you want to reach are already coming together. The interest and momentum is there. You just need to tap into it.

I wouldn’t start a new group unless I felt like there’s something missing from what the current group was doing. Even then, I’d look at how I could fill that gap within the existing group, rather than forking off in a different direction.

Here’s an example:

Back in 2011, a local eBook publisher was struggling to get off the ground. The founders had a history in print, they knew the industry, they had connections to great authors.

They wanted to provide consulting, design, and editing services to new authors for a small percentage of the sales revenue. To keep costs low, they’d cut out the middleman and sell the books directly to readers.

They didn’t know where to start with their marketing, and they had a very limited budget. So I suggested that they take the community marketing route: piggyback on local meetups, book clubs, and online groups that aligned with both sides of their business — authors and readers.

The goal would be to find the aspiring authors in these groups. If they could convert a chunk of those members into publishing under their label, they’d have an organic (unpaid) program for raising awareness & finding new leads.

The groups could also help with customer research. What were people reading? How were they discovering new authors? If they were trying to write and get published, what were they struggling with?

That’s the ROI of supporting existing community groups. You’re plugging into a collective of people you need to reach. Instead of buying attention with dollars, your investment is time spent on showing up, contributing, participating, and listening.

Start small, build relationships with members, gather a lot of qualitative insights, figure out what works, and scale up from there.

The vital role of moderators

Moderating content and comments is one of the most vital responsibilities on the internet. It’s where free speech, community interests, censorship, harassment, spam, and overt criminality all butt up against each other. It has to account for a wide variety of always-evolving cultural norms and acceptable behaviors. As someone who has done the job, I can tell you that it can be a grim and disturbing task. And yet the big tech platforms seem to place little value on it: The pay is poor, workers are often contractors, and it’s frequently described as something that’s best left to the machines.

The Comment Moderator Is The Most Important Job In The World Right Now (BuzzFeed News)

Community changes how we engage with customers

“Something I have been consistently hammering on about for a number of years is that communities are going to change how we build businesses and engage with customers. […]

Communities provide an incredible environment to not just build relationships between customers and companies, but between customers and customers too. These kinds of communities can generate enormous value, very tangible results, and deliver fulfilling, lasting experiences.”

Community as a Competitive Advantage (Jono Bacon)

A Renaissance for Online Communities: My session from PodCamp Toronto 2020

Note: The following is a companion post to my session “A Renaissance for Online Communities”, presented at PodCamp Toronto 2020 on February 22nd.


A community is not a single place or platform. A community is a connected group of people with something in common.

Communities form around different things. There are communities of place, like your local neighbourhood. There are communities of profession, like web design. And there are communities of interest, like the communities that form around podcasting.

People don’t identify as community members straight away. Showing up at a community event doesn’t mean you’ll feel like a member. At first, we often feel like an outsider, someone dropping in uninvited.

To feel like a community member, we need to achieve a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging grows through participation in shared experiences, both online and offline.

Keep reading…

The draw of taking part in something bigger

“We all know audio is seeing a resurgence in news media, with publishers experimenting with podcasts and daily briefings on smart speakers. The New York Times is taking it even further, with their “participatory podcasts“, aka conference calls. […]

These calls have been successful in drawing in usually several hundred subscribers, with a broad mix of demographics — including international subscribers. The Times could easily just release these conversations as podcasts but that would miss out on the community-building aspect. […]

By being live, and taking listener questions, these calls foster a sense among subscribers that they are part of something bigger than themselves. This is one of the reasons more and more media organisations have been trialing membership programs; it helps to increase retention as well.”

Unexpected ways publishers engage readers (Twipe)

An infinity of subcultures coming together, online to offline

An infinity of subcultures outside the mainstream now blossoms on the Internet – vegans, body modifiers, CrossFitters, Wiccans, DIYers, Pinners, and support groups of all forms. Millions of people are finding their true peers in the cloud, a remedy for the isolation imposed by the anonymous apartment complex or the remote rural location.

“This is why location is becoming so much less important: technology is enabling us to access everything we need from our mobile phone, to find our true communities in the cloud, and to easily travel to assemble these communities in person. Taken together, we are rapidly approaching a future characterized by a totally new phenomenon, the reverse diaspora: one that starts out internationally distributed, finds each other online, and ends up physically concentrated.

Software Is Reorganizing the World (WIRED)

This WIRED article is from 2013, envisioning a future that started to take shape over the last decade. Think techies congregating in Silicon Valley to work on the next big startup, or YouTubers congregating in LA, forming creator communes, sharing real estate and resources while collaborating on content.

But as the cost of living spirals out of control in metropolitan areas, our attention turns back to the upsides of distributed networks, punctuated by in-person gatherings like conventions and conferences.

Twitchcon brings streamers together. Vidcon brings YouTubers together. Dreamforce brings Salesforce users together. CMX brings community managers together. WordCamps bring WordPress users together.

…you get the idea.

My point is: we’re finding each other through social media and open networks, we’re sliding into DMs and email to build 1:1 relationships, and then we show up at in-person events to build the face-to-face rapport.

Digital campfires

“It is neither simple nor straightforward to reach audiences gathered around digital campfires. But as traditional social platforms grow, they become more crowded, and it becomes more difficult and expensive to reach people there anyway. In light of this, digital campfires become a much more attractive alternative — one that requires more groundwork and more careful tending, but one that could potentially have big payoffs for brands in terms of loyalty, retention, and long-term love.

The Era of Antisocial Social Media (Harvard Business Review)

Community Marketing is less “build something” and more “grow something”. Lots of tending and care over a longer period of time, with cyclical phases. It’s like working in agriculture versus working in manufacturing.

Decouple success from scale

To succeed, local media have to abandon scale and refocus on community. Advertising remains part of the equation, but reader revenue, donations, foundation funding — yard sales if necessary — are all in the mix.”

Audience scales, community does not. (Local News Lab)

You can thrive by decoupling success from scale. Related:

“As the Passion Economy grows, more people are monetizing what they love. The global adoption of social platforms like Facebook and YouTube, the mainstreaming of the influencer model, and the rise of new creator tools has shifted the threshold for success. I believe that creators need to amass only 100 True Fans—not 1,000—paying them $1,000 a year, not $100. Today, creators can effectively make more money off fewer fans.”

1,000 True Fans? Try 100 (Li Jin via a16z)

Micro-sized communities

” Micro-sized communities are the key for modern businesses as smaller channels allow them to connect with highly engaged audiences. Influencers provide one way to access organic, tight-knit communities, but marketers are now moving beyond the digital world and building these communities in the real world.”

How brands can build micro-communities (AdAge)

Lead a community of purpose that aligns with your brand’s mission. Bring people together around in-person shared experiences. Share knowledge while acting as a catalyst for new connections. Keep the energy going through persistent community activities and back-channels.