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An Introvert’s Guide to Growing a Private Online Community

Written by Julie Dietz on July 6, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Introverts have all the skills they need to grow and manage private online communities.

Several years ago, ASAE’s keynote presentation was by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Her talk – and her book – changed my world.

While society applauds the gregariousness of extroverts and those who can “work a room,” Susan Cain clearly explains what introverts bring to the table. What is particularly amazing is how she sees introverts thriving in social media. Because introverts can, in fact, be some of the most successful social media and online community managers, all despite their tendency to keep to themselves.

So if you would like to become a social media whiz or an online community manager but are worried being an introvert will hold you back, take heart. Your introvert tendencies make you an excellent fit for community management.

What Is an Introvert?

Introverts are typically described as quiet individuals who don’t often reveal their thoughts or feelings. According to Psychology Today:

“Introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia, or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialize easily; they just strongly prefer not to.”

It’s a common misconception that introverts don’t like to have conversations or spend time with their peers. In reality, most introverts just prefer to have a larger amount of alone time than extroverts.

It’s estimated that as much as one-third to one-half of the population are introverts, although it’s now also widely recognized that not everyone is a full introvert or extrovert. Personalities fall on a spectrum, with few people being completely introverted or extroverted.

Challenges for Introverts in Online Community Management

Introverts are naturally reserved, which means becoming an online community manager can be challenging. However, there are workarounds you can use for areas that are more commonly geared by extroverts. Here are a few of the main challenges you’ll face as an introvert in your online community and how to deal with them.

Challenge #1) Sharing Your Personality

Online communities thrive on sharing information about products, services, and industries, but that information doesn’t drive connection. For people to become invested in your community and connect with your organization, you need to act human and show off your personality.

It may be a challenge for introverts to share their personality online, but that’s often what keeps members coming back. It’s fun to get to know other community members, especially the manager.

Since this type of personal interaction can be draining for introverts, you may be slower to share, but you can overcome your reluctance. Set goals and clear limits for yourself by deciding how much of yourself you want to share and sticking to that. Once you start, give yourself some time to get used to the situation. Sharing will likely become easier as time goes on and you become more comfortable around your members.

Challenge #2) Creating Opportunities for Side Conversations

Communities should focus on specific topics and providing value, but entertaining side conversations help lighten the mood and make it easier for members to form deeper, lasting connections. The Higher Logic User Group’s “Coffee Talk” discussion is one example. In it, members share pictures of their pets and often post memes that describe how they’re feeling about working in community management. Such a thread helps make the community enjoyable as well as useful.

Given an introvert’s typically reserved nature, stoking these somewhat off-top conversations may not be your forte. Fortunately, you and other community managers don’t usually need to be actively involved. You’re the perfect person to step back and let your members have a little fun on their own, so let these conversations unfold organically and only get involved if necessary.

4 Tips to Help Introverts Grow Online Communities

Once you realize that you can easily overcome your community-building challenges, you can jump into community management headfirst. Here are some tips for introverts who want to grow online communities for businesses or associations.

Tip #1) Apply Your Passion

As an introvert, one of your biggest strengths is your passion for your favorite topics. You can spend hours talking about things that fuel you. You’ve probably read and studied them and are a silent expert with a lot to share.

Use that in your community management career. Apply your passion and learn everything you can about your members’ interests, priorities, and concerns so you can address them and provide value. As your expertise comes to the forefront, you’ll be amazed at how well you engage community members. You’ll easily foster debates and the exchange of ideas because you believe in your subject.

Tip #2) Shift Your Focus

As an introvert, you need alone time to recharge. The amazing thing about social networks and online communities is that although they are social experiences, there’s not always social stimulation. There are multiple roles to play. Conversationalist is one of them, but there are also behind-the-scenes management duties and strategy-building tasks that are just as important.

Use your intrinsic need for time alone to help shift your focus between tasks. Participate in conversations for part of your day, then recharge by reviewing your data and how effective your engagement strategies are. Your workload will be more balanced and you’ll be more effective at connecting with members.

Tip #3) Use Your Communication Skills

Effective communication is essential for any online community. Introverts don’t usually speak without thinking and often make good writers (J.K. Rowling is one example), both of which are incredibly valuable characteristics in community management.

Let your inner introvert take control when you’re communicating with members. Reflect on negative comments and controversial issues before responding. You’ll be less likely to make snap judgements and react ineffectively. Instead, put your communication and writing skills to work by blogging, posting, and moderating in a thoughtful, respectful manner.

Tip #4) Be Empathetic

With an online community comes many different personalities. Juggling them and acting as referee is part of the role. This is an area where you can shine because introverts often think deeply about themselves and the people around them. You are a good study of human nature and understand those who are on the periphery of the community. You’re not quick to anger and probably don’t like emotional displays.

Use these qualities to empathize with how your members are feeling and defuse angry situations. Apply logic to emotionally-charged debates and become the buffer your online community needs. Such empathy and understanding will help you build a welcoming, inclusive environment.

Embrace Being an Introvert in a Social World

If you’re an introvert, stop worrying about your abilities in online community management. You have a lot to give and an online community is a perfect place to get started.

You can balance your desire to participate in meaningful conversation with your need for solitary tasks. Stoke conversations with thoughtful, empathetic interactions, then manage behind-the-scenes aspects of community life so the spotlight remains firmly on your greatest asset – your members.

For more on this topic, watch Susan Cain’s TED talk on the subject.

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Topics: Online Community Management, Member Experience, Member Engagement

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