It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true - successful communities give up power.
No, that doesn’t mean they throw out their community guidelines and nix all the rules - a certain amount of structure is important. But over-management is sure to kill engagement, which is the last thing you want.
Much like an over-managing supervisor or boss, an over-managing community team can leave a bad taste for members and disincentivize them from engaging and taking ownership in the community. Over-management often comes from a good place - you want to stay connected and ensure the community stays on a successful path - but it isn’t good for the long run.
But what does the balance between no management and micromanagement look like? And what are the benefits of loosening the reins?
Finding the middle ground
Community management is a fine line - you’re the leader, but you need to make sure you’re not too controlling. Think about a coworker who tends to micromanage - after a while, why try if your coworker always undoes your work? The same can be said for community - if members don’t feel heard, then pretty soon they’ll stop talking.
Follow the example of a good teacher - who was your favorite teacher or professor and why were they so effective? They probably gave you a set of guidelines for papers or projects, but let you put your own spin on things - you worked within the lines, but expressed yourself authentically, which motivated you to do a good job.
Like an effective educator, a good community management team offers guidance and allows space for creativity and self expression. When you create the space for members to be creative and use the community in unique ways, something incredible happens - they become empowered, and that’s an incredible motivator.
But, on the flip side, there needs to be some sort of framework for everyone to work within, otherwise the community will lose it’s focus. Empowerment motivates because it gives members a sense of ownership, making them excited and invested in the platform and all it has to offer. And when they feel empowered, they will stay within the boundaries you set because those boundaries protect the community’s integrity - and the community is so valuable that members will want to protect it.
What happens when you give up power?
First, you empower your members to take ownership of the community, which is incredibly motivating. If you don’t allow them to play within the community guidelines, make decisions and take action, your members won’t feel empowered and will give up trying.
Empowerment increases engagement and connects members to each other, and to your organization, in unique and powerful ways - but its value doesn’t start and stop there. Your community is dynamic - it’s a set of tools and parameters that you want your community members to interact in, much like a sand box.
So here’s the second big reason successful communities give up power: when you empower members and give them space, they have the opportunity to create incredible things you never would have thought of. But it only works if you listen, let them experiment and support their efforts - even if their idea seems strange at first.
Reddit knows how powerful this is.
Have you ever heard of their infamous “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) threads where one person, usually an influencer or someone famous, hosts a thread where people can ask them anything - and they’ll answer. Even President Obama has hosted an AMA on Reddit to connect with younger people (85% or Redditors are 35 and under).
According to co-founder Alexis Ohanian, a user came up with the idea to create an AMA. Alexis told the story in an interview he did with CMX: “A user showed up on r/AskReddit and said ‘Hey, I’m a blah blah, ask me anything’ and everyone on r/AskReddit was like, ‘No, that’s not how this works. You ask Reddit a question. Go create your own subreddit.’ And he was like, ‘Okay,’ and r/IAmA got started. Totally organic. And so many of Reddit’s greatest and best-known things were generated from users.”
Still worried about mayhem breaking loose if you give members the power to make decisions and experiment? Ambassador programs are another great example of what can happen when you give your members power and ownership. Hootsuite has taken this concept to a global level, by creating a worldwide ambassador program and encouraging those ambassadors to host local events, communicate on their community and support each other.
When members care about your community, and own its value, not just recognize its value, then you don’t have to worry about them negatively pushing boundaries. They want the community and your organization to succeed and, if you want to succeed, you need everyone on board.