The dark side of communities

Much has been written about the positive aspect of communities and what they can do to enrich and enliven customer experiences. Jeremiah Owyang has written extensively about the good and the bad in communities. Specifically, using “the bozo feature” in trying to limit bad apples in communities.  Elsewhere,  Jake Mckee blogs about and knows a little about communites and what it takes for them to run smoothly.

But what happens sometimes is that the inmates can run the asylum. I actually read a comment on Jeremiah’s post that said that communities can be self policing. Branded communites or corporate communites CAN NOT police themselves. They have to have moderators and managers. Why you ask? Well let me share with you an open letter I had received a while back from one of my more popular members who I had to ban because of amongst other things, he was scarring people.

To Marc:

I never threatened anyone on the site, I merely told that person that I would hand deliver ALL of their posts to their home!  THIS IS MY PAGE!  You DO NOT come here and malign me… had better wake up and look around.  I am not a person you want to make mad. Maybe your bosses need to see some of the posts you have written to me??? You don’t own this site. We do. I do.

Maybe they need to know just how you ban people from a site for specific reasons, but continue to let two people CONTINUE to break the rules?? Maybe you should look at (Name Withheld) ADVERTISING on the site—clearly against the rules!!  Maybe you should see someone about “PULLING YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS!!!!!!!

And for anyone else who reads this, Marc  works for (supplies company name, adrdess, and phone number) They make a good product, they just have lousy employees!!!!!!!

Also, if you would like to contact Marc with suggestions on just HOW to recover his head from his ass, then, by all means, try these…………..(supplies ALL of my contact information, including home address)         

I am sure that he would LOVE to hear from you———ALL OF YOU!!!!!!!  Delete that, Marc and kiss my ass! You don’t want to mess with me. You have been warned.

So this letter, which he posted on his blog and in the forum came after I had essentially told him that he could no longer be a member of the community.  He was able to post under another name and thus everyone would have read this had I allowed for it, or had I not been moderating the site. As it was, it stayed up on his blog for quite awhile.


So what would you have done? Would you have been scarred or felt threatened? The good in communities certainly outweighs the bad, but I feel for all the community managers out there who have to deal with this type of personality a lot more than you might think. People need to understand that  online communities, just like in real life, have good people and bad people. The more that users realize that it’s not the wild wild west in these settings, the better off we will all be.

In social media, What’s more important? The technology or the user experience?

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kim Kobza, the CEO of Neigborhood America. If you are not familiar with NA, they are one of the top players in the social media platform space. To say that it was interesting  is putting it mildly. We kept taking the dry erase pen from each other constantly in the course of an hour to drive our points home on a white board about our thoughts on all things community and social media related.

My take away points were many but I kept thinking about one thing even 3 days later. That being-What drives the community? What is more important in the social media communities that we swim in? Is it the user experience or the user interface? Kim and I discussed what makes the community thrive and there are some interesting variables that determine this. Not the least being if we look at the 6 degrees of seperation theory, the sixth person is as important as the primary or focal person in the chain. Kim’s point that if you has a brand champion, this person is important yes, but the others on the peripheral are as well. In my head the best way I can wrap my arms around this is to perhaps think of worker bees being as important to the community as the queen is. They are integral to the survival of the colony.

My point to Kim, was that I could have this new and shiny social community ready to launch, and in my mind I totally got it, it made sense to me perfectly, and my thinking would be it would totally rock the social media space. My thinking and hope being that the buzz would bring in some fantastic members and thrive, quickly. But what if the technology was too slick? Could it have too many bells and whistles. Absolutely!

Which brings me to my point-Isn’t the user experience as important if not more than the platform? I don’t like to say dumb it down, but as technology people, we are exposed to cool tech stuff everyday and we get it. But put yourself in the shoes of the stay at home mom or the somewhat savvy electrician who has a familiarity with Myspace or Facebook for example. Will they get it? Maybe , maybe not? Do you want to take the chance that they “might” get it?

The user experience and the user interface are each predicated and determined by the other in my mind. If you have the technology but it’s broken and doesn’t perform, then you can forget it. If you have a community ready to go but they can’t understand how to use the technology, then they are gone. If you have a community that can grasp the technology quickly, and the technology is solid. Guess what? The user experience is elevated. With that being said, as managers and developers of communities, we need to walk that fine line between what works for the user and what the user can work with

Serve me what I want, not what you think I need.

The word community is derived from the Latin communitas (meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means “common, public, shared by all or many. Makes perfect sense to me what makes a community thrive. Give the people what they want. What they want, is people that they have something in common with and then beyond that, an experience to share and talk and engage. If they can’t do those things because of things out of their control. They’ll go elsewhere.

Ironically, how many times have you seen companies stray from what they do best, in the hopes of making more money doing something that they might be marginal at? And then failing? They lose their customers in droves.

The examples are plentiful and graphic and yet it still happens over and over and over again. If we take online social networks and communities, the drive for market share and penetration is on the minds of the people that launch these things. It dominates their thoughts. But what sometimes occurrs, is they see what is being offered and feel they too must deliver what social network A is doing, and provide what platform B promises, etc etc..Losing sight perhaps, of the technology or offer or idealistic goals, that initially prompted them to get in the game in the first place!

The one problem is, rather than trying to do one thing very very well, they do a lot of things that are somewhat average.

Case in point. McDonalds, we have all eaten there but why? A) because they brand the hell out of the product better than anyone and B) you always know what to expect-consistency. Keep the comments about consistently bad to yourself- but the point being they have strived to do those 2 things well while concentrating on their core business- Hamburgers. Yes they test and launch different products to cater to the whims and desires of a more health conscious public, but at the end of the day they are still dancing with the partner that got them there. Hamburgers. The McDonalds community revolves around-Hamburgers. Billions and Billions Served.

A word to all of the designers, entrepreneurs and architects of these new shiny online social networks and communities: Do one thing right and make it repeatable. First and foremost, being the community, with the communities best interests at heart. Yes we like bells and whistles, and yes they are sexy, but when all is said and done, if it doesn’t work or fails to deliver, our ever decreasing attention span will lead us back to the things, the sites and the tools that we know will deliver day in and day out. Make it consistent, make it repeatable and make sure it delivers without fail.


If you give me what I came here for and it’s exactly what I expected, I will come back. And if it is exactly the way it was the first time, not only will I come back, but I will tell my friends. But if you fail me, not only will I tell my friends, I will tell people that I don’t even know about the bad experience.

Why online communities fail

“What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.” — spoken by “The Captain”, the imperious prison warden played by Strother Martin in the movie, “Cool Hand Luke”


We talk about how great social nets are and all of the great things it has to offer but here is the flip side to that coin, why do online social communities fail? Where is the disconnect? Here are some opinions on the matter from the blogosphere.

Here is a post in which Eric Zeman says that up to this point mobile social networking has been a big fat failure. I’ve blogged about this in the past and have basically said that the 2 issues that will slow this rush down will be lack of real estate on the hand held device and browser speed of course. What do you think? where do you fall?

Social networking 2008 Friend or Failure, did this guy get it right? To a degree he did.  Of course we have this little ditty from the Wall Street Journal on why communities fail. which we did not really need to read to know why they fail. It’s the community people, its the people, people. It’s not the cash. People make communities work. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t call them communities.

John Furrier has an interesting take as well, in which he says that users want value not cheerleaders but that still doesn’t prevent him from saying that Social Media – Corporate Blogging – Most Failing? It has to be social.

Are you starting to see a trend here? As many supporters and champions of how great social nets are, there are still areas in which some if not many see shortcomings and potential for improvement in the model. Here are a few more. This one coming from the auto industry: Social Media Networks in the automotive industry are fledgling and the dynamics created inside of them is atypical of what you see in other niches.

Here’s a post from last summer, titled, Traditional marketing failing on social networks. Yes  that still seems to be true though I am seeing some marketing gains in regards to companies putting the right people in place to handle new social media intiatives. But not at any acceptable levels.

What all of this is, is people looking at communities and saying they are failing, or they failed and then they start pointing fingers. Or they just count the reasons why they failed. Or maybe they are the ones, who have never participated?  Bottom line should be, how do you prevent community failure in an online social network?

Here is a response from FreshNetworks in response to the Wall Street Journal article in which they are essentially saying, Branded online communities that are set up and managed correctly don’t fail. And I have to agree with them.

Here’s more on why online communities fail In a world saturated with solicitations where people have less and less attention available, most communities fail because they bypassed a few important questions, like “what are we offering users?”, “what is differentiating us from other communities?”,

And of course the online community numbers that don’t add up

Why do online communities fail?  The biggest reason for failure is relying on technology – whether it’s websites, forums, Web 2.0, social media, social networks or any of the buzzwords. Too many businesses spend massive amounts of money on the technology rather than the plans and processes and people that are what make up a community. To a certain degree the technology might not fit but it’s technology that drives the process, so we have to rely on it.

The customer collective on why communities fail: The first reason is that many companies who embark on community initiatives are putting their company or product at the center of the effort. As many pointed out, that is obviously WRONG – you need to put the community member at the center and make sure that there is some passion around the initiative. Put the customer at the center, but the customer needs to know why they are there.

Three Reasons Branded Online Communities Fail Would you launch a new product or service line without an experienced person to develop and manage it? Not usually, no. The same goes for online communities.

Or perhaps, why online communities fail, Community is about community and community leaders, folks don’t be seduced by eye candy!

Why Does Corporate Social Networking Fail? Dave Allen weighs in at Social Media Today. And so does Jerry Bowles with Online Business Communities – Who’s Winning? Who’s Losing

In conclusion let’s remember the thing that people who have the cash to set these up seem to forget or overlook. It’s all about the community, the managers, the brand champions, the word of mouth people who love the site,  the users who genuinely love to connect with people, it’s people who love the brand and the company, the people who would do anything for the company for the brand.  Its the friendships made. Its about companies listening. Those are your community. NOT the marketers, and the tech people that built it. It’s the people that matter that contribute, and it’s the contributors that matter who matter most. What part of that do you not understand?

After reading your fair share, where do you think the burden of an online communities success should fall?