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My Learnings From The Online Community Unconference 2009

I’m back home in Austin and I took time on the flight to look back at my notes from yesterday’s Online Community Unconference 2009. So what did I learn?

Learning #1
Okay…this isn’t so much a new learning as it is a poignant reinforcement of something that I know. Acquaintances made online become closer friends when meeting offline (like with my friend Bill Jacobson). If you have a community that only meets in the online space, seriously consider how you can encourage offline meetups.

Learning #2
We’re creating and recreating social norms with every new community and new technology. The way we interact acceptably in one online community may be entirely inappropriate in another. For an example think about your interactions on LinkedIn versus Facebook. While it’s not universal, I wager that your interactions in Facebook are different than LinkedIn (okay, at least mine are). And the types of people you friend on Facebook are likely different, as well (again, not universal…your experience may differ). And all of this impacts how we form behaviors, attitudes, and actions in our communities, in addition to how create expectations of other members. For companies and organizations wanting to build communities, having a grasp of these norms is incredibly important. Thanks to @gammydodger for kicking off this strand of thought.)

Learning #3
Grappling with our various online personas is filled with anxiety. With so much of our lives existing online, there really isn’t a magic formula for determining what persona to use in a given moment. Do you create and use separate personas? Or do you find a way to balance a unified persona? What we do know is that there are pitfalls with either case. And what makes it even more difficult is that as new semantic search technologies arise, we may not have a choice about what parts of our online lives are open to viewing. What is certain is that if each of us doesn’t have a strategy for how we interact online through comments, photos, bloggings, twitterings, etc. we put ourselves in a tough spot. (Thanks to @davepeck and @chip_roberson for spurring this session.)

Learning #4
It is vitally important to separate the person from the action. This is closely related to Learning #2. If someone violates a norm, the desire to label them as a “troll” or similar does nothing but create a conflict. Why? Because there’s a part of us that equates trolls with evildoing (or at least someone doing bad) and then we take the next step of binding action to person. Instead, we need to make an effort to separate the individual from their action. Reach out to the offending individual, listen to their perspective, and seek to understand. It could be they didn’t know the community rules or tacit social norms. But if they continue to offend take steps to maintain the health of the community. (This learning came from Scott Moore’s info packed session on Social Psychology and Communities.)

This really doesn’t begin to cover everything, but I’ll put it up as a good start. I know that as I continue to reflect on yesterday’s unconference, more will percolate to the surface here.

Oh, and if you or your organization is serious about online community, you need to pencil in next year’s unconference. For me, it was worth every single penny I invested.

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