We know communities are valuable, we preach it every day. We are successful in showing how important a community is and now others are seeing the value of communities as well. It sounds like good news and it is, but they also start to look for ways to use it. And where you are responsible for the health of a community, they get valued for what they get out of a community. This difference means that your community is under attack from all directions: From outside your company and even more dangerously, from the inside.
Who is attacking my community?
Basically everybody who doesn’t share your desire to make your community a succes is a potential attacker. But with this attitude, you can’t really trust anyone, so let’s forget this and look for signs of someone who is trying to use your community at the cost of the community.
First let´s look for outside attackers: Someone asks you to do something with your community and doesn´t really know what your community is about. Secondly, if someone proposes a deal but there isn´t a easy way to explain what your community gains from it. Third, someone who says something about ´just this once´. Fourth, someone who mostly talks about how good, big, succesful, his or her company is. Fifth, someone who, when asked to participate in your community first, never signs up.
But outside attackers are easy, just say no to them and you´re probably saved from this particular attacker. Inside jobs are the ones to watch out for.
If you see a mostly inactive user suddenly become active with product pitches or several links to the same (company) website. Calling such a member is almost always the solution, most of the time, they don’t really see what they’re doing wrong and can become active users who contribute greatly to a community if you tell them how they can participate in a healthy way.
The real inside jobs are the ones from departments from your company who don’t directly benefit from a healthy community but can reach their target by undermining your community. You know what I mean: The marketing department that wants to send an email to all the community members. The sales department that swarms around members on events to sell them stuff. Upper management that wants to double the number of members with strange deals and disturb the community with the fall out.
What can I do to defend my community?
The good news is that you’re experienced in improving your community in all kinds of ways. You are probably trained for years to look for opportunities. Make use of the energy someone uses to make use of your community and deflect this to the community’s best interest. If an outside marketeer wants to advertise a product, get a unique discount for members only. If an event-organizer wants your community members to register, negotiate a special area for members of your community and organize a meet-up for your members. If your boss just asks how many members the community has gained, ask him/her how many members he knows and has interacted with. Explain how a community gets more members as his number grows.
But most importantly, never do anything unless you believe it is right for your community and can honestly and enthusiastically talk about the deals you’ve negotiated. Your community is doomed if you can’t, but you’re adding insult to injury.