Connection is what makes friendships and relationships work. In an ever connected online world, where part of our life plays out on social media, real life and in virtual worlds or communities, generating a feeling of true connection is becoming harder. The need to disconnect and withdraw will also hit people at different times. In our work with learning and membership communities the task is often to give members and learners a sense of connection. At least that is what people often offer as their reasons for joining a community, namely they want to be connected to like-minded people.
Originally in the early days of Facebook this is exactly what the interior was to connect people of different universities. Social media has definitely created the tools that can enable feeling connected. Regular sharing, responding to shares and conversations is what strengthens the links. In real life connections, it is a multitude of interactions that will cause us to feel part of a group, organisation or not.
In an online membership environment, often members join to be connected to leader of the membership group or the authority expert of the community. In our work we often have those expert owners say that running the community is more than one person’s work. They typically have learned over time that really members want to learn from them and that their involvement is key. The tone and feeling by default are aligned with the leader of the community. Expecting gamification to take over the personal connection will never be sufficient. Think of it this way, if Facebook didn’t have people in it, it would lose all it’s appeal.
Where gamification can add value in a membership community is illustrated by a knowledge based community like stack overflow. Questions are asked by members and other members can vote for questions, when they for example also want to know the answer or found it a particularly good question. Members are encouraged to answer questions which then earns them kudos in terms of a specific knowledge field. The other community members give feedback by voting up or down answer and correcting what was said. A leaderboard of both questions and skilled people exists to show the value add individuals bring and the questions that are live in the community. Without questions and answers, again this would fall flat on it’s face.
In a learning community, where the owner offers sets of courses, allowing course participants to have peer to peer discussions about the materials creates an opportunity to experience that sense of connection to both the materials and other people in the community. When the conversations are helpful and useful, encouraging the learner to advance or take more action then it becomes a useful connection based community. Peer to peer support, can take the burden off the owner and share out the caring for other members. This kind of system really only works well when all parties are matched well in terms of time availability, feedback styles and levels. Having a karma system to reward a great buddy or a ranking system to give feedback after a buddy accountability session, can help in keeping the system functional and will make people that are really not so keen to support someone else drop out. The key here is that it keeps the tone of the general site intact.
Managing tone and bad behaviour can be done through feedback reporting from emoji’s to allowing members to report bad behaviour to the owners of the community. Having a small easy to read policy of behaviour is also helpful to share when new members join. Whilst technology can assist here, curation will still be necessary and relevant.
People will remain the key in the end of the day to make a sense of connection work. Gamification is a support enabler that can make communities work more effectively and to encourage some behaviours. It will not in the first instance replace the owner and the members and how they interact. People tend to join a community for the knowledge the owner has and they stay when the community is useful to them.