Cocktail Party Rules for Online Communities

9 Jan

My friend Marc Smith has a simple analogy that he uses to help people understand how they should behave on Twitter; his basic rule of thumb is to treat it as though you were at a cocktail party. You can see a short video clip of him discussing this on YouTube.

I was thinking about this the other day and realized the analogy is a lot more powerful than helping guide how an individual behaves in the context of Twitter. In fact, I think it can be a powerful tool to help determine whether it makes sense to establish an online community, and also about how to structure and foster engagement within such a community. I’m going to tackle the first of these today, and the second in a later posting.

In both cases though, we begin with a thought experiment: Imagine bringing your members together for a cocktail party. If your association holds conferences, this should be a fairly easy exercise. If you don’t, then it may be a little challenging if you don’t have a good sense of the interests and personalities of your members. If you fall into the latter camp, that’s probably something you need to address anyways.

So, now you’ve got this picture in your head, what does it look like? Is everyone sitting there staring into their drink? Are there a few small clusters of people chatting, but not a lot of movement or interaction? Can you imagine a few hosts making their way around the room, introducing people and getting conversations started? If not, it’s unlikely that you will be able to create a vibrant online community for your members. In fact, I’d be worried about the future of your association.

On the other hand, and hopefully this is the picture you have in mind, you see lots of groups of people chatting. Some are large and some are small. Some people seem to stick with one group, while others circulate from group to group. It may be so loud that it’s hard to hear yourself think.

Wouldn’t you like to provide a way for your members to interact like that 365 days a year? That’s the ideal online community. It’s about meeting people, renewing relationships, exchanging information, and even having some fun. In fact, if this is how you imagine your members interacting, then you need an online community, because otherwise your members will figure out how to create one without you, and you’ll have lost one more way in which your association could be valuable to your members.


One Response to “Cocktail Party Rules for Online Communities”


  1. Online Community Management Links Roundup 13/01/12 - Community Management | Blaise Grimes-Viort - January 13, 2012

    […] Cocktail Party Rules for Online Communities […]

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