This is an update of http://www.fullcirc.com/community/memberroles.htm
Every community and online group is different. The purposes vary, the structures are different — and the people are different. But there are some common participation styles, patterns or even archetypes that we observe. These can be helpful when you are trying to understand participation patterns in an online interaction space. Take note that for each style, there are attributes that can be seen as both positive and negative. That said, be careful of stereotyping people.
There are usually as small group of people who quickly adapt to online interaction and provide a large proportion of an online group’s activity. Some speculate that 10% of the membership make up 90% of the community activity. These individuals visit frequently and interact, contribute or post often. They are important members. Understanding and meeting their needs will go a long way to making your community successful. They can be a source of volunteer leadership (hosts, cybrarians, greeters) and ideas for improving the community. Ask them what they think, need and want to do. On the flip side, be careful that they do not dominate and make it hard for less active folks to participate
Readers or Lurkers are the unseen forces that DO affect a community. Community owners estimate that there are approximately 10 to 100 readers per active poster. They represent a combination of people new to the community, those not yet comfortable in posting, people who will only read and never post, and people who come in and then drift away without engaging. This group represents a huge pool of potential active members. Gentle efforts to pull them in with welcoming email, offering of guides, greeters or mentors and other efforts are well rewarded. The readers also play another very important role: audience to the active posters, especially in larger, open, social communities. For commercial communities that rely on page views to drive advertising revenues, readers are indispensable.
People who interact frequently influence the pace of an online interaction space and can, unknowingly and unintentionally, dominate that space making it harder for others to participate. Most often, dominators don’t know they are dominating. Facilitators can gently ask (often privately via instant message or via email) for the member to give others a little more time to respond, while also acknowledging their important contribution. This balance is important because the line between core member and dominator is pretty fuzzy. Dominators can often be given productive roles to take advantage of their interest and time, such as volunteer hosts or content experts.
Linkers, weavers and pollinators
The bumblebees and butterflies! This group of people is very important in big communities where there may be a large selection of activities and sub areas from which to choose. These members tend to participate across a range of interests, and in doing so, are in the best position to let others know of interesting happenings across the community. They make wonderful greeters and mentors, and often have interest in bringing new resources to a community as cybrarians. They keep spaces from getting dull or stale. On the other hand, they can disrupt slower, deeper conversations with their “flitting” in and out.
In the era of social media, the butterflies and bumblebees also carry ideas out into the world across multiple social media channels (i.e. Facebook, Twitter), bring in new ideas and attract new members. So they are more important than every for communities which want to attract members and attention from the wider world. In very private, internally focused communities, leaders may want to set some agreements or ground rules about what is appropriate to share.
Flamers live, as they say, to flame. Flaming is defined as sending hostile, unprovoked messages . What is actually considered a flame varies by community, but often there are people who enjoy challenging other members just for the “fun of it.” Name-calling, innuendo and such are the tools of flamers. The interesting dynamic of flaming is that to an extent, it draws community interest as a form of entertainment. At the other end, it drives people away if it goes over the line of community norms. Flamers can also be the source of new ideas which, when applied within community norms, creating what is known as “creative abrasion” and can be helpful in workgroups and brainstorms.
Actors and Characters
Some people very successfully develop online personas with “bigger than” life personalities and characteristics. They may be the online version of the “Class Clown, ” the humorist or one-line master, or just have a unique way of communicating that stands out. These are strong attractors of community attention, especially in social communities. They can help lighten the atmosphere for a community, helping balance tense situations and introduce ways for people to reveal more about themselves in a potentially less threatening manner. When they push too hard against community norms, they can be perceived as negative influences for two main reasons: interrupting “serious” threads or conversations, and for not knowing when to quit based on group norms (usually unspoken norms.)
Perhaps the most famous archetype in online communities, the Energy Creature is an individual who so irritates a community that they form up around him or her to try and counteract the “creature’s” energy. They community may try shunning the energy creature, but often get pulled into the vortex and become energy creatures themselves. At their worst, energy creatures can destroy a conversation or community. At their best, they are often caricatured mirrors of the community, helping us recognize our own potentially negative patterns. They can be catalysts for groups to break through to a deeper level of communication. Sometimes they can even wake up a sleeping group.
Rallying to “protect” a community from an Energy Creature evokes another archetype, the Defender.
Defenders sometimes defend an individual (sometimes to the point of being perceived as a slavish defender) or groups. They can be hypersensitive to the smallest slight or suggestion of attack, perhaps because of previous experiences. They may also have highly developed intuitive skills, which can be very productive for a community and serve as an “early warning” signal of a changing community dynamic.
It only takes one line, repeated, inserted, and insinuated, over time, to recognize a needler. They have a point to make and it appears again, and again, and again. Often in the form of a cynical “I told you so,” Needlers know they are right and won’t let you forget it. Their point may be insightful or irrelevant, but the value of the point is quickly lost on an audience who gets fatigued from the repetition. This is different from a spammer because the point is often “on point.” But it can loose its power and context, regardless of the quality. In some cases, this may be from a visionary who is ahead of her/his time, who needles with the best interest of the group in mind. Other times it is from a person who will not budge from their stance. Needlers can also keep us “honest” by not letting a group evade critical issues or behaviors. They can be bellwethers of new ideas.
Newbies or NewBees
Sometimes called “clueless newbies,” newbies (or New Bees, as I like to call them) are members new to a community. They might also be new to online interaction. When new folks jump into an online interaction without checking it out, observing the interaction or learning the community norms, they can be perceived as rude and clueless. In some communities, newbies are treated to a baptism of fire by old hands as a way of either being accepted or rejected from the group. Newbies are also the source of new blood, ideas, interest and “pollination,” thus the new-bee appellation. Newbies deserve our attention and should be supported with information to help them become part of the group.
Also known as the PC (politically correct) Police. PollyAnnas also operate across a range of “acceptable” behavior, from being a source of appreciation of community members, to the being “nice” at the expense of being honest or “real.” They see the bright side to most anything, so they can be a positive influence. However, Pollyannas drive some people so nuts they will leave a thread just to escape. PollyAnnas avoid conflict and withdraw before clarity is reached because they are averse to conflict. In global communities, these people may actually be bringing deep intercultural skills that can add a lot of value to the community.
Spammers post the same thing over and over again. Often, it is commercial material with little or no relevance to the community. Sometimes members start spamming as a reaction to feeling that they are not being “heard.” Sometimes it is simply a matter of ignorance of community norms and the general disapproval of spam by experienced Internet users. Spammers should be contacted via email immediately and asked to stop.
“Black and White” Folks
These are the people who present immutable positions. They appear to be initially unwilling to see points of view beyond their own. They push instead of probe. They are usually willing to take the blame for their style (ownership) but shy away from the responsibility of the impact of their style. They engage only on their own terms, but may refuse to engage others who utilize the same tactics. Interaction often escalates and winning is the goal. They also are keepers of important information that the community may need, but not particularly liked. They ask the tough questions, but may not like to be asked them back in return.
“Shades of Grey” Folks
Sometimes characterized as wishy-washy, with no clear convictions, and as members who shrink away from the tough issues. Often they won’t fully engage or justify their positions. On the other side, they often can help neutralize a polarized situation and offer new, combined viewpoints for a community. They tend to carry new information into a group that has polarized on issues and can be a breath of fresh air.
We tend to thrust this archetype on others — the expert, the guru — and sometimes unconsciously create a different set of rules or norms for the elder. Most often, the elder does not seek this recognition. Elders may not held accountable to the same community norms or scrutiny of the other members. Elders can dominate new members by a few words, regardless of the value of the words of others around them. Their wisdom is gold to a community, but their influence can inadvertently muzzle the rest of the group who might feel uncomfortable posting in such company.
Mike Reed’s Flame Warriors site is a don’t miss. Not only does Mike have a great glossary of online interaction terms, he has illustrated an even wider range of online “types.”