Have you heard of the rules of the internet? Or the list of laws named after various people?
Yeah, I thought so too. Examples include Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong), Betteridge’s Law of Headlines (any title ending in a ? can be answered with ‘no’) and all manner of others.
So I’ve decided to do the exact same thing for communities. Hence here they are. Here are what I call the ‘Ten Laws of Community Management’!
1. The Gaming Rule
The Law: If your social media site doesn’t have many discussions of ‘everyday’ topics (like gaming, sports or music), it’s destined to die.
Starting with a simple rule I like to apply to every social media site in existence.
If it doesn’t have people discussing everyday topics, it will fail.
That’s because as much as some people love going on about censorship and freedom of speech and privacy, the average Joe doesn’t give a toss about any of it. He doesn’t want to sign up to rant about Trump or talk about Bitcoin and blockchains or what not.
He wants to talk about simple, everyday topics. That’s why Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are so successful.
And that’s why so competitors aren’t. They focus too much on the ‘big issues’ and forget that most people just do not care. So that’s law 1.
2. Law of Early Extremists
The Law: Early adopters on a community will always be more crazy or extreme than the general public, especially if the community is offered as an ‘alternative’ to more popular ones.
Law 2 is that extremists tend to be early adopters of any social network or website.
Well, think about it. Do you expect to get hit worst by censorship or harsh rules on existing sites?
People with unpopular opinions.
As a result, said people are almost always looking for new sites to be a part of, to act as an escape from a larger society that seems to want to shun them altogether.
Unfortunately for community managers though, these people tend to be nutcases. So try and attract more normal users too, unless you want your service to end up like Voat.
3. No Man is Irreplacable
The Law: A community will never fail because a single ‘important’ member was banned or left.
Yeah, you’ve heard me talk about this one before. It was the focus of the previous article posted here on Medium.
Either way, the point still stands. No one is irreplacable, don’t be scared to punish people who break the rules.
4. The Boiling Echo Chamber
The Law: Any community with political bias towards one side or the other will get more extreme over time.
So onto something new now. Put simply, a forum that’s heavily tilting to one side of the political spectrum will almost inevitably get more extreme over time.
Well, there’s a good reason for it. Basically, the more a site grows, the more people who’ll join with a certain belief system (the one held by early adopters).
However as their numbers go up, the opposition’s go down, since they feel like they’re not being listened to or ‘ganged up on’ by the opposition.
This then turns away more and more moderates, until eventually you’re left with true believers that treat their views like religious dogma. It’s pretty visible on Reddit Politics (which has become the ‘Anti Trump circlejerk’) as well as certain large gaming sites like NeoGAF.
5. The Successful Parasite Rule
The Law: Forums or communities dedicated to illegal or unethical topics will almost always be extremely successful.
Just look at a torrent site if you need evidence of that. Or perhaps one of the numerous forums offering music or TV show downloads.
Either way, it happens for all the reasons you’d expect: people want a free lunch (which illegal content can offer) and the forbidden fruit aspect offers extra appeal.
It’s why a lot of successful sites (somewhat unfortunately) tend to start out as ‘pirate’ ones and gradually become more legitimate once their fanbase is established.
6. Dulling the Edge
The Law: Popular communities will always get ‘toned down’ as they get more popular, to appeal to the mainstream and large advertising companies.
Talking about communities getting more popular, this is something else we’ve likely all seen online a million times by now. Site starts out being edgy and catering to a niche, then slowly gets more and more boring as it becomes popular. Both Reddit and YouTube are fantastic examples of exactly this.
But why does it happen? Well, I think it’s all down to two things really. Firstly. your average Joe isn’t a particularly controversial person. They may have a few political beliefs others don’t like, but their views are generally so bland and mainstream that even a 1984 style crackdown on free speech probably wouldn’t change their personal life all that much.
So for one thing, any forum or site aiming at them will inevitably ‘tone things down’ to match. To make sure your average Joe isn’t scared off by ‘offensive’ content.
Secondly, advertisers obviously like to advertise on sanitised, ‘safe’ content rather than edgy stuff that may paint their brand in a bad light. So like TV Tropes after the Google Incident (where they deleted all their NSFW pages to avoid losing their Adsense account), a lot of sites will sell out in a desperate attempt to make large corporations want to advertise there.
It’s pretty pathetic really.
7. Spinoff Colony Collapse
The Law: Any forum or community started to provide an ‘alternative’ to a larger competitor will inevitably fail.
Which is also the case with most ‘spinoff’ forums too. As a result, the vast majority will fail in a few years.
And there are good reasons for that. Put simply, merely ‘hating’ on something isn’t a long term strategy for a sustainable community. It’ll certainly get your activity at the start yes, but eventually the people involved will simply grow tired of mocking the ‘popular’ service and move on.
So then you’ll need an actual community to hold everything together. Some spinoff forums manage this, 99.9% do not.
8. Community Conquers All
The Law: It doesn’t matter how nice the forum looks, how fancy the features are, how it was coded or what sections it has. The site with the better, more active community will always win.
I don’t need to explain this, do I?
Oh fine, I’ll explain it again anyway.
Basically, a community will succeed almost entirely based on its activity and content, with the aesthetics side of things being of virtually no importance whatsoever.
Why? Well, it’s pretty obvious really. No one wants to go to an empty nightclub or eat in an empty restaurant, and the same goes for online communities too.
So stop focusing on the ‘look’ of your site or the features involved, get some activity going. Cause at the end of the day, a simple contact form style guestbook can beat out a multi billion dollar social network if the former has more users and worthwhile content.
9. The Ghost Town Rule
The Law: If a site gets no posts or contributions within a 24-hour period, it’s in trouble.
10. No Free Lunch in Communities
The Law: Your prior popularity and fanbase doesn’t translate to a successful community
Finally, a rule that’s going to make many social media influencers feel very uncomfortable. Namely, you cannot rely on your existing fanbase to populate a successful online community.
Really, you can’t. Doesn’t matter if you have a million YouTube subscribers, Twitter followers or Instagram fans, that’s not enough to guarantee your community will succeed.
Because a fanbase and a community are nothing alike. The latter is almost always about one hundredth the size of the former.
So a community based on purely on prior popularity will usually fail, as most of a celeb or brand’s fans quickly lose active and move on (or don’t join in the first place).
And that concludes our list. Do you agree with the simple community management laws here? Do you feel they’re all valid and applicable to most internet forums and communities?
If so, give the post a like and leave a comment below!