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Many OnlineCommunities motivate engagement as a form of "infotainment," perhaps as ProductiveProcrastination.

And while they are "communities" in name, in order to make them work and have a VisiblePulse?, they need strategies to build MemberEngagement?. The irony is that everyone came to the community to learn from, meet, and connect with other people. And yet they don't.

Why? Well, perhaps everyone learnt their pattern of networking in high school. You'll even see this at professional conferences for executives whose single job is to meet other people in the industry. When the evening party starts, it feels like meeting a new business contact is like picking them up in a night club.

Regardless, people don't know how to break the ice and connect.

Your job as an OnlineCommunity is to organize what amounts to a series of games, like a SquareDance or a BarnRaising, that give people social permission to talk to each other, and rules for how to make that engagement valuable.

Now, you can take this too literally and employ party games. The DonutApp? in Slack is kind of like this. It randomly pairs members of a Slack community together, and gives them ice breaker questions like "What is your favorite movie?" However, the interactions are low value. People don't want to meet people randomly and talk about nothing.

Instead, you have to organize constructive tasks that meet the goals of the members. The secret is to break it down so they know how to take action, how to have fun doing so, and how to connect with others. And keep it simple, stupid! People will do small actions.

The beauty of a SquareDance is that it is a social game that coordinates a large group of people to dance, all together, using simple instructions that can be followed one-at-a-time. In the process, the dance puts you in physical contact with many other people in the room, with a common and fun SuperordinateGoal (dancing!) thus breaking the ice so you can go talk to them later. The SquareDance works because there is a caller, literally setting the rhythm and shouting instructions.

Similarly, you can "call out" simple actions in an OnlineCommunity. For instance:

At the CloudSoftwareAssociation?, even though all the people are partnership leaders whose job it is to network, the reason the association exists is to break the ice and create opportunities for networking. I have long used this analogy for what we are really doing. The more experience I have, the more I realize it's probably a gem of an idea. -- SunirShah


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