How Online Communities work: What roles do members play in an Online Community?

large__6879395548According to Amy Jo Kim, “online communities are held together by a web of social roles. Understanding these different roles can help brands managing their online community by providing features and programs that support these roles”. Kim described some archetypal roles in her book that make up the so-called ‘Membership Life Cycle’. This model outlines the progressive stages of community involvement.

I decided to put the roles in a model inspired by Kim in order to visualize these different roles (see the figure in this post). Just as with the community life cycle, these roles will evolve over time in the online community. However, it is also possible that people maintain their role in the community and do not change their behaviour and/or participation over time.

Model: The Membership Life-Cyle

Membership Lifcycle

Why is it important to understand these roles? Why should you worry about insiders or lurkers if you have not even build your community yet? It is important to understand that time passes very quickly on the Internet. Social dynamics that takes months or even years to evolve in the offline, real world, can emerge in a matter of days on the Internet – especially when a community becomes popular. In a blink of an eye, your community can be full of regulars who think they own the place and complain about the clueless newcomers bumbling around and ruining their culture. If you want to ensure that your online community becomes a friendly place for both newcomers and old-timers it is important to understand the different roles early.  “Initial conditions matter; and the rules, programs and features that you put into place at the start will profoundly affect how your community will develop over time” (Amy Jo Kim).

Thanks for reading this post, I hope it was helpful. In my next post I will talk about fostering and sustaining engagement in online communities.

Until next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz

Photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

Photography: Nwardez

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