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Why Some Brand Communities Feel Like Cliques

In the first community I ever built, we were trying to figure out how to identify leaders in the community. We wanted to know who we should consider in the inner circle of the community. I made a big mistake that I will never forget.

Instead of basing standards for being a part of the “inner circle” on proven actions and recurring behavior, I based them on my own ability to judge whether they would become a good leader through an application process.

Over the years, we learned and course-corrected. Instead of having subjective standards, we learned to base the standards for being considered in leadership on specific outcomes. We provided training and tools so that anyone in the community could achieve those outcomes if they really wanted to and the path forward was clear.

This was a painful mistake to remedy as several members were used to being recognized as leaders under the subjective standards even though they were not taking any of the actions or achieving any of the outcomes expected.

When the pathway to be recognized as part of the “inner circle” in your community is unclear, nontransparent, or subjective, your community will feel like a clique and you limit the upward mobility of an average member.

Another example:

I recently got more connected to an awesome community of other community managers. I slowly realized these people were all connected and creating content together on one platform. As I dove into the content, I started to feel sick. I scrolled through TONS of activity, discussions, threads, and tagging. It felt like there was a party I missed the invite to. Now I could see the party, but I still wasn't quite sure how to join in the fun. It felt exclusive and the rules for being recognized were hazy and unclear.

Contrast that with another community I’m a part of - a space for community builders who are leveraging Circle as their community platform. I did a deep dive into the content and a couple key members quickly emerged, they even have nifty badges next to their names.

The difference was in Circle, there was a really clear pathway to recognition. I found a post that explained how to earn specific badges in the community. If I wanted to be recognized like they were, all I needed to do was contribute consistent and quality content to the community.

In the first example, the pathway to be in the inner circle felt hazy, subjective, mysterious, and only accessible to a few.

In Circle, the pathway to be in the inner circle of content was clear, straightforward, and accessible to everyone.

No one starts out wanting to create a clique (except for maybe Regina George), but without transparency around how your community is recognized, it is what your community will eventually become given enough time.


About the Author

Bri Leever is Chief Community Architect at Ember, a splasher of water, and lover of books doing life in an ever-changing migration pattern ✈️


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