Last week I talked about how keeping your focus narrow and your interactions intimate help create a strong, robust community. Today, I’ll talk about how to use this for big plans.
While the scope and attention should be laser focused on the fandom or experience that binds you all together, it’s still important to see how the group measures up. If more people are leaving than joining, that might be an indication that there’s something that doesn’t appeal to your target market–perhaps even that you’re incorrectly targeting yourself! Participation and membership are two common measurements of “success” but often this feels a bit like having a goal of making more money. Sounds great, how do you get there?
While I do watch the numbers for participation and membership for my book club, they’re backed by smaller, more concrete goals that I can actively pursue.
Some of my previous goals were:
-Increasing the diversity of our group reads to include more women, people of color, and LGBTQIA people.
Reading intentionally is difficult because the culture so often confuses noticing differences for acting on those differences. To end the status quo, we must define it, and purposefully act to normalize minority viewpoints. In terms of community, this serves two purposes: making room for important, informed conversation of topics that traditionally fragment us, and signalling to minorities that not only are they “welcome” to find a space with us, we are actively interested in creating a space where their stories are appreciated.
–Replying at least half the time to someone’s comments and building off their contribution
The internet is full of people screaming into the void. Community, however, is about considering those around you. A response to someone (with an intentional focus on interacting with newer members, and striving to respond at least periodically to everyone so that they know they are all seen) says that you’re listening and glad of someone to talk to.
–Mentioning all people by name who posted between a post I wanted to reply to and the latest reply.
Again, it is so easy to see an endless stream of avatars as little boxes that make words. When we humanize people, we bestow those people with value, and generally make them more likely to want to stay, contribute, and value others.
-Complimenting people for contributions I found useful or thought-provoking
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in how community builders define what it is that makes their community.
-Starting 1 new thread a day
Increase activity, increase response was my hypothesis.
-Modeling direct, non-confrontational feedback
It’s the internet, so there’s going to be conflict. I hope that civil, direct but non-aggressive responses that leave room for correction or explanation will diffuse most conflicts, encourage people to be kind, and demonstrate that kindness and accepting abuse are not the same.
As you can see, this is a blend of SMART goals and soft goals–personal attempts at changing my behavior that are ongoing and have no measurable result.
These helped me focus on how I wanted the community designed, and I hoped would encourage participation. I think it did, as we now have the largest SFF book club on Goodreads, we have more people who openly discuss their gender or sexual orientation and how it impacts their reading, and a growing number of authors who are not ablebodied cis-het white American men on our group bookshelf, but who’ve managed to write works that have become noteworthy in SFF and have opened people up to new subgenres and cultures. The success we’ve achieved adds intention to the community, helps define who we are with our actions, and I hope fosters an environment people enjoy.
Remember it’s public
While I think you should treat the community like a small unit, remember it is still full of people with different viewpoints, intentions, and values. Communicate like this is something you’ll have to read out loud in court. If you’re the person in charge of building the community, there can’t be room for you to “just make a joke,” or to unleash on someone. It has to be consistent, it has to be respectful, and you must be ready to apologize when inevitably you make a mistake. Mistakes are going to happen, so be prepared. Research how to speak nonviolently, learn about new-to-you cultures and identities, and learn to make sincere, undramatic apologies. Leave the tearful confessions for Youtube.
I also suggest writing with the core demographic constantly in mind, concretely defined. Who is my community? Who do I need to feel safe and welcome? Who needs more space carved for them so that they know I see them? Who needs encouragement?
“Readers” is my demographic, but as we’ll discuss more next week, that isn’t specific enough. Our book club is international, our book club is non-denominational, is supportive of queer people, actively promotes and supports people of color, believes that all genders should be equal and that there is no wrong way to love science fiction or fantasy. If I want this to be true, I have to speak broadly to those topics, which can sound a bit like grandstanding, but if my message is consistent, it is my hope that it will read as genuine. So, for example, I do not diss entire subgenres, instead I clarify what works and what does not work for me as an individual. I do not seek superiority of any ideology, gender, race, or orientation, I seek diversity and proportionality. I understand that we will come with different tolerances, cultural norms, and comfort level with English, so encourage people to share what they can about their experiences, and try to ensure folks feel appreciated rather than gawked at. If someone is behaving in a way that could be perceived as harmful, I make sure I am part of the response, so that victims aren’t forced to heal and defend at the same time.
Think small, plan big! Next week I’ll conclude my thoughts on this subject with a post about exclusion as a tool for inclusion.