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How People Socialize in Online Communities

Participants in online communities don’t always set out to socialize when using the Internet. Many times, they’re researching a hobby, product, or topics of interest and become intrigued after landing upon a particularly interesting conversation.

After a few days of lurking or watching discussions unfold, they’re hooked and begin participating. They check in every day to see who responds to their comments and look forward to taking part in new discussions. Sometimes online communities become an addiction, and participants check back often, more than several times a day even. There are always a few who appear to be present the entire day.

Not only are members passionate about their communities, but they’re also passionate about their beliefs. This passion is especially reflected in how they respond in comments. For some, it means pleading for other members to see their side of the story, and for others, it means becoming abusive and calling names and questioning morals and integrity.

If you spend enough time in online communities, the various personalities and behaviors of the members become predictable and familiar:

  • The shy person who finds her voice: Quiet or shy people are often surprised by how outgoing they are online. They find it easier to talk to people behind a computer screen than face to face. Sometimes they’re so emboldened by their participation that they begin to speak up offline as well.

  • The brutally honest person who turns mean: People who pull no punches in the real world might turn downright abusive online. They’re dealing with people whom they don’t know, without serious repercussion, and may respond with snark or insults.

  • Members who fall into friendships and cliques: Just like your own offline community, those who participate in online groups also form alliances, friendships, and cliques. They respond to each other’s comments and defend each other when discussions turn heated.

  • The voice of reason: Every community has a mother hen or voice of reason. When arguments happen or discussions turn into debates, this person steps in as unofficial moderator and attempts to keep the peace. Sometimes community members are cooperative, and sometimes the voice of reason is shouted down.

  • The pile-on: As cliques form, personalities form and sometimes members of a clique act as one. As members become empowered by both their anonymity and their new online friends, they may take issue with anyone who disagrees and band together to shut down an opposing view.

  • The chronic malcontent: Have you ever noticed that there’s one person in your group or neighborhood who simply isn’t happy? Nothing goes right for this person, or everyone is out to get him. He complains about everything from gas prices to faulty service, but never has anything nice to say. Online communities often have at least one chronic malcontent. Most participants tend to avoid this person after a while.

  • The person who questions authority: Every now and then, someone comes along who doesn’t agree with or even approve of management. This person publicly questions every move a community manager makes and confuses comment moderation with censorship.

This is not to say that all online communities are hotbeds of negativity where members nitpick and fight. However, this tendency does show the need for management and moderation. If no one in authority is present, eventually the only people participating are the ones who can yell the loudest. Communities with the right management are positive, productive, enjoyable places to visit.

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