Brian's Blog


In my last blog I discussed how in developing online community, that strategy and process, AND technology, together are necessary conditions for vibrant, online community—and that none of these alone are sufficient. In particular, I discussed my definition of online community and that it is my opinion that the best online communities transcend the online and offline world.


In this blog, I will continue this discussion of online community, and discuss more about how the process of coalescing community through the setting of community norms and codifying the responsibilities of formal and informal community members helps ensure successful online community.


The process of setting community norms.


Similar to offline communities, a critical element of the online community-building process is setting a common set of goals and objectives around a set of community norms. Whether these norms are shared with all community members, is up to the specific community, but I highly recommend that these norms be thought through, by the community leaders and sponsors. Through analyzing online communities for nearly ten years, those communities that have a codified set of community norms are in a position to be the highest performing communities. These norms include:


  • Performance metrics: By setting performance metrics, the community’s leaders ensure that the community is designed and has the tools to meet these goals. These goals should be measurable and actually measured on a regular, periodic basis. In addition, these metrics should support the organizations offline goals and objectives and be explicitly tied and reported with the organization’s offline goals.


  • Classification and cataloguing standards: Similar to how in an economy there needs to be a common currency, an online community needs a set of classification and cataloguing standards. For example, in the Amplifier Networks community (, we have structured the community around the various user groups AND the functions they may want to perform. These user groups include investors, entrepreneurs, and technology innovators.


  • Standard approaches for identifying, recruiting, and bounding community membership: Similar to any organization, it is imperative that there be a membership recruiting strategy. This strategy needs to include viral networking where the community members recruit like minded AND those with counter-opinions. These diverging views will help expand the bounds of knowledge and ensure a good balance of opinion. Depending on the objectives of the community and the target membership base, the community may be a non-moderated open, moderated open, moderated closed, or non-moderated closed. Each of these communities has it’s own time and place based on the topic and community objectives.


  • Intra-group communication protocols: Communication protocols can’t be formally set in an online community and are difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, the group members themselves will help in codifying the communication protocols based on the aggregate culture of the individual members. I do recommend that the community sponsor have a set of minimum documented communication protocols. Depending on the subject matter, there may be legal as well as other softer reasons for documenting these protocols.


  • Functional requirements for technology: In the founding of any online community, I recommend going through a high-level requirements analysis to see what functionality will help – or complicate – the development of the community. In my last blog, I discussed some common functionality that will help build online community that can be used as a basis for determining the community’s functional requirements.


On each of the above topics, note that there is an off-line corollary for community norms. Developing these types of community norms is not unique to online community. Those studying group and community formation from a psychological perspective know that these elements are crucial.


My discussion of the above norms just begins to scratch the surface on how to incubate and feed online community. In future blogs, I’ll continue to discuss these elements in more detail and give more specific examples of how they are manifested online and offline.


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