That Sense of Community
I am still pretty stoked with my car, and like anyone who gets infatuated with their toys, I want to learn as much as I can about it. There is only so much I can learn on my own, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can join one of the many social media forums to ask questions and get demoralizing replies from complete strangers!
My car is only being used as an example here. You can find social media for just about any passion project imaginable, and they all follow the same basic pattern, and this week I would like to share my observations on the structure of these social groups.
In all boils down to your founders, founders’ friends, groupies, newcomers, trolls, and usurpers.
The founders are the ones who started the community, set the stage, and worked to build a following. They encourage newcomers to join, but paradoxically they don’t really like a lot of the newcomers because they eventually see them as parasitic or possible marauders. Occasionally, the founders are replaced by usurpers, but more on that later.
Founders’ friends are people the founders knew from outside the group. They have a tendency to use their relationship to the founders as leverage within the community. Sometimes they even start to bully other members. When a community becomes toxic, they are usually to blame.
Groupies are the long time fans and contributors of the community. They typically don’t hold any positions of real power within the community, but they know the ropes and can use that knowledge to their advantage. You may also find entire subgroups within this group.
And then there are the newcomers. People who show up looking to join the community for various reasons, and are therefore the most diverse aspect of the group, and they can be broken up into the invited, the referred, the naive, and the cringe.
The invited should be obvious. A founder invited them, and at first they get preferred treatment. It is not uncommon for founders’ friends to get jealous and snipe these people, but sometimes they fit in just fine and move on to become founders’ friends or groupies.
The referred show up when a group member or even someone else recommends the group. They have a better than average chance at fitting in, but they were interested in the group’s main focus prior to knowing that the group existed. These people were not looking to join if someone else had not prompted them first.
The naive are those who recently became interested in a subject. Maybe they bought a telescope or a car or a comic book, and are now looking for like minded people to learn and share their experience and sought out a group to help them. The odds are against them when it comes to clicking with the group, but occasionally it can happen.
Finally we get to the cringe. They also come in a variety of flavors, but their main feature is that their interest is more focused on the community or group than on the interest of the group. Sometimes it’s like, “Hey guys, I bought the decoder ring! Can I join your club now?” They are essentially attention whores. Sometimes if the cringe type does not get the attention they crave, they can morph into one of our next two types: The trolls and usurpers.
I think we all know what trolls are, but just in case: Trolls are bad faith actors. They are there to mess with people. “Don’t feed the trolls” means never engage with them in discourse. If you take the effort to explain something to them, it will be in vain. If you argue with them, it will also be in vain. Any acknowledgement of a troll is likely to lead to problems for the community.
Finally, we get to the usurpers. They do not spend a lot of time chit-chatting with the community. These are entities that wish to take over a group. The usurper can be an individual, a private group, or a corporate interest. Basically they saw that some community existed, and decided they wanted to annex it for themselves. Sometimes they try to sway people to follow them instead, and sometimes they try to convince the founders to hand it over. Sometimes there is even an amicable exchange of funds. In any event, they want to be your group’s new leader.
If you look around, you’ll see this fascinating structure exists in all social settings. You’ll find it where you work, in schools, churches, cults, and anyplace people gather together on a regular basis. In modern times it is how online forums are structured. Even some families follow this.
While I’m sure you can get more granular, these are the main types that I could think of. Did I miss any?
I hope you enjoyed this week’s exposition. It was something I started writing a few weeks ago, and today I thought I’d just go ahead and publish it.
In other news, I think my new job might actually be starting to grow on me a little, and it might just work out after all. Sorry Amazon.
Once again, thanks to our main contributor, Big D. The submission page remains open for more jokes. As of this writing, there are currently 3 weeks worth scheduled in the queue.