All right, so I promised I’d write a blog on my ideas and opinions about repairing/rebirthing/re-instituting a healthy community. To preface, I’m no kind of expert. I have no degree or credentials; just my own experiences from which I hope I’ve learned something.
If your community is languishing, growing slowly, or just plain nonexistent, these ideas may help you. I’m hopeful that they’ll at least provide some ammo for thought.
Listen to your critics.
You learn more from your harshest critic than you ever will from a room full of yes-men. It’s because of the room full of yes-men approach that we’ve had such monstrosities as the last season of Roseanne thrust upon us. If one person early on had said, “You know, that’s a fucking stupid idea,” and the higher-ups had actually listened, who knows what kind of a note the show could have ended on.
Now, the trick is figuring out what is actual criticism, and what is just trolling. If one troll just says “THIS SIM SUX LOL” then don’t put much stock into it. But when a group of once-active people disappear all at once, and one of them complains loudly? Pay attention to that. Amid all the profanity and name-calling, you will often find the words of someone who actually does (or did) want the community to succeed and has some real insight as to what’s broken.
Make it easy to talk to one another.
I don’t just mean your staff; I mean all your residents. Provide for them an easy and well-known way to have a free and unfettered exchange of ideas. It’s well and good to have a “natterers” group, but do people know it exists? Do they know how to join it easily, or do they have to go through a ridiculous process of applying and invitation to make it happen?
Pick your battles.
I belonged to a community in which someone sent an announcement out for a movie showing at his own theater. He was quickly shot down, yelled at and embarrassed in public chat for “advertising”, when what he really wanted was to create something social for the town. Guess what? He left. Here the town had been blessed the rare resident who wanted to actively (and for free!) help build the community, and instead he got run out by overregulation and rudeness.
It’s understandable to not want “BEST IN SILKS CONTEST AT MY CLUB $$$ PRIZES COME DOWN NOW!” every half hour in your community group. Too much of that will surely cause people to leave, or at best disable group announcements. But when someone makes an announcement for something that is clearly in your town, clearly meant to bring the community together, and clearly can be enjoyed, think twice before whipping out the bullhorn and the banhammer. Maybe even say, “You know, normally I wouldn’t allow advertising in this group, but because it’s a free event for everyone and it’s arts/entertainment related, maybe I’ll make an exception THIS ONCE.” Maybe even make a group for people to spam the hell out of if they want.
Some rules were meant to be bent, from time to time.
Do away with obvious conflicts of interest.
I’m bringing up the CoC group again, because it’s extremely important. If a position is an elected position of a resident (not staff) run group, staff should not be eligible. Period. And if the term is for six months, it should end at six months. To do otherwise is demoralizing to the whole community.
This is doubly important when there are romantic or familial entanglements involved. It screams “you don’t have a shot here unless you’re already related to or sleeping with the boss”. It also screams that if there’s ever a conflict, guess whose side will automatically be taken? (I’ll give you a hint: not yours.)
Publicize Resident-Initiated Ideas/Creations.
Residents will, on occasion, come up with awesome ideas for building the community. Don’t just say “Hey, that’s a great idea!” and be done with it. Really listen, and then do everything you can to show that resident that you want their idea to succeed. Make them public on your website, at your Twitter, on your rent terminals if you have that kind of technology… when you do these things, you really tell that resident that their awesome idea is a part of things, not just an incidental idea to be forgotten about (or not followed up) a month later.
And when that resident, who came up with that idea, is lauded and supported so visibly, other people will feel inspired to bring forth their ideas too.
Naturally in the sea of ideas, bad ideas will come up as well. But rather than dismiss them out of hand, run them by everyone else anyway. Explain why it would be problematic (for example, “we just can’t afford it”) and who knows, the community just might come up with a solution all on their own.
This one’s tricky, but crucial. What may look to you like “not wanting to bother the other folks with trifling details” can come across looking like “keeping the rest of us in the dark”. When you make plans, unless it’s for something specifically meant to be a surprise, make them known. People trust a staff who has nothing to hide.
Besides that, it’s a well-known fact that you could post something six times, and there’d still be someone who knew nothing about it. All the more reason to speak up, and speak often.
So there you have it, my thousand or so words on what can help to revive a failing community. What are some other ideas you may have?