This is Part 7 of a series in which I am explaining how each principle works within the specific context of online communities.
This week, let’s discuss the seventh principle: inner rings.
This is a complex topic, with many layers. So this post will provide an overview about inner rings, and I’ll go into more depth in future posts.
What are inner rings?
Inner rings come in two different types: formal and informal.
- Formal inner rings are levels, groups, or statuses within a community that you gain access to by signing up (often by paying) or by achieving certain objectives.
- Informal inner rings are level, groups, or statuses within a community that you gain access to as a result of your participation and the relationships you build along the way.
There can be overlap between the two types, which I’ll explain below. What matters more than the designation of a particular inner ring is what it means. And in the context of community, inner rings matter a lot.
Cultivating inner rings is an integral part of building a community that inspires belonging and provides the kind of growth and transformation that people seek when they join. (There can be a dark side to inner rings too, which I’ll explore in a future post.)
Obviously formal inner rings are easier to establish than informal inner rings, and any thriving community needs both to succeed long-term. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can leave informal inner rings to chance.
You may not be able to predict or dictate the creation of informal inner rings, but the tone you set from the top will dictate whether they get created at all.
Let’s go through a few examples of inner rings …
Specific types of formal and informal inner rings
A large percentage of of Unemployable Initiative members are also members of the 7-Figure Small Intensive course. Being a member of this course is a formal inner ring where members get special advanced knowledge that is not available to members outside the ring.
In the previous post from this series on symbols, I shared the story of the “Chat Mob” from the Assembly Call community. This is an example of an informal inner ring that has become a formal inner ring.
The Assembly Call community is filled with other informal inner rings that take the form of inside jokes.
The show has been around since 2011, and we occasionally call back to memorable moments from those early shows. Not everyone will understand those references, but the people who do know they are part of an informal inner rings of audience members who have been around since the beginning. It’s especially rewarding to see these loyal audience members making the inside jokes themselves!
Another example of an informal inner ring I often think about is a small group of people who attended the live events we put on at Copyblogger over the course of a few years.
The members of this group lived in different locations, but they would meet up at our events. They could often be found walking the halls together, eating together, and showing up to events together. They had created an informal inner ring that offered them belonging and the benefits being able to share and discuss what they were learning.
What examples of inner rings have you seen in communities you’ve joined? Comment below.
Why inner rings are so important
As Vogl writes in The Art of Community, just about everyone wants to achieve some combination of these two goals:
- To belong
- To contribute
Our communities will succeed or fail based on our ability to help members achieve each of these goals.
Inner rings help members find smaller groups within the larger community where developing real connections is possible. There is value to the broad, general conversation that a community provides, but real belonging is developed in small-group connections.
But more than just belonging, people want to feel like their actions and contributions matter. We don’t just want to learn, we want to teach.
As members progress through inner rings, they should be developing more knowledge and wisdom, as well as respect and authority from other members. And with respect and authority can come opportunities to help other members on their journeys. This ability to contribute in a meaningful way helps members feel better about themselves, and makes them feel better about their investment of time in the community.
People often sign up for courses and online communities because they are compelled by a promise about something specific they will learn. But people stick around and become long-term members because they feel a sense of belonging and feel like their presence matters.
You need a formal and informal structure of inner rings to make this possible. They are what separate strong, thriving communities from the ones with superficial engagement and a revolving door.
Your goal as a community leader must be to help your members feel a sense of belonging and contribution. This should be a point of pride as you structure your community and build formal inner ring journeys for your members to go on.
But remember that informal inner ring journeys require a spirit of humility to inspire. When you care about your people, your subject matter, and the quality of the content you produce, your members will in turn care about each other and be educated, entertained, and inspired by what you say and what you do — which is how informal inner rings develop.
Now here are some additional links on this topic …
Informal inner rings define your community’s culture
As the author Lindsay Starke writes in this piece: “Whenever people come together repeatedly, cultural signifiers start to develop: inside jokes, special terminology, community traditions, and the like. These are signs of a culture, linking people together. These links are the basis of community.” And the members of your community who understand these signifiers are part of important informal inner rings.
Nine Characteristics of Online Communities That Work | Higher Logic
It’s your job to listen and pay attention
Tip #4 in this article is “Foster a unique community culture.” The essential element in doing this is listening. You have to listen and pay attention to understand what cultural signifiers are developing in your community, and then take steps to reinforce them.
Be intentional about creating culture
You’ll be shocked to learn that, once again, the advice boils down to listening. “Understanding what brings your members to the web, and why they’re seeking out community at all, will put you on the right track to creating a space on the web that actually meets their needs.”
Creating Community Culture | Coral
Thank you for reading this issue of Primility.
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Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash