The real world road rules of community management. And puppies.

Good community managers would make great dog pack leaders.

People like well-defined roles. When you have a nervous or unhappy dog, it may very well be that you’re confusing what role in the pack she plays. If you submit to the dog’s every whim, let her jump up on the couch when she wants, and think it’s “cute” when she sneaks off with your food or slippers, you’re telling the dog she’s the one in charge. If you then swat her on the nose when she doesn’t listen to your ridiculous commands, you’re suddenly telling her you’re the one in charge. So what is it? A dog needs leadership and consistency. So do community members. Don’t say they run the joint if you don’t empower them, and don’t treat them like underlings if you want them to participate as equals. Switching power structures in a community causes chaos.

Good pack leaders are tough, but not mean. If an Alpha went around constantly biting other members, never let others eat, and otherwise abused their power outside of what was allowed, the pack would destroy him. At some point, people will rise up against a tyrant. If you’re an asshole community manager, you won’t find yourself in charge of a community for long. Keep your responsibilities and role in perspective.

I hope if dogs ever take over the world, and they chose a king, they don’t just go by size, because I bet there are some Chihuahuas with some good ideas.

Different people require different treatment. Get Satisfaction did a great webcast a long while back on the Archetypes of Community Members that will help explain this. Your “perfect” response to one type of personality in any given situation could be a disaster if used again with a polar opposite personality. Consider how you treat trolls versus your community evangelists. Or even different types of trolls. Same for dogs – you don’t treat a nervous dog the same as your well-adjusted pooch.

But the best analogy for how humans can learn from dog behavior comes of course from Mr. Cesar Millan. Watch his show and think “human” whenever he says “dog”. Check out South Park’s interpretation of Mr. Millan to see what I mean.

I learned all I needed to know about community management from dogs. When I was 14 – and out of school for the summer – I had a full-time  job taking care of our 2 dogs (an older Golden Retriever and a Border Collie puppy)… plus the 4 Great Danes we took in to foster after their owner suddenly died. I never want to clean up that much dog poop again. But I digress.

Having nothing better to do, I spent my time playing outside in our (thankfully) large backyard with the pack. The 4 Great Danes included 2 puppies, so as you can imagine I was the envy of EVERYONE IN THE WORLD. THREE PUPPIES AT ONCE. Obvious adorableness aside, how the dogs related to each other was as involved as any TV drama.

Who was fed when and where mattered a lot. Who listened and deferred to whom was obvious, as was each member’s place in the pack. Certain personalities clashed, while others formed alliances. Personalities also changed depending on the situation and if they were under stress (hadn’t eaten yet, hadn’t gone on a walk in a while, etc.).

Witnessing their interpersonal interactions day in and day out and studying dog behavior more in-depth has opened my eyes to how human group dynamics work and what keeps groups small and large alike happy and working. (Note: If it’s not clear, I love dogs. I’m not attempting to insult or offend anyone by comparing humans to dogs. So save your breath to cool your porridge, Ms. Self-Righteous.)

Remember:

Good community managers have unique imaginations. They see where a conversation could go. They notice the potential threads of a discussion, observe and quickly process social situations, and note how group members fit in at any given moment. They understand the gears of group dynamics. Socially Awkward Penguins do not make for qualified community managers.

Good community managers have abundant empathy, but don’t bend over backwards for just anyone. They weigh the costs and benefits of any particular choice to see how it will affect not just the individual, but the group. In well-run communities, the managers are benevolent dictators, not servants.

Good community managers would make amazing pack leaders.

Woof.

Picture: One of the Great Dane puppies – Joy – 12 years later. Still a puppy to this day 🙂

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