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The Emergence of Online Community Leadership

What makes someone influential in an online community? Are there identifiable behaviors associated with being viewed by other participants as a leader? Are these emergent leaders different than other participants?

These are some of the questions that my colleagues and I address in:

Steven L. Johnson, Hani Safadi, and Samer Faraj (2015). “The Emergence of Online Community Leadership” Information Systems Research, 26(1), 165-187.

Here’s the article abstract:

Compared to traditional organizations, online community leadership processes and how leaders emerge are not well studied. Previous studies of online leadership have often identified leaders as those who administer forums or have high network centrality scores.

Although communication in online communities occurs almost exclusively through written words, little research has addressed how the comparative use of language shapes community dynamics. Using participant surveys to identify leading online community members, this study analyzes a year of communication network history and message content to assess whether language use differentiates leaders from other core community participants.

We contribute a novel use of textual analysis to develop a model of language use to evaluate the utterances of all participants in the community. We find that beyond communication network position–in terms of formal role, centrality, membership in the core, and boundary spanning– those viewed as leaders by other participants, post a large number of positive, concise posts with simple language familiar to other participants.

This research contributes a language model to study online language use and by pointing to the emergent and shared nature of online community leadership.

Our key finding is that emergent leaders — those viewed as most influential by other participants — tend to use language differently than other participants.  Specifically, in the communities we studied we found leaders:

  • are among most frequent posters,
  • use positive language,
  • have concise posts (less words per post),
  • use simpler language (higher readability scores), and
  • use language that is more prototypical of the community (language in their posts looks more like the typical language of all other participants).

This result holds after controlling for formal roles (being a designated administrator or moderator) and after controlling for network position (e.g., posting in more central portions of the communication network). Thus, in providing leadership it is not just about filling a role or being highly visible to others, it’s also about the language you use.

I doubt there is one single pattern of language usage that is universally associated with online leadership. Although many features are language usage are probably similar across many social media collaborations, I suspect the language of leadership differs in different types of collaborations. (Indeed, this is an interesting question for future research.)

If you’d like to read a nearly final draft of full paper, you can find it at this link: “The Emergence of Online Community Leadership” (the published version requires an ISR subscription to access).

Temple University Campus Sustainability Week

All sorts of cool events going on next week for Temple University Campus Sustainability Week.


Animated GIFs

Now that Google+ joins services like Tumblr in supporting animated GIFs, I’ve decided it’s high time to learn how to make them.


I did a web search and found there’s a whole bunch of websites that will let you do them for free. Take a few photos of a moving object with your iPhone, resize them something reasonable, and you’re all set.

Continue reading

What is Social Media?

Social media is…

Social media is a term used to collectively describe a set of tools that foster interaction, discussion and community, allowing people to build relationships and share information.

Social Media Is Driving Massive Online Video Growth

Social Media is a powerful tool in your marketing and sales tool box.

The first rule of social media etiquette is to be yourself.

Social media is vital small-business tool

Social Media Is Here to Stay

Social media is not…

Social Media is not Going to Save Your Business

Social Media Is Not a Strategy; It’s a Channel

Social media is not the place to air dirty laundry

Social media is not the “universal scoring system” for journalism

Sanjay Dalal, founder / CEO of oGoing. “Social media is not a one shot approach though, and it takes patience, persistence and passion to realize some of these benefits,”

Social Media is NOT a trend

Your role on social media is NOT to sell your product or service; it’s to build relationships with current and potential clients, providing them with useful information that positions you as an expert in your field.

What do you think social media is?

Management, Education and Gamification

I have a guest post up over at What Leading Teams Can Teach Us About Keeping Students Engaged.

It addresses what I see as a key challenge for any effort to increase engagement:

It’s easy to identify, recognize and reward top performers.

What’s a lot harder is to keep everyone engaged.

I hope you’ll check out it.

Gamification of College Student Professional Development

Two major trends are shaping higher education today. One is that attracting high quality students has become even more competitive. Second, the job market for college graduates is gradually improving, but still challenging. Together, these trends make it all the more important that universities are not just providing a well-rounded education for undergraduates, but are also specifically preparing them to successfully enter the workforce.

Here in the Management Information Systems department of the Temple University Fox School of Business we’ve developed an innovative system for motivating students to engage in their Professional Development.

Here’s how our department chair, Munir Mandviwalla, describes it:

We implemented a point system for our program about 1.5 years ago so that students need to achieve 1000 professional development points before they can graduate. More recently, we introduced a leaderboard that showcases the students with the most amount of points. Today, I am pleased to announce ‘professional achievement’ badges for our students.

Professional Achievement Badges

The badge levels are:

  • Grand Master (2000 plus): The pinnacle of professional readiness. Grand Master’s have extensive experience in engaging with industry, have demonstrated extensive leadership and communication skills, and are likely to take on leadership roles in the future.
  • Master (1500 plus): The master of professional achievement. Master’s have gone above and beyond all the basic requirements and excelled in every category of professional development, career knowledge, networking and are expected to be stars in their careers.
  • Candidate (1000 plus): The complete well rounded student. Candidates have excelled in meeting all the department’s requirements for professional development. They are ready for the workplace!
  • Apprentice (700 plus): Apprentices have started investing in their professional development early and are well on track to meet the department’s requirements for professional achievement.

Coming up with appropriate labels and a way to describe it all was incredibly challenging! We will do a soft roll out over the summer and then more formally in the fall. I am sure we will learn from this experience and after a year we will take another look at the levels, labels, and point categories and revise and improve.

As Munir says, it’s not easy to define meaningful levels and appealing badges. And, yet, it’s one of those many little details that goes into designing and implementing effective gamification.

What do you think? Would a system of points, levels, and badges have helped you work harder on your own professional development in college? If you hire recent college graduates, would a badge like this be of value to you in assessing student abilities?

3 Keys To Starting an Online Community

Are You My Tribe?

I received an email last week asking me for advice about starting a new online community (thank you, ML).

I am thinking about starting my own social network. I have many questions. I was wondering do you think you could do a blog post about starting a social network? What do you think about the Ning platform? Which platform do you think would be best?

Even though I’ve formally studied online communities for nearly a decade, I found the question surprisingly difficult to answer. Nonetheless, here’s my summation of the 3 most important considerations for stating an online community.

1. Tribe or Guild?

At the most basic level, people are looking for one of two things in an online community:

  • Social: a place to hang out with friends, or
  • Information: a place to get answers to questions.

The best social networks provide both, but one or the other is the primary reason a group exists. (Tribes have guilds and guild members also form tribes.)

What can you provide? Do you have a particular talent for “throwing a good party”? In that case, you just might  pull off the exceeding difficult task of forging a tribe. People with common sensibilities are out there wandering the web, they are just really hard to find. (Hint: It helps if you can jump-start the process by co-opting an existing tribe.)

Or, are you more interested in hanging out with people who can share tips and tricks about a common interest? That’s the more typical route for an online community… guild members who swap stories, resources, and insights about an area of interest.

Pick one: tribe or guild. That’s your starting point for a clear vision.

2. Platforms Don’t Matter (Much), Only People Do

I can distinctly remember the first social network I was active in back in the late-1980’s … a bulletin-board like system for students, faculty, and staff of William & Mary (platform was Participate by Unison running on Primos). Green screens with 80 character columns.

Nothing fancy. No color. Not even bold or italics. Just text.

Yet, there was a strong sense of community. Countless hours to be wasted. It was great fun.

Now, the right platform can make it easier for people to find your community. It can make it easier to organize content, share responsibilities, and shape behaviors. But, the platform does not matter unless people want to be there.

Choosing the platform is one of the least important decisions. Identify a clear vision, create compelling value to members, and cultivate a bottomless reserve of patience and determination. That’s what will see your new community through.

3. The Big Secret

My most important advice for starting an online community is: don’t do it.

There are millions of online communities and social networks. If your interest is so obscure that no one is yet talking about it online, how will you ever attract enough interest to sustain a community?

Instead of forming a brand new online community, look hard and long for your existing tribe or your existing guild. Odds are good they will welcome your energy and enthusiasm. It’s not just the first follower, but also the second, third, fourth, and thousandth that make a community. You provide an invaluable service by channeling your energy and enthusiasm into an existing venture.

Your Turn

What do you think? Is there room on the world wide web for yet another social network? If you were starting an online community today, what platform would you recommend?

Image credit: Smithsonian Institution (no known copyright)

What is a Like Bomb? Is it Good or Bad?

Some people like bombs, others just Like Bomb.

Among active Facebook users, the term “Like Bomb” describes someone rapidly liking a whole bunch of content on your wall. The question is when, if ever, is this a good thing to do?

Like so much else in life, one person’s trash is another’s treasures. Some people love broccoli, other’s can’t abide it. Some people love seeing a long, raid list of notifications show up. Others, especially those who get Facebook notifications on their cell phone or email Inbox, may find it highly annoying.

And, thus, there’s a simple answer:

  • If you don’t know someone well enough to predict their reaction, it’s probably a bad idea to Like Bomb their Facebook wall.
  • If someone hits your wall hard, it’s fair game to return the favor.
  • If you’re looking to engage with someone on Facebook, hit like a maximum of 3-5 items and craft a heart-felt comment.

Another word of warning: too many likes in a rapid span and you’ll end up in Facebook jail. That’s a temporary (but highly annoying) condition whereby Facebook disables the like (and/or commenting) features for your account.

What do you think? Are you happy or annoyed when someone blows up your Facebook notification stream with a dozen or more likes?

Image Source: The Library of Congress, no known copyright

Will Google Glass be successful? Lessons from Segway and iPhone

Google Glass (from Wikipedia)

A story aired on NPR this morning about the backlash Google Glass is already facing, even before it is generally available:

Right now, Google Glass might be the world’s worst spy camera; if you go out in public with a pair on, you are guaranteed to attract attention. Still, the idea of techies mounting a tiny screen and a little camera to their faces makes millions of people uncomfortable.

According to Sarah Rotman Epps, a tech analyst at Forrester Research, that is why Google is rolling out Glass to the world slowly in stages.

“Google has been incredibly transparent … with their Glass rollout,” Epps says. “They realize that Google Glass will require shifting social norms to be accepted.”

The excitement about Google Glass reminds me of the buzz back in Fall, 2001 about Segway:

[Inventor Kamen] believes the Segway “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” He imagines them everywhere: in parks and at Disneyland, on battlefields and factory floors, but especially on downtown sidewalks from Seattle to Shanghai. “Cars are great for going long distances,” Kamen says, “but it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use a 4,000-lb. piece of metal to haul their 150-lb. asses around town.” In the future he envisions, cars will be banished from urban centers to make room for millions of “empowered pedestrians”–empowered, naturally, by Kamen’s brainchild.

Segway does not release sales figures, but best estimates are that no more than 100,000 units have shipped in a decade of sales.

Six years after the release of the Segway, another eagerly anticipated product hit the marketplace (from Jan., 2007):

After more than two years in the making, Apple CEO Steve Jobs Tuesday announced the company’s intention to enter the mobile handset market, unveiling the new Apple iPhone. The iPhone brings together several features of the iPod, digital camera, smart phones and even portable computing to one device, with a widescreen display and an innovative input method.

“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Jobs said.

Through six generations of releases Apple has now sold 300-350 million iPhones.

Image credit: Dylan Love in Business Insider

Google Glass: Segway or iPhone?

What is a better model for predicting the trajectory of Google Glass?

Will Google Glass suffer the same disappointing fate as Segway? Will it wilt under the weight of high expectations and resistance to change? Or, is it a revolutionary product that defines a new mode of communication and computing?

In its favor, Google Glass is less expensive, is a natural evolution of existing products and has a supportive ecosystem of developers. Yet, as Ms. Epps said, “Google Glass will require shifting social norms to be accepted.” Demonstrating the risks, cafes, casinos, and other locations with privacy concerns have already moved to ban the use of Google Glass.

Google is pioneering an entirely new model of computing usage. Early users reviews are positive, but without a consumer price tag it is difficult to predict consumer viability. There’s a big difference in the level of consumer demand for a $200 product than a $500 one. Also, Google still has time to address privacy concerns. (For example, it could add a visible indicator showing when a device is recording.)

Also, if the long rumored segment of smart-watches emerges, Google Glass will face competition. There is no doubt a huge market for even more portable Internet-enabled smart devices, but it is too early to tell what form factor will gain social acceptance.

What do you think? Will Google Glass be the next iPhone or the next Segway?


A Housekeeping Note

Not a mail chimp.

I decided to bite the bullet and migrate off of Jetpack for managing subscriptions to this blog. Instead, I’m now giving MailChimp a try (thank you to Jeff H. for the recommendation).

One of the reasons I’m moving is that Jetpack provides me, as the blog author, with no control over subscriptions. I can see a list of email addresses for subscribers but have no control over what is sent, when it is sent, or to remove someone from a list.

Alas, that means that those of you who have subscribed via Jetpack are going to get this blog post sent to you twice: first via Jetpack and second via MailChimp (though not necessarily in that order!).

You are free to unsubscribe from either list (or both, though I’d prefer you didn’t!). If you’re not sure which to decide, I suggest keeping the MailChimp subscription and dropping the Jetpack one. That way if I ever end up moving those blog to another spot on the Internet, your subscription will remain intact.

That you for dealing with this one-time inconvenience of the switch-over.

And, if you’re not a subscriber and would like to be, either fill out the form at the top-left-hand side of this blog or head here to subscribe.

Image credit: George Eastman House

Update for subscribers: I screwed up. I setup MailChimp incorrectly yesterday and you got a strange looking template email. I think it’s all correct now… I apologize for messing up and having a junk email sent to you!

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