Growing up, my father was often transferred and I found myself in a brand new neighborhood and school as the dreaded “new guy” way too many times. Being an only-child and an introvert at heart, this experience — as painful as it was — made me a lot better at socializing with people. It taught me communication and social skills that carried me far into adulthood — even to the point that people are shocked when I tell them I am an introvert because I seem so outgoing.
Being the new guy is never easy. But being the new guy online adds even more obstacles to fitting in. Online, there is no body language, voice tonality, or other cues we use to communicate with each other to form bonds. Online communities are a real “space” — in academic communication terms — just like the place where you work is a real “space” where people interact and do things. Each “space” has it’s own set of unwritten rules and etiquette which should be learned before jumping right in. Each community is different and it can be tricky to navigate at first, but it is worth it. You can learn some incredible perspectives.
Everyone that knows me knows I love learning about things — and I have found the best way to learn something is to go to the people that know about it — go to their communities. This act will get you the best information the quickest way — but it will also have you playing the role of the “new guy” over and over again — this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing and it is definitely not something to fear. While I’ve been researching tabletop games and slowly introducing myself to the tabletop gaming world, I decided I would write about some best practices for entering a new online community. This list is in no way exhaustive and I am sure I have left a lot out. Feel free to post your ideas in the comments — more than likely it will help someone out.
What NOT TO DO:
–Don’t promote– This should go without saying but it is something that obviously needs to be addressed based on the amount of people that still do this. We all have things we are working on and projects we are proud of and we want to share those things — with ALL the people!! However, jumping into a new forum, Facebook Group, Discord, or whatever with a link to your channel/website/etc is equivalent to eating dinner out with your family and having a strange guy walk up and try to sell you a used car right at the dinner table. It’s beyond annoying, it’s rude and inappropriate. More than likely, there will be a time that someone will ask about your project and you can share it — until then, be patient and follow rule #6 — be helpful.
–Humor– Being funny or throwing a joke out there is a strategy that works great to break the ice in most face-to-face situations, but it is something to be weary of while online — especially when you are the new guy. Without body language and voice inflections, jokes often lose their luster when typed — worse yet, they can come off very different than what was intended and actually offend people — the exact opposite of what you had in mind. Anything other than slight self-depreciating humor — such as, “can you explain that again? I’ve got 2 brain cells left and they are waving goodbye to one another” or something of the like — should be thought about very carefully before posting.
What TO DO:
–Get to know the rules– Whenever entering any online community for the first time, it’s best to take a peek at the rules. Sometimes, they can be hard to find or they aren’t posted at all. Even if the rules aren’t posted, if you follow these other best practices, you should be just fine.
–Lurk for a while– This might be the biggest trick of all. Just reading and observing allows you to get to know the people, the leadership, and the regulars. It allows you to learn the topics and how you might fit in. If you see an easy post to respond to such as a new leadership announcement, respond with a congratulatory message just to let them know you are there. Think of lurking like being at a party where you don’t know anyone — typically you listen for a long while before you jump into conversations and you only do so at the most opportune time. Pro lurkers are some of the best members. They are helpful, know pretty much everything that is going on in the community, and almost never are the cause of drama.
–Stay on topic– This is another one that should go without saying but still needs to be addressed. Every community is different and some are more stringent when it comes to staying on topic versus others — this is something you can learn during your lurker phase. For a best practice, it is best to only post on the topic the community is interested in — posting off topic is like having a conversation with your friend about crowdfunding and suddenly someone jumps in and slaps their phone in your face showing you a funny meme about dragons — don’t get me wrong, dragon memes are all the rage — or that might just be me? — but they have their place and time. Stay respectful to the community by staying on topic — at least until you have established yourself.
–Humanize yourself- I know, I know. Usernames are an opportunity to express yourself — and as tempting as it may be to sport that uber-cool “xX420MiLeHiGhXx” profile name, it can easily become another obstacle when attempting to fit in a new community. I mean, usernames are fun and all — but it is hard to take someone serious when their profile name looks like something an edgy twelve year old came up with. Think about creating a name that is either your real name, or incorporates your first name. Something cool — like LogicianTim, Hah! — if not, think about signing your posts with your first name — something like “~Tim” at the end — these things can go along way with building credibility. And while you are at it, using your real face as your avatar humanizes your profile. There are way too many trolls out there and a real picture can help build trust within the community quickly.
–Be helpful– The one thing to remember about any community is that it is made up of people — people that have all different backgrounds and skill sets. At times, you will run across a question you know the answer to or have a different take on it — in these cases you need to answer it. People are posting to get the feedback and/or gain the knowledge of other people — and once you join a community, you are one of those people. A strong community is made of people dedicated to helping one another. Being helpful and sharing your knowledge with others in a respectful way will have others in the community thankful you are there.
As I said, being the new guy can be intimidating — but following this list of best practices can help you become an upstanding member of just about any community over time. We live in an age — I hate that phrase — where face-to-face friendships are becoming more and more rare. At the same time, we have access to virtually anyone on earth with an internet connection. As we learn new things, gain more hobbies, and push the boundaries of our comfort zones — we open ourselves up to others — which, surprisingly can make some of the best friends you might never meet in “real life.”
Please like, follow, and share — leave a comment on what your best practices may be for joining a new community. I am sure I left some things out.