How to Influence People in Online Communities

Here’s the latest post in our “INDUSTRY INSIDERS” column.  Every Monday, we’ll be bringing you the inside scoop from several awesome association technology vendors and consultants who will share the insights they have gleaned from years of working in our association industry.  Our columnists include Ann Yoders of Terpsys, Chris Bonney and Ray Van Hilst of Vanguard Technology, Midori Connelly of Pulse Staging, Patrick Dorsey, Carlos Restrepo and Ben Martin of Avectra, Bryan Kelly and Amith Nagarajan of Aptify, Garry Polmateer of Red Argyle, Christina Smith of, Kevin Jackson of Biz-Zone, and Paul Schneider of Socious.  All of them are  smart and savvy bloggers, and we know you’ll enjoy what they have to say!


I would argue, and many others have too, that Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great primer for social communities and, more importantly, for defining your Code of Conduct. Why “How to…”? Because I feel it represents basic human behavior at its best. It is what I like to refer to as “what your mama taught you”.

Have you developed and adopted a code of conduct statement for your community? Do you look forward to developing one? It may not be the “fun” part of working on, or being part of, a community, but it is an important part of your engagement strategy. A code of conduct gives your community a direction and helps define its identity.

There are many examples of code of conduct statements. For example, Ford Motor Company has their well-known Digital Participation Guidelines which are nice, simple and presented in a way their community can connect with and remember. This leads me to something Jeffrey Henning had to say about developing a code of conduct document in his 2008 post for the Listening Post:

 You may be tempted to find a boilerplate code of conduct…don’t. Instead, take the time to express your community’s code of conduct using the language and metaphors of your domain.

As with Ford’s Digital Participation Guidelines and the examples Mr. Henning uses in his post, the message needs to focus on basic human elements and be presented in simple, easy to understand principles. Remembering that online communities need to be human, clearly stating your vision for the community and providing relatable tenets that establish the ground floor and not the ceiling of human interaction can ensure your community grows, influences, and wins friends.

I also think that defining your community interactions into specific statements that are easy to relate to can help, such as:

Providing feedback – this relates directly to Mr. Carnegie’s Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  • Keep it positive and don’t criticize, condemn or complain in a public forum.
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  • Keep comments engaging.
  • Remember to be open to responses yourself.

Social Networking – Relating it to Six Ways to Make People Like You

  • Engage those who genuinely interest you.
  • Connect with your network by giving them public recognition by name.
  • Encourage dialogue and feedback on discussions and interactions.
  • Find ways to interact with, and contribute to, other’s areas of interest.
  • Remember, everyone is important and should be made to feel so.

Be a Leader

  • You will be better received if you ask questions versus making direct statements.
  • Remember to provide feedback in an appropriate manner.
  • Make it easy for others to follow your lead by welcoming all feedback.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to praise the community or its participants.
  • Give your network a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Every misstep is an opportunity for growth and you can help foster that growth.

These are just examples of how Mr. Carnegie’s techniques can help your community, but it is your community and you should use the language and examples that best work for them. The key concept is to give your community a set of tenets and let them grow into community norms.

I love that a 1936 self-help book, which was given to me when I tried Amway back in 1989, still rings true in the new age of social media. It just goes to show how human a digital community can be.