What “Cheers” can Teach You About Online Communities

I can’t get the theme song from “Cheers” out of my head today. My son has started watching the show in reruns (Netflix streaming is an amazing thing, especially paired with a Roku box), so I’ve been hearing that theme song a lot lately:

“Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

This got me started thinking about communities, and especially online communities. And I think perhaps the “Cheers” writers and song lyricist hit on something of a universal truth about community. Community, in any form — online or in person; in a bar or college dorm, or at a meeting or conference — is about making people feel welcome. A community is a place where people know and recognize each other, and rely on and support each other.

What does that mean to you if you’re in charge of creating a community? It means that a primary focus of what you do should be making people feel welcome. You can do this by acknowledging what they say, replying to them with praise and encouragement, trying to get to know something about them, and introducing them to people they might want to know. You can do it by saying “hi” to them when they join a chat or discussion, and thanking them afterward for getting involved. You can do it by inviting them to an in-person event if they first came into your community online, or inviting them to come online if your first contact with them is in person.

I’m not suggesting you should ever be insincere or offer false praise. People will sense insincerity and steer far away from it. But I am suggesting that you should pay attention to every person who enters your community. It will help them overcome their natural shyness and any reticence about getting engaged, and give them a reason to come back. Yes, it will require a time commitment on your part; both you and your boss (if you have one) need to be prepared for that. But if you’re serious about building a vibrant community, it should be an easy decision to make.

And once your new visitor starts feeling like part of the community, rather than a guest, they’ll need less nurturing — although, ironically, their increased engagement will also give you more opportunities to acknowledge, praise and thank them.

Oh– if you now have the “Cheers” theme song stuck in your head, too, you can see the full lyrics at Lyrics On Demand. Don’t bother to thank me.

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