Research: Different types of leaders in online communities

I’m shamelessly swiping this from Victoria Tran’s newsletter – it paraphrases a study of online communities that sounds like some of the interactive fiction communities I have seen:

  • The study found three types of leaders:
    • Responsive expert leaders. Knowledge provider. This creates a two-way conversation, but is more about information sharing in the form of Q&As rather than anything else. These leaders are key in the developing stage of a community.
    • Multiboard connectors. As a space grows, you need information navigators that create more discussion and interaction by helping people find and navigate the volume of information that has naturally appeared over time. This creates cross-communication between separate groups. These leaders are key in the active stage of a community.
    • Social bond leaders. With their communication style, are able to lighten up discussions and strengthen relationships between others. They are influential and make things fun. These leaders are key in the sustained stage of a community.
  • Communities don’t rely on the same leader for sustainability - it’s more like throughout a community’s different stages, the baton of leadership gets passed between these leaders

This makes sense.

  • In the first stage with a new space where people don’t know each other, the leader has to take an active role to foster conversation. It’s like getting a party started as people arrive. “Yes, let’s play a board game! You’ve got vacation photos, oh definitely share them on the TV!”
  • As other people learn and “take residence” in the space, you get SMEs. Such as on this board, we have Twine experts, Inform experts, ZIL masterminds, etc., who are better at answering questions the leaders aren’t as knowledgeable in. This is mid-party where different conversation groups break off and people naturally gravitate toward one if they have knowledge or need knowledge. The leader might not be able to stay in one single group extensively so as to not appear they are ignoring other sub-groups to make them feel welcome.
  • Last stage, there’s so much volume that the leaders cannot keep track of every conversation and the job is to basically go around serving drinks and snacks to keep people happy and conversations going “yeah, we’d love if you play the piano; go ahead, but I need to get my puff pastry out of the oven!” and end up paying the most attention to specific requests and problems mostly managing sub groups externally without extensive participation.

I think this forum is kind of late stage-two. We’re not the busiest forum, but I know when I started as a Mod I used to skim through every conversation even when it was something I had no interest in just to get a sense of how it was going and keep tabs. Now I couldn’t keep up with every conversation here even if I didn’t have a job, but still dive into something I’m interested in if possible.

I believe the CoG forum is a good example of a stage three space with tremendous volume, and it’s probably rare for the admins to participate in discussions “for fun” unless specifically needed.