How to Get The Most From Online Community Groups

In this digital age, it’s gotten so much easier to find the info we need to do our work. One reason for that? Online communities.

Community groups are a great place to bounce ideas, troubleshoot, and connect with like-minded professionals. The nonprofit ones abound: you can find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, the Salesforce Success Community (for my admins out there!), NTEN, and likely other places I haven’t mentioned. If you know of others, please add in the comments!

Even as an introvert, I can confirm there’s a lot to gain when you’re part of the right community. I’ve gotten advice, guidance, career development and even just plain camaraderie, thanks to a few awesome spaces!

But there are also times when groups are less helpful, cause more confusion, or spark frustration. We can’t always control those outcomes, but we can do our best to ensure we’re productive and effective participants – whether we’re posing questions or responding to them.

So! Here are tips for being an effective group contributor, whether you’re:

Employed for Good – Community Groups
  1. Posting questions to a group
  2. Responding to others’ questions
  3. Pitching a product or service in a group
  4. Advocating for what’s right

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TIPS FOR POSING YOUR QUESTIONS

1. Be clear with what you’re asking.

Lay out exactly what you need, in as clear terms as you can. This will lessen the likelihood of people guessing (incorrectly) at what you might be looking for.

*Tip:* When putting together the questions I need answered, I find it helpful to imagine my ideal response (and bold the question).

2. Lead and finish with your question.

Putting the question first helps others immediately know if they have any insight to offer, before they read through all the details.

Then, once they’ve begun processing all the deets, they have your question at the end to bring back their focus/remind them of how to respond.

3. Give some context.

No need to give an entire story around your question! But ask yourself if there’s any background info that might impact the way a person responds, and offer that up front.

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TIPS FOR RESPONDING TO OTHERS

1. Always reread the post.

Yes, even when you don’t think you have to! Because we’re all know-it-all’s. We’re quick to formulate an answer to something before we’ve even processed the question. The reread keeps us honest, and gives us a chance to catch details we might’ve missed the first time.

In fact, you should reread all online correspondence before responding. This tweet sums up why.

2. Tag the person.

Logistics. As someone who doesn’t get comment notifications anymore unless I’m mentioned in Facebook posts (?!!), tagging just helps guarantee that the person actually sees your response.

But also, I think it adds a nice personal touch!

3. Ask follow-up questions if they’d help provide a stronger answer.

It is super unproductive to craft (and read!) a detailed response that guesses at someone’s context. To make this a positive experience on both sides, don’t be shy about asking for that relevant information.

3. Make sure your response addresses the question.

As someone who’s done this, I’m no saint! But I see this constantly, and it’s time we discussed. When someone poses a question like this:

Can someone share their experience with _____?

they often get a response that starts like this:

    • “You have to _______….”
    • “Have you considered _____…”
    • “Why are you/aren’t you ____…”

when the question was asking for an experience. See what I mean?

Gang, it’s rude to answer someone’s question without actually answering their question! So before you hit submit, make sure your response addresses the person’s stated question – not the question you think they meant to ask, should’ve asked, or wished they asked.

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TIPS FOR PITCHING A PRODUCT OR SERVICE

Before we get to the tips, let’s dissect this one first.

Most of us hate being sold/marketed to. That’s why many groups (understandably) ban promotional posts, even in its less sales-y forms.

BTW – that includes this blog. And I don’t even sell anything. I actually lose money on this thing. 😂

In a sector where resources are paramount, I don’t agree with this stance. We should be able to know what’s available to our orgs, and share something great if we have it! (Tip: the 31st Century Facebook Group is great for this).

But there’s a line. If you’re a consultant/vendor/blogger with something to pitch, it’s important to do this in a way that isn’t predatory or disrespectful to the group. Here’s how to find that right middle ground.

1. Read the group’s guidelines before posting.

Out of respect for the moderators and participants, get clear on the rules. Some groups ban certain kinds of selling, while others will allow it on certain days/threads. Follow the rules, and you’re less likely to step on any toes!

2. Pitch the right people.

It is obvious (and super spammy!) when someone is pitching something to the wrong audience, just to make a sale. Before offering your services, make sure that the group you’re pitching actually has your target audience.

And in groups where there may be a mix, it doesn’t hurt to make your target audience/intention clear from the jump!

3. Disclose your affiliations right away.

I recently advertised an opening in a group. Someone claimed to “know a great consulting firm” who could help. I went to thank the person, until I saw they worked for a consulting firm and had written the same response to numerous people. 😤

Now, our sector isn’t perfect at this…but I believe we place a premium on transparency. So when vendors claiming to serve nonprofits try to get our attention in misleading or manipulative ways, it’s insulting! And a surefire way to burn bridges with potential customers before they’ve been built.

Don’t do it. Be upfront about your ties to a product/service, so that we can evaluate properly.

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WHEN YOU’RE ADVOCATING FOR SOMETHING

This is where things take a bit of a turn.

Online groups are a great resource for aiding our professional work. But depending on the groups you frequent, there are times when you may find yourself part of more personal discussions about something greater.

These are important conversations, albeit tricky to maneuver at times.

So if you choose to engage, here are tips based more on my own personal convictions and what I’ve seen work best.

1. Assume that people have the best intentions.

Sure, not everyone has these. But we lead with this anyway, because of the fact that so much gets lost in translation over the internet. We can easily read between the lines, assume tone, assume privilege based on certain attributes, and respond without at all considering how differences in experience & culture impact the interpretation of our message.

Plus, doing #1 makes doing #2 easier.

2. Bring the best version of yourself to online interactions.

I’ve seen groups where my morals conflicted with the majority. But I’ve also left groups that share my morals, because of the way they’ve handled others who didn’t immediately understand that dominant perspective.

Wrong is wrong. But when we take someone else’s wrongness as justification to lash out or be inciteful ourselves, we hurt our own cause (and potentially regret our reactions later on).

We all have different lines in the sand on this one. The point is to gut-check, by asking yourself if this post/response reflects a version of you that you’d be proud to have loved ones, colleagues, and strangers see. After all, this is the internet.

3. Be direct. Don’t try to ‘guide’ someone’s thinking.

Here’s what I mean. I once had someone respond to a comment I’d made on a post related to gender. Their intent was to challenge an implied assumption in my response, which was totally fair. But rather than say that, they just responded to my comments and responses with repeatedly short questions.

Gang. What that person didn’t know is that I saw their approach as purely combative (back to interpretation & cultural difference). And at the end of the day, I’m human too! So I had to decide whether to respond based on my gut, or to assume the best.

Someone later explained how the idea behind my comment missed a certain perspective. That directness not only saved time, but it taught me something new and engaged my comment in a respectful way. At the end of the day, those are the kinds of interactions we need to be having online.

One final thing…

I’m a big believer in karma. Web karma is no exception.

If you find yourself posing lots of questions in a group, take time to find ones that you can answer too. If you’re pitching a service, use the group to gather input (per the group rules) or jump in to answer questions before making the sell. And if you find yourself taking more of a personal stand on something, bring your best self to the interaction.

At the end of the day, do your best to put out what you hope to get back.

The internet can be a slimy place! But where it shines is in the reset potential. That little dialog box where you type up your post is a second chance: to reread, tweak, and to even sit on an idea before putting it out into the web.

And whether we’re trying to do well at work or do good for the world, that’s a reality worth taking advantage of.

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