The Dark Side of Community: Will You Help Cast Some Light?

Image of Darth VaderThis week was all about community.

On Monday, we discussed epic revelations that I’ve had concerning community building.

It became the most commented post on this site yet with 50 comments; thank you for all your great insight!

Then on Wednesday we looked at joining an online community for blog commenting led by the clever marketer, Heather Stephens.

A few of my dear readers jumped into Heather’s community with me and I look forward to chatting you up on the other side.

So, it seemed that most of us were in agreement that we need to build a network. If you’re a business owner looking to make sense of the web, you’ll benefit from interacting with a group.

A group that will sharpen your strategy, bring your ideas and visions into focus and help toss you a few comments and retweets ;)


Is it all blue skies and green fields? Are communities without fault or drawbacks?

A couple comments in the thread made me investigate this further. Although I’m absolutely for joining the right tribe, I have to admit that sometimes the communities we find aren’t always a great fit (however, I’m lovin’ the ones I’ve found so far).

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed that weaken communities.

The push-pull imbalance

Often, the moderation is to blame here. In the presence of a massive forum, it’s hard to be all places at all times, I get it. But what’s dismaying is how many participants push information, push links, and push their own agendas without pulling.

They aren’t pulling in other folks’ information or visiting others’ sites. They’re also not thoroughly synthesizing information before blurting out some nonsense or a quick reply.

So, we see too many people being pushers (speaking) that do very little pulling (listening).


When we join a community it’s normally for a couple fixed reasons or topics. There have been a few times I’ve paid to join a community and was completely overwhelmed by two things on the other side:

  • A massive number of participants
  • A massive number of topics

This could be just me but I don’t think I’m getting more value because the forum leadership (or participants) are taking a shotgun approach to sharing information with the group.

I joined for a reason. To learn or discuss “xyz.” Don’t bury me in topics trying to teach me “abcdefghijk…”

Focus the message.

Limit the community size.

Granted, it’s a drag having to bounce people at the door. But let’s be honest, nobody likes being packed into a crowded, noisy room where they won’t be heard or noticed anyway.

Time management

OK this is just our fault as participants. We’re too busy clicking around everyone’s links and reading the arguments going on and “loling” it up with our fellow top contributors.

We need to spend less time socializing in there and more time communicating with purpose to reap the real benefits of joining.

Are you with me?

Let’s hear you out…

What are your biggest peeves about communities and forums you’ve joined? What would you recommend community organizers pay special attention to once things are running?

Is there something you haven’t seen happening yet in online communities and are dying to see it become reality?

This isn’t an opportunity to just rant. Let’s brainstorm solutions. I want to read about the pains and problems you’ve experienced but see if you can offer a remedy.

Your input will help all of us improve the forum environment. You’ll also be helping those of us leading communities (Heather, Sarah, me and even some of you) gather the information we need to make community engagement a success for you.

Please share, let’s hear it…

Photo: andresrueda

36 Responses to The Dark Side of Community: Will You Help Cast Some Light?
  1. Sarah Russell
    March 18, 2011 | 10:15 am

    I love being a part of online communities (seriously – I could post comments on blogs and in forums all day!), but the hardest part for me is remembering that a community, in and of itself, doesn’t have any real value.

    Sure, things that come out of communities can be immensely valuable, but spending hours at a time chatting it up with colleagues doesn’t really do anything to improve my business.

    Now, if I improve my conversion rates based on something I read in a forum, that’s great. Or if a contact I develop in an online community turns into a real project, that’s good too.

    But I have to keep it in the forefront of my mind that I need to take action based on the things I learn from my community participation, and check myself whenever the balance shifts too far away from getting things done.

    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:12 pm


      I’m with you on completely enjoying the interaction factor. Reading what people are sharing and posting comments on sites is fun for me. But in the end, that by itself, isn’t all too profound (but it’s headed in the right direction).

      You make a great point about applying what you learn from the community. Now that’s where the real value is. Joint-ventures, strategy implementation, and sharing time-saving tools and tips are all great takeaways. Thanks for your insight!

  2. Jk Allen
    March 18, 2011 | 1:17 pm

    Hey Jon – I love this week’s focus on community! I guess I just LOVE community in general!

    I think you made a great point here: “We need to spend less time socializing in there and more time communicating with purpose to reap the real benefits of joining.”

    This is important! Because we basically get back what we give. I’ve been in offline networking events that I didn’t feel, so I didn’t get much benefit. I spent my time eating(!) and talking about off-subject topics with contacts I already knew. I left feeling like I had wasted my time and didn’t get anything out of the event – but in reality, it was my fault! Other contacts of mine found the event extremely beneficial. Goes to show – that I got out of it what I put in!

    I’m looking forward to see what Heather’s community provides. I haven’t had time to get in there and get active, but I will jump in this weekend. By the way, TGIF.

    Have a good one Jon.

    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:15 pm

      Thanks, Jk! I wanted to stick with the same theme through the week instead of a one-and-done type post schedule.

      We do get back what we give. I’ve often received back more than I gave which just makes me want to give that much more! You’ve probably experienced the same thing. Offline networking events can be such an immense value OR it can be a convention to eat great food and drink. Ha. Decisions, decisions.

      You’ll enjoy the new exposure from the community. With any luck you’ll be inspired for your next big jv deal or product launch!

  3. Adrienne
    March 18, 2011 | 1:49 pm

    Hey Jon,

    Well I do love the topic of this post and thank you for sharing Heather’s community with us. As you already know, I hopped on over there and joined myself. Visited plenty of blogs and am having a great time.

    As far as forums go, the only ones I participate in now or ones that I join when I’m in either a training community or it’s for a particular product or service that I need help or have questions about. In the past I’ve joined forums in my niche and got slammed by others. I admit I am not as knowledgeable as a lot of people and I wasn’t in there spamming with my links, but some of those people were just ugly. I became intimidated and turned off by them and refused to go back.

    I guess you could say that I’m now a part of a blogging community since the first of this year. That’s really when I started visiting other blogs and commenting on those and have really formed a great community within itself. Heather’s Clever Marketer Mastermind Community is the first one I have joined and that was just this week. That has been my experience up to now but I do love communities when they consist of the right people.

    Thanks for your thoughts and input on this topic. I also enjoy hearing what you have to share with us. I appreciate you and I hope you have a fabulous weekend my friend.


    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:20 pm

      Hi Adrienne,

      So glad you joined us and I know you’ll be mixing it up with everyone before long.

      It seems you prefer the laser-focused approach to joining communities. It’s sad that people were tearing you down in the forums; doesn’t surprise me. There are always a few bad apples. That’s such a downer that the bullying pushed you out of those forums. Let’s make sure we work together in the BMF with Heather and keep the riff-raff dialed down ;) This community doesn’t strike me at all to be the type you’ve run into before, thankfully.

      Thank you for the encouragement and enjoy your weekend as well.

  4. Murray Lunn
    March 18, 2011 | 3:20 pm

    My problem, overall, has been exactly what you’ve explained. If a community is TOO large, it’s hard to become integrated within it. It puts me off.

    I like to join smaller groups because I’ll be able to work with others vs. trying to make an impression to the entire group. I rather be able to continue a discussion instead of it being sunk to the bottom and out of the minds of members because so many people are too busy starting something new.

    I think people have forgotten the most important part of community interaction: lurking.

    Lurking lets you see what the community is all about, what you can offer before you start blabbing and so that you make the right impression from the get-go.

    We all need to shut up for a while before we decide to have our say because, often times, someone else has already said it – that pisses off the community, overall.

    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:27 pm

      Yea, Murray, you feel my pain! Smaller (or at least manageable) groups can be so effective with their level of intimacy. You feel like you can genuinely connect and not just be another “tick” on their friend or share belt.

      You’re right about needing to listen. We all should practice thinking before we submit our replies or post new threads. So, you’re a fan of READING what the other posts say and adding to the conversation without redundancy. I will be thinking before I submit replies in the communities I’m in. Adding noise is not added value. Thanks!

  5. William Tha Great
    March 18, 2011 | 3:35 pm

    Hey Jon,

    Thanks for the awesome post!

    When I usually join a forum because of a wide range in topics and large conversation rates. I wouldn’t want to join a forum where no one is talking about anything. The thing is if you join a forum from the start, then if it gets big you will have a high reputation.

    I usually get annoyed the most when people write stupid comments without even thinking any. You can tell when someone doesn’t understand the question, and when a person just blurts something out.

    I love forums though lately I have been active on them very much. I have to get back in my grooovve!

    God bless,
    William Veasley

    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:29 pm

      Great to see you, William.

      That seems to be a common peeve. We all need to make sure we keep ourselves, and our reading comprehension, in check before blurting out whatever comes to mind. People are investing precious time reading these forum posts for a reason; it’s unfair to clutter it up with noise.

      As Murray said in his comment, think first.

  6. Deb Augur
    March 18, 2011 | 5:14 pm

    Hi Jon,

    This is a great breakdown about the dark side of communities and tribes. I agree with everything you said. The part about wanting to learn about (and discuss) xyz and not abcdefg was really good. While I don’t mind going outside my interest level, if half (or so) are about a topic I’m just not into, I’m in the wrong community. Also, when I do leave a comment I look for supportive things to say. That’s my responsibility, I believe. So don’t take that as a “yes, sell me” request. LOL.

    I’ve found that Blog Challenges through Twitter are great ways to connect with other bloggers and drive up your Alexa ranking. I believe there’s another one starting April 1st. If you’re interested, let me know via Twitter ( and I’ll send you the new link when I get it.

    I have to go read your other posts this week because they sound awesome. Great “round up” to make me want to read more. Well done!

    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:35 pm

      Hey Deb!

      Great to see you again. Thank you for really thinking through this and your compliments :) So, you somewhat have a metric you use to tell you, “hey, this forum is too scatter-brained.” Looks like if it’s 1-to-1 (interest to disinterest) then you’re out. That’s good, you know what you’re looking for.

      You have me curious about Blog Challenges through Twitter. I’m unfamiliar with this approach so it’s time for me to scour your Twitter stream! Enjoy my posts, Deb, and I hope to hear from you more.

  7. Danny @ Firepole Marketing
    March 18, 2011 | 7:25 pm

    Hey Jon, my biggest frustration with communities has definitely been overload – I can sift through people pushing stuff, but I find that with most communities there’s just too much stuff going on, and if you fall behind, it can be almost impossible to catch up.

    The only way that has worked for me (to date) is to get involved with the community from the ground up, as a charter member, and make keeping up to date – reading every post, commenting on every update, etc. – part of my routine. That way I get good results, know what’s going on, and can keep up.

    It’s tricky, though, because it really is demanding, and there’s obviously a (fairly low) upper limit to how many communities like this you can realistically get involved in. I’ve signed up for Heather’s community (your recommendation is all I need!), but with any community that’s been around for a while, I’m skeptical about how much I’ll be able to get out of it without having to put in crazy amounts of time.

    Maybe I’m just stuck in my ways, and ways of working? I can’t get Twitter to work for me either, because I just can’t get it to fit into my workflow…

    What do you think? Am I just being a stick in the mud? Is there another way to be doing it?

    • Jon
      March 18, 2011 | 8:46 pm

      Haha, nah – you aren’t a stick in the mud. Communities can get unwieldy over time if not kept up. I’m a bit different where I don’t mind some activity that I “don’t get,” threads I fall behind on or if there are sub-tribes and inside jokes of which I’m not involved. It’s just when it seems like nobody is involved with anything and we’re all just typing into the ether that I get irritated.

      I think you said it all here: “..can’t get it to fit into my workflow.” You’re a marketing guy so I know you’re getting in front of your people but I can see how some mediums just aren’t your bag. If the effort you need to put in doesn’t align with you personally, what value are you going to add? Little to none because you won’t “show up” regularly and when you do you have doubt.

      Now, we can’t run away every time we have doubt about a process or brand touch point. But I do believe that we find our strides in certain “pockets” here or there and those are the places we should dominate. Those are our marketing roads (hehe) that should be clear, paved flat and straight, and kept well-marked along the way.

  8. Christian
    March 19, 2011 | 5:21 am

    I believe it’s important to branch out in your niche – and reach a larger audience. What I don’t tend to like is when a very small niche community becomes absorbed into something much larger. There was once a small niche forum I really enjoyed for a certain hobby of mine – which soon became engulfed in something larger. The forum instantly became a waste of time, and most people split. I feel this can easily be remedied with a more structured layout. Maybe same domain and forum style, but with subforums – to keep that “small town” feel intact.

    • Jon
      March 19, 2011 | 2:15 pm

      Hey Christian,

      Looks like we have another “tie guy” joining us here. Right, I mean on the one hand you are happy for someone that builds their project/community up to a point that it’s a marketable asset. Sell = money. But, the end result is either a melding of two different businesses or the “new management” comes in and rips the soul out of what was left of the community before the transition.

      So, it seems you’re a fan of order. You want to see communities with clearly marked sub-categories/cliques/niches for people to join. That way you know everyone will be speaking the same language when you hop in there. A high degree of order and category OR a small overall community; I’m a fan as well.

  9. Charleen Larson
    March 19, 2011 | 10:54 am

    I’m a member of a number of e-commerce communities, but I have joined and subsequently quit many more. I’m neither shy nor retiring but if there’s a domineering person whose favorite method of interaction is pouncing — and the mod is too much of a wuss to check them — I’m outta there. That describes my most recent departure.

    Not that I am perfect. I communicate in direct sentences without flattery or social puffery and some people can’t handle that. I have definite opinions born of experience. And it is hard for me to tolerate people who continue to whine and agitate over a problem or perceived slight long after the way to a solution is made clear to them.

    And then there’s the mod who set up the group for a certain defined purpose — but his hidden agenda was to market to members, which he did relentlessly.

    However, being a member of one community got me through a door I’d been unable to open on my own. (Not that this was a quick process, either, it took 3 years.)

    • Jon
      March 19, 2011 | 2:10 pm

      Hi Charleen!

      I haven’t written that follow-up post yet to help people feature their gigs. It seems that’s along the lines of what you’re doing at BestofFiverr?

      “Definite opinions born of experience.” And you deliver them directly and that is something that, I agree, people have a hard time processing. But as is the case here, when you do offer insight it’s valuable.

      Yes, I’ve seen the approach to forum building where the sole purpose was to use it to sell, sell, sell. I’m all for the occasional quality offer, even purchased a few myself, but don’t try to turn the community into your personal ATM. I’m going to visit you at BestofFiverr in a few…

  10. Kesha @st. louis website design
    March 19, 2011 | 10:05 pm

    Jon, fortunately, I haven’t had the experience you and others have had here as I just started participating in communities (namely Heather’s and another one on FB). So far so good for me.

    The main thing I like about Heather’s is that it has a structure and a pretty fair one at that.

    Personally, I don’t have time to lolly gag and talk it up in communities so I don’t get caught up in it that either.

    I’m sure that the more I join communities, the more I’ll see how different ones are structured and will surely have my share of ones I remove myself from :-)

    • Jon
      March 20, 2011 | 10:16 am

      Hi Kesha,

      I enjoyed your video post about being careful with your domain names. Sometimes getting “too cute” with them can hurt your business.

      So, you’ve found value in Heather’s community because it’s very focused on what you have to put in and take from it. Plus, it’s structured and manageable. Those seem to be the most popular aspects and I’d have to agree that they are compelling reasons to stay aboard. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Dahlia Valentine
    March 20, 2011 | 1:06 am

    Hi Jon… I haven’t encountered the dark side of community building yet. Knock on wood, I won’t. What I like about Clever Marketers is that each group only consists of 10 people. That’s a comfortable number for me, and I can always join another group if I want to ramp it up a bit.

    Within 1 weeks time I definitely see the advantages of being in a community/tribe/mastermind. Having comments on your blog adds a powerful dimension of social proof into the picture. It has made a significant dent in the amount of traffic/sales I get.

    My survival trick is that I formulate a strategy very early on and I stick to it. If I know that I have to write X number of articles a week, I get an article writing strategy together. Same deal with commenting communities.

    There are certain things that I know I must do everyday, so I get those things out the way early in the day. It’s simple, right? But it took me a long time to get to that point. Better late than never.

    • Jon
      March 20, 2011 | 10:13 am

      Hi Dahlia,

      Very good point about the groups in Clever Marketer. We are split up into manageable groups and things move along rather quickly. Everyone can keep each other accountable because there are a set number of participants in each group. It’s a good system so far.

      You are talking about discipline :) It’s tough but something we should be aspiring to in our work. Thank you for your insight.

  12. Diana
    March 20, 2011 | 4:54 am

    Hi Jon,

    I just started blogging 2 weeks ago and it was thanks to a Blog Challenge that got be started. So far, the communities that I have joined (all blogging) are amazing and I am learning so much from everyone.

    The one thing that I see as a downside is when the community gets too big. For example, there are so many posts and some people do get left out. In one community, a member did bring up that up. I guess it’s also related to the focus of the group.

    I admit that not everything interests me and in a big group, I will only read posts which is of interest. And this brings about the issue of time. It’s not possible to leave a comment in every post.

    Overall, I have found communities very supportive.

    • Jon
      March 20, 2011 | 10:11 am


      That’s so great to hear that your experience has been positive. Yes, being lost in the crowd is one of the major drawbacks to a large community. On one hand, you can blame it on community size (which I kind of did in the post) on the other; we can point fingers at the community. It’s on us to help each other BUT, depending on the level of knowledge, it’s hard to expect newbies to be picking each other up in a new forum.

      You made a great point with not leaving comments on every post. Some people do just for the backlinks and to “see” themselves speak. That’s when a community becomes overrun with noise. Thanks for your input!

  13. Jayne Kopp
    March 20, 2011 | 2:43 pm

    HI Jon, I appreciate you post and thankfully I have not had any negative experiences (yet) in forums… although you never know.

    I like this Clever Marketing community. I think the people are decent… and think that a maximum of 10 people works. Its not overwhelming.

    I think it’s also good to branch out a little, but as long as we continue to learn and help eachother (which we seem to be), it can be very beneficial.

    Best regards,


    • Jon
      March 20, 2011 | 3:05 pm

      Good points, Jayne. As long as we continue to learn from and help each other out it’ll feed the community. The group size makes it easy to keep track and everyone is starting to find their rhythm and I’ve found some interesting new blogs to visit more often. I’m glad it has been a benefit to you!

  14. eric
    March 20, 2011 | 5:27 pm

    To be honest the only community I have joined is the clever marketer community. And I love it. I am sure there are thousands of them out there but I think If I stick to this one I will be good. It is managed good to date but at the rate it is going it will get pretty big pretty quick. and then well who knows what will happen then.

    • Jon
      March 20, 2011 | 5:51 pm


      Thanks for your insight, yes it is growing but we shall see. The fact that it’s hyper-focused helps immensely. We know what’s expected of us, we can do so with ease because everyone offers the required information and the people are friendly (willing to chat). Plus, some of the content is quite good and worth sharing :)

  15. Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion
    March 23, 2011 | 6:21 pm

    First of all Jon, let me congratulate you on your blog’s growth. It’s awesome to see and very well deserved.

    Regarding communities, I completely understand what you’re saying. My feeling is this– Joining a community of commentors is great at first as it can help you get going and act as a social proof for new visitors. But once you really start to grow, and find a new and much larger community following your stuff, then it can be tough to keep up with the old and the new. At some point, there has to be a break. But in many ways, this is a good thing, as it represents growth.

    Anyway, you rock Jon. Keep it up man.


    • Jon
      March 23, 2011 | 8:26 pm


      That makes me feel great. I appreciate your support. I noticed you just pushed through a plateau of your own and it’s pretty impressive! Great uptick in your engagement over there. Congrats to you as well.

      I can see what you’re saying about new chapters in community. Right now, I’m happy where things are headed and I’m not pushing myself too hard to promote right now as I want to be ready for when things do grow. There are also a lot of things I’m balancing so this presents unique challenges (well, isn’t that everyone’s story?).

      After a certain point it makes sense that it just isn’t possible to keep up with everyone. I do thank you for making the time to swing by here, though, it means a lot and says even more about the type of professional you are :)

  16. Marcus Baker
    March 26, 2011 | 11:03 pm

    Hey Jon,

    Love the topic and also enjoyed reading all the follow up comments.

    You’ve obviously done a great job at stimulating discussion and that’s always the mark of great post in my opinion.

    I’ve been a member of a few forums and communities, some I’ve stuck with and others I let go.

    Just as we don’t get on with everybody in life, I guess there are communities that are a better fit than some others and which may at the time have been fine but then we/they change and it’s time to part ways.

    My pet peeve is when too many members don’t check their egos in at the door to be honest. Then it often becomes a noisy sparring ground with few benefits.

    A right mix of people, limited in number with a great leader like Heather and there’s little chance of this happening. :)


    • Jon
      March 27, 2011 | 1:14 pm

      Hi Marcus,

      Thank you for your kindness and encouragement. The community here knows how to keep a good conversation going and I’ve been inspired to write future articles (and create podcasts) from their input.

      Good point about egos in check; we’re all in this together but some people choose to hide behind anonymity in the forums and devalue the community with nonsense. Or they just enjoy stirring the pot for the sake of it.

      Hope to see you around more!

  17. Keith Davis
    March 27, 2011 | 3:05 am

    Hi Jon
    Came over from Paul Wolfe’s site via your comment.

    Looks as though you have a great community here so I was interested to read…

    “Are communities without fault or drawbacks?”

    Overload, push / pull, time management… problems that we have all experienced.

    I tend to comment on sites that I enjoy being part of. Good content, good comments, humour and banter in the comments – that sort of thing.
    For me the “spirit” of the site is almost more important than the content.
    Of course at sites such as “The Sales Lion” you get both.

    That way I increase my links and have a good time.

    I’ll head over and take a look at your ” epic revelations” post.

    Cheers Jon

    • Jon
      March 27, 2011 | 1:11 pm

      Hi Keith!

      Welcome and thank you for reading and commenting. The Sales Lion is full of quality content; Marcus is going through a nice growth phase and the conversation in the comments is always a treat. Humor and banter make it all the better for commenting; it takes away some of that stuffy feeling and reminds us we’re real people (with serious businesses, sure).

      I know I’ve seen you around in different comment threads so I’m glad to connect and I’ll take a look at what you’re up to, thanks again.

  18. Neal Morgan
    April 11, 2011 | 7:37 am

    I followed you from David Shaws post. I ‘m pretty new to the commenting side of blogging so i suppose that shows a trust in people that make quality comments, either that or that i’m nosey :)

    • Jon
      April 11, 2011 | 8:21 am

      Welcome, Neal!

      Thank you for coming by and leaving your comment. I appreciate it whether it’s trust or being curious :) I very much like the design and photography at your site. Stop by and comment any time.

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