Insiders, Outsiders, and Visitors – and what this means for community

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in community building | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’ve been managing the EMC Proven Professional Community and the outlying social media ecosystem we’ve created for the community for a little over six months now. Maybe in another post I’ll talk more about what we are calling the social media “ecosystem”, but today I want to talk a little about our community.

I’m so lucky to be managing this community, because the “community” already exists. Everyone who is an EMC Proven Professional holds an EMC Proven Professional certification. The profile of someone who would hold this certification is someone who is very technical, very experienced, this person is probably running the IT systems power your credit card data, your hospital, your bank, your university, your business. They are smart, driven, and what most folks would consider to be hard core geeks. These folks already have a community – I was lucky enough to be able to be one of the people building an online community to make things easier for the community to interact online.

One other thing – I hold EMC Proven Professional certifications. I’ve worked in data center situations supporting SANs and 3 tier web applications. I’m a geek. In other words, I’m an insider.

What is an insider

From a sociological, ethnocentric viewpoint, an insider is someone who belongs to a group. To be an insider you must be fluent in the group’s language, customs, culture, rituals, and history. Because of your fluency with these things, you are accepted as an insider to the group.

What is an outsider?

An outsider is someone who is not fluent with all of those things. When I listen to the frustration of my #lrnchat (education) friends about IT, it is obvious to me that they are outsiders to the IT world. And IT are outsiders to the learning world – the business they support.

What is a visitor?

A visitor is middle ground. They know enough to know that they are not an insider. But they may have business to conduct with a community so being a complete outsider is not really an option. So they learn enough of the language and the culture to order a beer and hang out in a bar. They are ok with not pretending to be an insider, and the insiders accept them because of this.

What does this mean for community?

In my case, I straddle the technical community that I am a member of with the education community. I think EMC does it right – the people developing education are all members of the technical community that makes up our audience. That’s right – the people who write EMC instruction are SMEs (scandalous I know!!)

But now because I’m working more and more with marketing people because of the social media work I do, I’m finding myself teaching my new team mates how to become visitors to our technical world. Techies, just for the record – marketers are worried that they sound like marketers for you (at least the good ones worry!).

After my visit to Montreal this weekend I have a new appreciation for how they feel. I had to get gas – and I USED to be fluent in French (long long ago…). I was so nervous and felt so stupid trying to speak French. I know I sounded ridiculous – and probably like a Southern hick. I was grateful when I was in Tim Horton’s that the teen behind the counter started speaking English.

I was a total outsider. I knew it. But I tried to speak the language – and that opened the door for me to step up to visitor status. And this is the point for communities:

  • Number one – know your audience. Know the community you serve – research their language, their customs, their rituals.
  • Number two – try to speak their language. Don’t pretend to be an insider though, that is the easiest way to be branded an outsider. Respect the language and culture. Acknowledge the fact that you may never be an insider. That way the community will ask you for the rest of your order in your native language.

Never be an outsider – try to get to visitor status. Insiders, help new people that try to learn become fluent enough in your language and cultures to communicate – its the only way to open your community to new ideas. And people trying to become visitors – realize no one wants to be preached to, work hard to be something other than an outsider.

Lots of ways I’m thinking of branching this conversation…..the activist in my has lots of stories to tell.

2 Responses to Insiders, Outsiders, and Visitors – and what this means for community

  1. Jamie Pappas says:

    Fantastic post, Gina, with lots of valuable insights on the dynamics of communities and relationships. Thanks for sharing!

  2. gminks says:

    Thanks Jaime, glad you found it useful.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.