Encourage new voices

How do you encourage a new voice to share their opinion if “the pros” have already shared theirs?

Individually message those who might not feel they have a voice with something like this:

“X has shared (this answer)[link]. Would you be open to sharing your thoughts on the original question? I think others would be interested to hear from you, even if it feels like X has all the answers. Let me know if you’d like to collaborate on sharing your views.”

Less experienced folks and those that naturally have a quieter voice might need only a small amount of encouragement to unlock something in them. A one-to-one engagement amplifies what they already know – that they too can contribute in meaningful ways. Observe their confidence grow and continue to support them on their journey.

Pros always gonna prose

An expert community member with a loud voice – or someone who is believed to be an expert, self-proclaimed or otherwise – is first to answer a question from another community member. And they do it again and again, until you can guarantee a reply.

I experience this all the time in two very distinct communities. In both communities there are consultants who tend to jump in and share their advice. And rightly so given these folks have worked hard to establish themselves as the voice of their particular speciality. They often share compelling answers which provide genuine value to the community.

I sometimes hold off adding my thoughts to a discussion because an expert has already answered. It's an interesting phenomenon to reflect on. And I assume other community members hold off too. I'm curious to find a way to test this assumption.

Is there really a problem?

An active member is a good member, right?! If your community has engagement targets then the expert with the loud voice does more than enough to help you achieve those targets.

If other members attribute value from expert replies, doesn't it makes sense for the expert to continue with no intervention from a community manager? Perhaps so. Particularly if an immediate answer is exactly what someone needs at that moment in time.

Yet what impact does this have on other community members and their propensity to share? I have a hunch it has a slight detrimental impact. We miss the unquestionable strength of diverse opinions and experience.

How often do we anchor a conversation to the first shared idea during a brainstorming session without giving the group a chance to explore way beyond what seems immediately possible. And like those brainstorming sessions, there’s slim chance a greater number of folks will share their ideas in response to an expert answer to a community question.

It's clear the expert with the loud voice is not a bad actor. So they can’t be treated as such. They're active because they want to help and because they want others to see them as the voice of authority on certain topics to help sell their services as a consultant – a nice way to do it without being all "salesy". And for those loud voices who aren't consultants, they are most likely just super helpful and want the best for their community peers. They feel a sense of belonging and pride in their contributions.

Sense-check the reality

1-2-1 chats with community members can provide a sense check of whether there is a problem with the experts with loud voices – without mentioning names or making anything personal.

What do we want to discover?

  • Within one community space, do members get tired of the same person jumping in on a topic/question at every opportunity?

  • Within one community space, do members hold off from sharing because someone considered an expert has already shared their views on a topic/question?

Set up interviews with various cohorts of the community and set the scene with the following scenario – very much respecting anonymity:

Think of someone who is very active in the community, someone you see who is very well respected. They have lots of insight to share and often do so.

Ask the following questions:

  1. How tired/frustrated are you if the same person jumps in on a topic of discussion/question at every early opportunity?

  2. What impact does such behaviour have on the likelihood of you sharing your thoughts, experience and advice?

  3. What impact do you think it has on others and the likelihood of them sharing their thoughts, experience and advice?

Enrich your community with multiple perspectives. Encourage new voices.

I've recently started a "Conversations" series on YouTube. Myself and one of person chat about exploratory testing. I've had amazing chats with super experienced testers. For the first cohort of talks, I didn’t approach anyone. Instead, I shared LinkedIn posts and Tweets to see who might be up for it. I was approached by those who I consider experienced and have a lot to share. Which is amazing, right! How lucky the audience and I are to learn from these people. Yet most of them aren't new voices.

In a recent chat, Callum Akehurst-Ryan and I talk about the importance of encouraging new voices – something I need to do for the next cohort of conversations. Callum shares how it was through the support of others that he found his voice and went for it!

Enrich your community with multiple perspectives. Encourage new voices as part of your community's operating model.

As a Community Manager how do you engage with the expert who has a loud voice and encourage new voices at the same time? I'd love to get your take on this.

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