It's simple and obvious but worth reflecting upon. It's something that I've not been entirely comfortable with how things are generally done now and I have always felt that there should be a better way.
And here it is...
We've got introductions wrong in online communities
One thing I like to do is assume that everything done today could be done better. I look for flaws. For reasons why it won't work. Don't take any of the following personally. I still do some of it too. 😅
Introductions have become low-hanging 'engagement' bait that we've siloed off into a thing we do at the beginning of a member's journey and then never again. It becomes part of the onboarding journey. It becomes designed in, through process or automation.
Typically, or most visibly, this comes in the format of having an introductions channel or perhaps introduction posts to comment on.
When people join we put our efforts into getting them to introduce themselves. Whether or not it is an automated encouragement, it often feels engineered and like we are trying to get people to conform; perhaps that is where the problem lies. It becomes something to tick off of our list rather than something that is more integrated into helping people get to where they want to go.
To be clear, I don't think an introductions channel itself is a bad thing. It's more that I feel like we've become too over-reliant on it and use it as an excuse not to create deeper understanding and connection.
Also in line with this all, honestly, I hate doing introductions. This is part of my character. I understand that some people are ok with it, however many are not. This comes from the clear data that a very low percentage of people introduce themselves. This doesn't mean we should get rid of introduction challenges, it just means we should design for people like me who would prefer not to introduce themselves.
After all, in real life, we don't walk into a room and introduce ourselves to everyone. I guess we would typically observe, then at some point join a conversation that is going on and at this point that we would introduce ourselves— to a smaller more trustworthy group of people.
Introductions in reverse
I'm part of a small, less than 100 people, indie business type community. It's hosted in Slack and it's a bit different because it's a bit anti-growth. The only way to get in is to be invited by another member who you have also met in real life.
This community doesn't have an introductions channel. What's the point if new members rarely join? 😅
Recently a new member joined and before they had a chance to introduce themselves other members started introducing themselves to the new member instead. About 10-15 people did joined in. I watched the introductions unfold (in the #general channel) and I joined in myself!
This was introductions happening in reverse.
This stuck with me; all I could think was that this was the way it should be. A new member has joined. They are perhaps unsure of what they are letting themselves in for. They don't exactly know who is in the room. Insecurities set in, but then all these people come to say hello to you, break the ice and make you feel comfortable.
What a good feeling to have to help you feel welcomed and start to have that feeling of belonging.
Should we be trying to improve how introductions are made?
FWIW, I'm not entirely sure of what the solution is for this. Maybe there isn't one. And perhaps this is the answer—perhaps we shouldn't have a solution specifically for introductions. Maybe introductions are just part of the bigger picture and they often have less meaning attached to them if they just exist on their own.
Maybe introductions are just a form of connecting people and we should always be seeking ways to do that in everything we do.
Maybe introductions should be a part of every community activity we do.
Maybe we don't need to do introductions if we have good profiles set up.
Maybe members can be more explicit with the type of people or things they are interested in connecting with.
Maybe it becomes more about being highlighted, recognised and being seen in the room. Elevating people is essentially introducing people to lots of people.
Maybe tagging people into conversations is a form of introductions.
Maybe creating groups of people to engage in small private conversations is a way to introduce and connect people.
Maybe introductions happen in certain situations and as part of the community culture. For example, at Ministry of Testing at irl conferences we had a culture of people approaching people who were on their own, to check in and say hello.
Much of these points probably come down to introductions being more powerful when there is a purpose behind them.
I don't think any of this is new. It's a reframing of what we often already know.
This reframe excites me though. By seeing things in a different light we can then have more clarity in the way we seek and think about introductions. They are everywhere. We can apply them in new and creative ways. We can spot them in the wild and see them in action.
Giving things a name and framing will help us see how introductions happen everywhere. 🎉