Building Trust in Online Communities

In the second of our series of posts by the 2019 Community Engagement Fellows, Julianna Mullen walks us through her experiences building trust in an online community and sparking conversations in an authentic way.

It had been the first bullet point in the job description: “Increase community engagement.”….The Community Manager for The Ocean Acidification Information Exchange would be in charge of getting its member scientists, policymakers, and educators talking to one another about preparing and adapting to ocean acidification.

I’d been a scientist and communicator for some time, but I’d never been a Community Manager; when I accepted the post, I knew the learning curve would be steep, but I was excited! Fast-forward into Month Two of my employment, when I’d made a series of important discoveries:

  1. The OA Information Exchange was so quiet I could almost hear the crickets when I logged on.
  2. Using the phrase “increasing engagement” to describe the breadth, scope, and complicatedness of my work was like calling the Encyclopedia Britannica “some books.”
  3. I couldn’t rely on researching myself out of the hole because there simply wasn’t much material that spoke to what I was trying to do.
  4. I’d failed to understand that an online community, even one comprised of scientists and policymakers working on something as technical as ocean acidification, needs the same kind of emotional tending as in-person communities.

In a blind panic, I reached out to some members I knew personally and asked what was going on. What was the holdup?

“I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with my stupid questions.”

“I don’t think I have anything to contribute.”

“I’m worried people will think I’m unintelligent.”

Sound familiar?

Julianna Mullen, Communications and Community Manager, NERACOOS
Julianna Mullen, Communications and Community Manager, NERACOOS

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