Most Artist Tribes Formed Today Will Stay Chaotic – They Won’t Evolve, Just Die Off [INTERVIEW]
This is part two of my interview with Kevin Leflar. He is the Founder, President, and CEO of officialCOMMUNITY, a leader in creating commercialized online communities for established recording artists. In this interview, Leflar talks about how he got interested in communities and the personalities that they take on as they evolve.
Hypebot: Tell me a bit about the diverse characteristics that mature online music communities take on.
Kevin Leflar: Mature communities tend to exhibit generally stable characteristics. Wikipedia is maintained by a very established community – the formation of which has been well documented. Boundaries, hierarchy, and rules are generally well established. Scale is stabilized within an order of magnitude. Core members are generally known to each other or within a degree or two. Order generally outpaces chaos once a community hits the mature stage… but there will always be occasional incidents and perpetual turnover. There needs to be incidents and perpetual turnover for the community to remain vibrant.
The core group becomes self-policing and self-healing and can assimilate new members and absorb a natural amount of attrition in membership. Community standards in healthy communities are set and maintained by the community. There will be periodic challenges to an established community from trolls. A mature community is likely to weather these challenges. Some attacks on community are sophisticated but most are the equivalent of drive by vandalism.
Hypebot: What got you interested in online communities? How do they evolve?
I have always been interested in the commonalities of the groups of individuals that interact online around a specific fame. I have observed repeatedly that people who like X also like Y and Z in disproportionate numbers by comparison to the rest of society. These variables could be different music acts… but often include things like political leanings, other community memberships, and other categories of products.
I have seen many communities based on established recording artists explore these other common interests and ultimately become much less about the artist as a result. Successful communities always do this to some degree. There isn't enough for the active members to say about an artist to keep a community vibrant in a sustainable way… especially during an off cycle for the artist.
At birth, a community is very volatile – and unsustainable. There are no rules and no leaders other than the administrator of the platform. The community may fragment and change platforms. Left to its own devices it will settle into a clique that will quickly have every conversation that there is to have about the artist and then begin to evolve in to other topics or die off.
The nature of fame means that a large number of new people are discovering the artist for the first time every day. Some percentage of them will seek out the online community. This influx of new people showing up daily propels the early stages of community. It also makes the potential community unstable.
Critical mass is required for sustainable communities to emerge and move through their life cycle to a stable phase benefit from a global reach. Multiple communities that share the same interest may also be supported simultaneously but each will have to reach critical mass on its own.
Hypebot: In other words, you're saying that the people that are attracted to a particular act and are willing to stay around long enough to become a part of an artist community; they tend to have disproportionately more in common than they may have thought – like not in a coincidental way. Also, you're saying that many artist communities forming today may never make it out of a chaos stage.
Kevin Leflar: It is easy to understand that if you have one thing in common with someone then you most likely have some other things in common with that same person. That commonality doesn't mean you will like each other or want to hang out. Two people could be polar opposites outside of the one or two common interests that they share. Psychology and Sociology both apply in the same way as they do offline.
Both online and offline commonality creates the potential for positive interactions between individuals. Sustained interactions bring the members of a group closer together as they become more familiar with each other. This kind of group interaction will create social ties and hierarchy over time. A sense of friendships and community belonging will start to emerge. Membership in the group becomes meaningful at this stage to each member.
Community hierarchy and rules can be imposed or emerge organically. There are significant consequences to either approach. Early stage communities are defined by who shows up… and then who keeps showing up.
Hypebot: Describe the dynamic between true fans and the lurkers. Why is fan diversity so necessary?
Kevin Leflar: In my opinion, many of the true fans are lurkers rather than participants. Many participants aren't necessarily fans. Some of the participants just like the sound of their own voice and have found a place where someone else will appear to listen to them and respond.
It takes real community leadership and moderation skills to draw out the best participation from some community members that might otherwise say nothing. It takes all kinds to participate in order to sustain an interesting environment.
While you need enough of the right mix of people to begin with, the community manager also needs to know what to do and not do when the potential community members start to show up.
In the real world, a good host will throw a good party by setting the mood with lighting and music in appropriate setting, providing the right food, introducing the right people and starting appropriate conversations. When done well, it is amazing to watch it happen. If the same party attendants have a poor host then the whole thing isn't electric or interesting and people yawn and find a reason to go home early. Online community in its early stages is just like that.
Managing a community should mean facilitating more than participating. Community standards should be set by the community. That said you still need to weed the garden from time to time… and water it.
Hypebot: Many of the things that you've talked about so far, they're a "different talent" aren't they. Managing communities, keeping them engaged and happy in general, these aren't things artists are good at, are they?
Kevin Leflar: The skills and sensibilities involved in managing and facilitating people (community or otherwise) are certainly different from the talent required to write great songs or perform in a compelling way. I can' t speak to any particular artist skill level when it comes to managing communities - but I can say that that they are less likely to develop the necessary understanding of it while doing anything else – like writing songs, touring, dealing with the managers, agents, record companies, press, etc.
The artist drives their career bus with their creativity and performances… so someone that is a part of the artist's team that has appropriate expertise will ultimately execute on the various aspects of maintenance of their career for them. I think online brand management and knowledge of community interactions in particular will be increasingly important moving forward to successful artists.