On the first day you’re a little nervous. You don’t know anyone here, but one of your friends highly recommended trying it out. You have one friend for now and you can think about making more later (or not). The person who seems to be running the show approaches you and introduces themselves. They ask where you’re from, and what kind of things you like to do. They seem really nice, and their genuine welcome makes you feel more comfortable immediately. You decide to explore, and make a great discovery. There are lots of people here who have the same interests as you! And they all like to play! Soon you’ve made new friends, and you’re inviting your other friends to come try out this place too. You’ve become part of the community, and that feels great.
Having spent thirteen summers as a camper or camp counselor, the process of becoming part of an online community felt very familiar. In both cases groups of people with similar interests are brought together to talk, bond, and play. Both types of community offer a valuable opportunity for learning. Given the specialized focus of summer camps and online communities (ie. Yelp or SoundCloud) those present have been prescreened, in a sense, for having common interests. One type of community has campers and counselors, while the other has users and community managers.
You probably get the picture by now.
So what compels me to make this comparison? Having been involved in both types of community I believe that community managers can learn from the structure of summer camps. The methods used by camp counselors when communicating with administrators could contribute to enhancing the interactions between CMs and engineers. User support reminds me a great deal of hearing out the complaints of concerned parents, while honors given to outstanding campers remind me of the Yelp Elite and Foursquare Superusers.
I can’t exactly pinpoint what CMs can take away from this yet, but once I can, I’ll let you know.