Starting July 20th, over 150 thousand of the world’s pop-culture and comic fans will descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for the 48th annual Comic-Con (SDCC). Holding several Guinness World Records including the largest annual comic and pop culture festival in the world, it’s also America’s longest continuously-run comics and popular arts convention.
Despite its undeniable success, this year it will have one notable absentee. After 44 years, Mile High Comics has announced that they will withdraw from the event. Why, you may ask?
Chuck Rozanski, President of Mile High Comics, gave us his answer in a July 5th newsletter, stating, “[SDCC] has grown far beyond its original premise, morphing from what was originally a wonderful annual gathering of the comics world, into a world-renown pop culture and media festival. As such, it has seen rapidly escalating costs, and also a dramatic change in the demographics of its attendees. Neither of those changes worked to our advantage.” With this choice, Mile High re-ignited an ongoing discussion about how Comic-con is no longer about the comics.
On the other hand, Bleedingcool.com noted in their recent post For Those People Who Say San Diego Comic-Con Isn’t About The Comics Anymore…: “... if you actually do want to get involved with comics as an artform and an industry, there is no English speaking better alternative than San Diego Comic-Con. You just have to be dedicated and choose not to be distracted by AMC’s Walking Dead zip-line, or Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black makeunder sessions. And if you do that you will be rewarded with more than you will find anywhere else.”
So what’s really going on with Comic-Con and why is it important for you?
The debate around SDCC is an interesting public view of the dustup that happens in mature communities. At some point the “original core” of your followers may wake up to your community and declare: “Hey, this isn’t really my stomping ground anymore”.
And they may say this even when it’s not actually the case. It’s all about perception. Because even as the Comic-Con website notes: “From the beginning, the founders of the show set out to include not only the comic books they loved, but also other aspects of the popular arts that they enjoyed and felt deserved wider recognition, including films and science fiction/fantasy literature.”
Then what’s really happening?
In one word: Mitosis, which Feverbee has perfectly defined in their online community life-cycle.
What is Mitosis exactly? It’s the lifecycle phase of an online community that happens after maturity. It’s when the community is almost entirely self-sustaining, but becomes so large that it starts reforming around sub-groups.
Not all communities advance to mitosis, and if it does occur, it can take a while. If you look at Comic-Con, the growth into these sub-groups has been happening for some time. Certainly, the original focus started with comics, but now other popular arts have developed equal stature. In in some cases they’ve even surpassed comics.
As we see from some views inside the comic debate, mitosis can be scary. People may feel betrayed or fight against the change. Perhaps they’ll simply complain about the change, or maybe they’ll take an active stance to stunt growth or block change.
So what do you do if you find your community community in a similar circumstance? We have four pieces of advice for the community manager who finds that their community is in the mitosis phase.
1. Embrace change.
As a community manager, you probably already know this, but it never hurts to repeat it: some people just rail against change for no reason other than because it’s new. It can be something as simple as a font change or something as big as a large community being split into smaller, distinct communities. Big or small, they hate anything new. Don’t take this personally.
One tactic to overcome these concerns is to communicate clearly about any changes occurring. Plainly explain why they are happening. You’ll find that the majority of your followers will be on your side. Focus on those people and continue moving forward. Don’t waste precious energy on those who will never be satisfied, but don’t fear over-communicating. You cannot underestimate how much people appreciate transparency and to feel like they’re part of the process.
2. Be available and present.
Focus on making the transition to these smaller sub-groups as smooth and transparent as possible. Sure, in many cases they’ll form organically, but you still have a responsibility to build links to the overall structure. Be available for questions and support, and be ready to listen.
It’s tough, but you must try your best to balance accommodation while staying within your overall community strategy.
3. Identify and Train.
What if Comic-Con rejected everything else and stayed solely focused on comic books? It would not be the event we know today. It would probably still be popular, but much more niche and insular. The team at Comic-Con was smart; they recognized areas of interest within their community and worked to enlarge them. If your community experiences the same, don’t take a backseat. Be actively involved.
As a community manager, part of your role is to identify leaders in the new sub-groups and work to train these heralds of change. Maybe they are employees of your company, future employees or even just very involved volunteers. Whoever they are, you want to make sure they feel empowered.
At the same time, you have to make sure that your communication is so clear that your overall strategy stays consistent and coherent. Regular meetings and precisely defined SMART goals are an important part of this. The key is to be closely involved with the leadership of these new sub-groups, so they feel part of the larger collective.
4. Seek Support and Allies.
This is most essential: realize you are not alone. No matter what your community is, there are stakeholders involved, and sharing the burden of this change will be crucial for your sanity and success.
So how can others help?
- They can speak up as another voice to explain the changes on various channels (both public and private).
- They can assist in the formation of sub-group leadership or become liaisons between new sub-groups and the larger community.
- They can help you identify or quell problematic issues before they get blown out of proportion.
So in short: do not feel you need to go it alone. Ask for help. Most people are eager to do so, but won’t know you need it unless you ask.
Have you had a community go through the mitosis stage? What tips did you find helpful in your case?