Editor’s Note: We thank Matt Cromwell and the Advance WordPress admin group for this blog contribution.
Being a web developer or a designer (or both) can be stand-alone job for some individuals. Even if you work in an office environment, you’re probably the only one in your department that does what you do. That’s why so many people look for interaction and a sense of community online in groups like the Advanced WordPress Facebook group. We currently have over 7,400 members in the group. We cover a wide range of topics related to WordPress. The skill-set of the active members is also very diversified. There are professional bloggers, next to beginning developers, next to Drupal pros just getting the hang of WordPress, next to Enterprise-level developers.
Such a large variety of members, and such a large membership requires a lot of admins to moderate conversations, approve new members, and delete and block spammers. Advance WordPress (AWP) is really fortunate to have 21 admins who are top-notch developers in their own right. They work overtime doing what they do best and still take time out of their busy days to volunteer and keep the group running well. This post would not have been possible without the help of all the AWP admins.
A small start is a good start
AWP was founded by Michael Bastos in San Diego, CA. Bastos recognized the need—in the broader WP community—for a deeper conversation about the more nuanced WordPress related questions. He started by creating the AWP Facebook group and inviting highly skilled developers that he knew well. He also felt that having a strong face-to-face connection would help bolster the strength and content of the group itself. So not long after starting the FB group, he started the San Diego AWP Meetup.
During the early days of the formation of these two groups, AWP experienced a steady trickle of growth. There were numerous articles in WP-centric blogs that gave the group, the much needed exposure. Very soon, the group grew from a couple of active members to several hundred ones. Several members of the FB group also spoke and attended WordCamp events and made connections with other WordPress developers and invited them to the group.
Open Source Leadership
Throughout that growth, Bastos continually added new admins to both. He strongly believed that delegating authority to concerned personnel and getting volunteers to invest in both groups was instrumental. Even with 21 admins today, you almost would never notice it in the group because of how “hands off” the admin approach is in the group. That’s a reflection of Bastos’ early approach, kind of like an “Open Source Leadership” model.
During the early 2013, there was suddenly a flood of new membership requests. Facebook has three levels of group privacy: Open (all posts are public and viewable by your extended friends), Closed (posts are limited to the group and you can only see the posts if you are a member), and Private (no one can find the group or see the posts except those in the group). At that time, AWP was an “Open” group, so approving members wasn’t really a major concern since everyone could see the posts anyway. But approving members also allows you to ban them, and in order to keep spam out, it was important to ban fake accounts (or the random real person who just didn’t get it).
This giant influx of members necessitated the growth of our admins as well. To be honest, this was when we added our first women as admins. In retrospect that seems outlandish, but it’s also a reflection of our demographic. But even that has changed over time, for the better.
So, how does this Open Source Leadership work?
With all that growth and new admins, there are a few things that we feel have been instrumental in maintaining this particular group in terms of its ethos and usefulness for the greater WP community. We polled the admins and following are some of their thoughts on practices we followed that made this work well even today:
- We have a hands-off approach to admin, even though the number is huge as compared to others.
- We created a “Secret” group for the admins, so we can discuss what’s going on within the group and how we should respond. We brainstormed this whole idea in that group as well.
- As Admins, we tried to only step in when there are problems.
- We continue to get good mentions in popular websites like WPTavern, Torque, ManageWP.org and others (without really seeking the coverage at all).
- We post live Google Hangouts On Air links to our local San Diego Meetup. This way, the global membership of AWP can “be there”.
- We’ve got some great sponsorship for our local SD Meetup to support AWP better. Companies have hosts our website for free (which is still under construction) and our audio and video equipment. The equipment has really helped us out in live streaming a good quality Hangout of the Meetup.
- We also tried to contribute advanced material in order to propagate what we think is the best reflection of the group.
- We recently started “pinning” threads that we felt were more “Advanced” in content to encourage using advanced posts within our community.
- Facebook Groups are really a bit limiting in terms of file sharing and searchability. It really needs improvement. But we try to maintain some “Files” in the group and refer people to them for questions that crop up frequently. Specifically, questions about the best website host, best security plugin, best slider, etc. Some groups get overrun by posts like that, so we try to minimize them by referring people there immediately.
Listen to your community
Probably the strongest example of how we, as Admins, guided the group through a rough time was when we were building our website. We found a great tool that would automatically post threads from the group to the website. We thought it was great. But many in the group didn’t realize just how public an “Open” group really is. That realization opened a can of worms for a lot of people. Suddenly there were several threads each with hundreds of comments on them, raising questions about whether it was ethical of us to post the threads on a website. Truth be told, the threads were far more likely to be read on Facebook itself than they were on our website at that time.
Still, it was an important question. We pinned a post asking the group if they would prefer it to be a “Closed” group. There were positives and negatives to both sides. Some really liked that their extended friends saw their activity in the group. They also thought their current and potential clients might see their contribution and that would bolster their reputation with them. Overall though, it seemed that the majority of members felt safer asking questions and discussing their work with the knowledge that it wouldn’t go beyond the group.
Overall, if you will ask each active contributor to AWP or admin of AWP whether the group has enhanced its business and network of friends and developers, there would probably not be a single “no.” Many find it to be an invaluable resource that is part and parcel of how they learn more about coding and WordPress in general, as well as hearing about the latest plugin releases and news in general. We love AWP, we’re proud of it, and we’re looking forward to seeing it mature and ripen over the next years.