I tend not to look at other online communities as my competitors. I mean, in one sense, they are. We are all competing for someone’s time (community or not). But, in another sense, it doesn’t really matter. Online communities are very different from one another. They are all like their own countries, with their own culture. Different people gravitate toward different ones.
If I looked at other online communities as my competitors, then I help them every day. I helped them when I wrote my book. I help them when I speak at a conference or when I write a blog post here where I offer advice that they can take and use against me. But, I don’t look at it like that. I don’t feel that I am harming myself by being as honest and open as I am about this profession. Though, if you told me that I was, you wouldn’t be the first person to do so.
I have blocked certain communities and websites from being mentioned on my communities. However, despite what the owners of those sites might tell others, the reasons those sites were blocked is never because they were “competing.” It was because they spammed our community or tried to harm it in some other way. If you send private message spam to 50 members and I find out, you’ll be blocked. If you encourage your members to come to our forums and be disruptive, you’ll be blocked. You’ll never be blocked simply for “competing.”
Instead, I am always open to building a relationship with someone who runs a community that matches with the topic of mine. For example, I run KarateForums.com, a large and successful martial arts community. Bob Hubbard, who runs MartialTalk.com, is an acquaintance of mine. It launched a couple of months after KarateForums.com, I believe. MartialTalk.com is very successful and is larger than my community, size wise. Which is a fact that I am totally cool with and happy for Bob.
Some people would expect that I dislike Bob or MartialTalk.com, but I don’t. Bob’s never spammed me. Bob’s never harmed my community. Bob’s never tried to treat me in an unethical way or be disrespectful toward me. So, why would I dislike him? Just because he runs a similar community? That’s limited, insecure thinking and it can be harmful.
To the contrary, Bob has a great deal of community management experience, having run MartialTalk.com for 11 years, from day 1 to over 1.5 million posts. I learn from everyone, including Bob, and I’m sure he’s learned from me. We have mutual respect for one another. If you asked us separately, I imagine that we would have different, though very similar goals for our respective sites. Judging from the MartialTalk.com forum rules, we likely approach our policies and moderation in a similar way, too.
I believe it can be beneficial for the communities and for me and Bob, too. A rising ride lifts all boats, as the old saying goes. Plus, there is a professional courtesy. If Bob ever caught anyone affiliated with me spamming his site, I’d deal with them very directly. If I had someone come over to my site and start complaining about how Bob manages his site, I’d remove it (I do that for every community, though, not just Bob’s – our community isn’t a complaint board for other communities). I expect he’d do the same for me.
In addition, Bob and I can always compare notes, when it may be helpful. If there is a member that is causing one of us trouble, for example, that may already have caused the other one of us some trouble. The other day we discussed this community that exists in our space that would prefer neither of us exist, has planned “forum invasions” (sad, I know) and said really nasty things about us and/or our communities. There is nothing strategic about that, necessarily, but it is interesting to learn of that commonality and there is value for us personally.
Despite the temptation or even pressure to do otherwise, I believe that you will be better served, long term, by building good, mutually respectful relationships with other people who manage communities for the audience that you exist, at least partially, to serve. When it comes down to it, we’re all just doing the work.