My Identity in Community

I am participating in the Baixing community heavily, but not using my own identity – the CEO of the company. I am trying to build the community feeling from a normal community member. I am struggling in my thoughts whether I should use an ID like jianshuo in community, and let people know that I am the person (CEO) of the site, and the person to contact if they find anything wrong.

I wrote about the Real Human’s Voice Behind the Internet (Chinese) more than 4 years ago. I was basically arguing the current Internet is full of people with real identity. “No one knows you are a dog on Internet” is no longer cool. People need human voice behind each website. I am obvious a good candidate for that human voice. Should I jump out and tell people that the person’s identity who post most reply in the community, and doing customer service work?

I am planning to do it gradually in the next few weeks. What is your thoughts?

20 thoughts on “My Identity in Community

  1. one

    don’t do it. knowing that you are the CEO, people will keep bugging you and start complaining when you stop replying them.

  2. one

    once people know you are actually the CEO, they will start developing this “customer service metality”…they will take you for granted and become spoilt.

  3. Graham

    It seems like this post may have already outed you, if people already know who is the most frequent poster…

  4. M8

    just check the M8 (the Meizu phone) forum which their CEO J.W. show up very often.

    do you want be someone like him?

  5. shan

    hmm, I would be mored worried that you will become the next Whole Foods CEO. See http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/12/whole-foods-ceo-posted-online-attacks-about-wild-oats/. I am sure your posts on Baixing as a regular community member are valuable and harmless, but it misleads other community members nonetheless.

    A simple example: I log onto Baixing and see that X posts a lot and is a very active member. If I think X is a regular community member, then I might deduce that X derives a lot of value out of Baixing and that is why s/he posts a lot. However, if I knew that X is the company CEO, then I will not draw the same conclusion. Of course X would contribute a lot. S/he is the company CEO.

    My gut reaction is that posting anonymously is not being very honest. Even if what you contribute to Baixing is good solid information, why do you need to do it hiding behind a curtain? And if you are trying to create the sense of community, then posting a lot as the anonymous CEO can even be seen as creating a fake community.

    Sorry if I am being overly critical of your anonymous identity on Baixing. I don’t know a lot of things about Baixing (how big is the community, what kinds of things you actually post, the ratio of your posts to those made by other members).

    I think telling people your real identity (or starting a new profile with a username like jianshuo) is a good idea toward a transparent, honest, and do-good company. I encourage you to go that route.

  6. shan

    hmm, I would be mored worried that as an anonymous contributor (but really the CEO), you will become the next Whole Foods CEO. I am sure your posts on Baixing as a regular community member are valuable and harmless, but it misleads other community members nonetheless.

    A simple example: I log onto Baixing and see that X posts a lot and is a very active member. If I think X is a regular community member, then I might deduce that X derives a lot of value out of Baixing and that is why s/he posts a lot. However, if I knew that X is the company CEO, then I will not draw the same conclusion. Of course X would contribute a lot. S/he is the company CEO.

    My gut reaction is that posting anonymously is not being very honest. Even if what you contribute to Baixing is good solid information, why do you need to do it hiding behind a curtain? And if you are trying to create the sense of community, then posting a lot as the anonymous CEO can even be seen as creating a fake community.

    Sorry if I am being overly critical of your anonymous identity on Baixing. I don’t know a lot of things about Baixing (how big is the community, what kinds of things you actually post, the ratio of your posts to those made by other members).

    I think telling people your real identity (or starting a new profile with a username like jianshuo) is a good idea toward a transparent, honest, and do-good company. I encourage you to go that route.

  7. shan

    I tried to follow up with a link to a New York Times blog about the Whole Foods CEO and his online anonymous persona, but I think your comment moderation kicks in whenever comments include links. You can google “whole foods Rahodeb” to read more. The second search result is the original New York Times article.

  8. Adam

    Totally agree with “one”‘s comments. Not a good idea.

    Though it might bring some more traffic to Baixin due to celebrity effect. But IMHO, the increase will be very limited until you become a star in the entertainment industry. And I don’t think you would have the interest to enroll yourself in those “Super Girls / Jia You, Good Boys” contests.

  9. Jian Shuo Wang

    Thanks for the feedback, from both sides. Let me share some more background to this discussion.

    Currently, I am identified as a Baixing employee. I reply about 100 post everyday, basically doing customer service work, like help people to recover password, explain why their account was suspended, handle reports about bad ads, and response to suggestions. That is very tough job to do. But I believe that is one of the most important thing a CEO can do – to be as intimate to their users as possible – you get the use need and pulse of the community by first hand interaction, not just by numbers, and reports. Involving in a community also helps to form opinions that is aligned with what the community want, not the company want.

    There are decision for me to make is whether I should actively identify myself as CEO of the company, or I just keep the current situation, when users think I am a customer service guy. The problem with customer service identity is, there is lack of personality, and lack of personal connection, which is very key to a community. Calling a friend of a company, and calling a call center is completely two different feeling – when everyone in a call center is identified by a staff number, they are treated as a smart robot. I hear the message many times: “I want to talk to your manager…”

    About “customer service mentality” @one mentioned, it is actually the CURRENT problem. They take it for granted that they deserve customer service, but a community is all about a lot of people gathering around a site for mutual benefit. No one asked for “customer service” on this blog, right? I want to turn the customer vs customer service mentality, to community member vs community member type of feeling.

    @Graham, I am not hiding my identity, and I feel comfortable for people to know it. It is just about whether to let people know pro-actively or not.

    Think about this blog. If it is named Shanghaiblog.com, and you never know who is behind it, what type of community will it be?

    I actually already tend to be part of this community with my name (jianshuo), and title (when it is needed and if appropriate). It is a huge personal commitment to the community – you always need to be accessible, but I think it is good for that community.

  10. Jian Shuo Wang

    @Adam, it is nothing to do with ME. It is about the personal voice of a website, no matter who is running it. I am just thinking about it from a community building perspective. It does not matter what the ID is. You can call it “SmallCat”, but still, when everyone recognize it as someone who can make decisions, care about their issues, and hear what they have to say, and response to them within 30 minutes everyday, the community is very different, I GUESS.

  11. shan

    Thanks for the explanation Jianshuo! That makes a lot more sense, and I apologize for having been so harsh earlier without knowing all of the information.

    I would still advocate for you to reveal yourself as the CEO. It is very tough to be in the organizer position, and it is in people’s natures to feel entitled to service. That’s true at your successful company; that’s true for a party or a trip that I organize for fellow students. I think revealing yourself as the CEO would create two extremes:

    1) The people who are upset now, talking to you the customer service, will be even more upset talking to you the CEO because they will think “what kind of a CEO are you if you can’t even do this for me.”

    2) The people who are satisfied with their customer service will be greatly surprised and very very happy knowing that the CEO of the company personally helped them solve the problem.

    Those of situation (1) are not worth feeling bad about. There are just impossible people who will always feel entitled to more service, no matter how illogical. For me, I just shake my head and move on in these case. Those people in situation (2) however will greatly change their opinion of the company for the better and really feel a closer connection to the company. Wow, the CEO 一点不扛架子, 和百姓们共同生活。 Such is the point of the Baixing community, no? :)

    For me, the benefits of (2) greatly outweigh (1), not to mention you’re unlikely to satisfy the people in (1) anyway as a regular customer service person.

    My 2 cents, and promise i’ll shut up now :)

  12. Adam

    @ Jian Shuo

    Having re-read your post, new comments & links, I modify my comment:

    It could be a good try by injecting more humanity into machinery. But I still don’t suggest you appear on it as CEO Wang Jian Shuo. Just to apply this conversion on your staff will be fine.

  13. GN

    Tell them you are the CEO if they ask for a “manager”. It’ll be fun… and hopefully that they were not too upset of anything.

    I do think it’s a great idea to let the community know that the CEO is with them… but make sure before you do it that you know you are making a commitment. It’s great that people feel that they can reach the CEO “directly”… but after you set the stage… it may not be so “cool” if you can’t keep it up. I think if you set the expectations right up front, it should work for your and the community’s benefit.

    I won’t worry too much about what’s going on with the Whole Food CEO. I don’t know the details… but I sense there is more than just what he said about the other company before he bought it etc. This guy is out there openly opposing Obama’s health care plan… and the New York Times is a big supporter of Obama… so I won’t take anybody’s side too quickly on this one. It is actually very disappointing that American medias are taking sides more obviously since this president took office… that’s a different story.

  14. Jian Shuo Wang

    Thanks again for everyone’s feedback. Let me further explain the situation.

    Unlike most business, classified itself is a strong community business. Community business is, at its core, all about people. It is not like CEO of a manufacturing company joining into customer forum. Community itself is built around personal connection. It is all about a group of people and their interaction. If it was not a community business, it actually does not matter too much, but in a community, that is crucial. You cannot imagine a community without some identifiable key person, just like a Craigslist without craig, an eBay without Pierre (or later Griff)…

  15. Mary

    Perhaps the most famous CEO ever is: Virgin Group Chairman: Richard Branson. At the beginning he did not know how to promote his company, make his company memorable and visible. Someone said that he should use…his face. It works quite well: we know the face and the company:) Just a thought.

  16. GN

    Well, the bottom line is… it is your business… you should be able to operate the way you envision it… I don’t think there is a rule. A face, an operating style… these are all in your hands. Donald Trump is out there no matter what you think about his hair style… he’s not going to change it… for nobody.

    I don’t know how much Craig is out there in the community of Craigslist… though I do check that site sometimes… but as an end user, I don’t see the difference between if he is available or not. The only time I got to “know” about him was when Craigslist ran into trouble (the killings) some weeks ago… and he had to come out and make statements… guess I am just not a typical user.

    But in general, CEO does represent more liabilities… it is true that it is a community but it is also true that it is a business.

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