Why do members have to apply to join the Offbeat Bride Tribe?

Updated Oct 12 2015 (Posted Jul 9 2013)
Guest post by Kirsten Hansen

tribe join

The process of joining an internet community or site in general varies greatly across the internet and it is something that we constantly renegotiate on the Offbeat Bride Tribe. As a Community Manager, the decisions around this are actually really important to me and something that I think is highly important to consider when you choose to own or seek to build a community, be it on a blog, through social media like Facebook or Twitter, through a forum, or through a community site running BuddyPress or Ning. The process of how members join the community has a big impact on your users and the community itself.

The choices we've made (and they've changed over the years) are influenced by the purpose of the Tribe. The purpose is to provide a private community for people who are currently planning a wedding that is somehow outside the expected. The wedding may be way offbeat, it may be almost completely traditional. But the community itself is built around respecting and questioning the traditional Wedding Industrial Complex. Our members thus have a space that is protected to rant about family, ask tough questions about hiring vendors, philosophize about the craziness, and share photos they might not otherwise put on the internet.

Right now, while anyone can comment on the Offbeat Bride blog, if they want to become a member of the Offbeat Bride Tribe, they have to submit an application which becomes their Tribe profile. Because it is going to become a profile, we have some specific questions we ask, and we require that many of them be answered. Then, a real live person reads every single application and makes the decision about whether or not to approve each member.

But what does that mean? Here's a breakdown of our application requirements and what they really mean for our community:

  1. There is an application. We have heard from some prospective members that the prospect of having to apply to join the Tribe is a deterrent. Here's my perspective: From the very start, we are filtering potential members by having an application process. Unlike the blogs, you can't just go comment and read everything. Yes, it's awesome to have a large pool of members (the Tribe is over 8000 now), both for the good of the Tribe and the good of the business. But on the flip side, if all our members posted one piece of new content a day, that's more than our small little team of moderators could handle and more than our servers could cope with too. We are not looking to have ALL THE MEMBERZ. Restricting membership works for us on a basic usability level. See this post for more info: Small, focused, and yes, exclusionary community sites flourish.
  2. Anyone who does not fill out the application gets declined. We both want to know a bit about our members and want to avoid spammers, trolls, etc in the community. While some sites are built to expect some level of random interaction or irritation from internet waste, in our small community we choose to moderate and so need to keep that load as low as possible by pre-filtering problems. This means that not only do we need the application filled out, we need it filled out with more than random letters or two words. This occasionally means that potential members are denied because they didn't provide enough information — but members who are really interested reach out to us, and apply again with a thoroughly filled out form.
  3. We limit our members down to specific characteristics. And no, for the 500th time, "Offbeat-ness" isn't one of those characteristics. The only requirements are that members need to be actively planning some form of wedding in the next three years. So to unpack that a bit in terms of who we are targeting, we want members who are the most likely to be involved and active. Because it is a private space, we want to give members a chance to be more open than they could elsewhere. We say 3 years because it helps us limit members who probably are really just window shopping and are unlikely to contribute positively while being more likely to add to marginal content or moderation load. As a wedding planning community, the Tribe is not there for a dream wedding, it's there for the nitty gritty reality.
  4. Businesses cannot access our members (except through advertising). We know that the Tribe may look like the best place to find potential clients or do market research. And it probably would be. We don't sell that kind of information, though. We also don't give it away for free because, let's be honest, the Empire is a business. If our vendors didn't need to pay for advertising, we wouldn't be able to support the staff or the sites and there wouldn't be an Empire. There's also the issue of the Tribe being a private community. No member wants to express private concerns or issues and have their officiant comment. Likewise, vendors just shouldn't see some things their clients are saying — about them or other things.

We always run into exceptions or grey areas (members who are also vendors come to mind!) and we are constantly reevaluating. The Tribe started out really open, tightened up because of moderation issues, got even tighter, and has since loosened up somewhat. It's an ongoing negotiation to find the right mix of having new and active members without letting it get too big to handle.

Even MORE info about how we approve apps: The mysteries of the Offbeat Bride Tribe member application explained

  1. When I was planning my wedding I was so happy that the tribe was a private community.
    I could share ideas without worrying about ruining the "surprises" that I wanted to share with our guests.
    I could vent a little, knowing that my real life friends and family couldn't see it.
    I think because of the memberships the active members really invest their time in it and I feel like I made some real Internet friends who were honestly interested in how my wedding planning was going 🙂 and not just user number 67546843 like you feel on some other forums

  2. I really appreciate the privacy provided by the membership. It's been useful to have a place to plan out wedding-related secrets without worry about someone stumbling across a secret blog.

  3. Maybe this is the wrong place to ask this, but it got me thinking about the forum that was going to happen for Offbeat Home but hasn't (and I totally support all the reasons you gave for that not being a thing-that-exists-right-now).

    I am not planning a wedding, so the tribe is not for me (though I did find it helpful when I was). But I was very much so looking forward to the Offbeat Home equivalent. Now that it's not happening, I want to know: where do people go for internet-community? I feel like this is my niche and these could be my people but there isn't an easy way to develop that sense of belonging in such a limited space. I'm not asking Ariel or anyone else to create one around OBH&L or OBF, but does anyone have suggestions of places to find like minded souls? I was a big fan of punkrockdomestics.com and indiebride.com but I feel like I've moved on from those spaces for various reasons.

    • I feel like this is my niche and these could be my people…

      If that's the case, then stick around and make the most of the community-building options we've got. Have you ever submitted a guest post? Have you submitted an advice question? Do you comment regularly? These are all ways to develop a sense of belonging in our community.

  4. It sounds like a wonderful place from here on the outside . . . almost makes me wish I was planning to have a wedding so I could get in on all the Tribe goodness. 😉

  5. As far as members who are also vendors, I have a question: I have a small Etsy shop that I've been thinking about advertising through offbeat for a while now, but so far I haven't partially because I'd really like to join the tribe sometime in the future if/when I get engaged. How do you guys handle situations where former vendors apply to the tribe? I would obviously be applying as myself, and not my shop.

    • If you don't mention that you're a vendor, link your shop, or talk about your biz at all in your application, then joining is totally not a problem. 🙂

  6. I love the tribe as a safe place. instead of wedding ranting or talking about ideas and surprized that are still developing on facebook where the inlaws or friends can be horrified or rip my ideas to shreds they can gradually develop with positive encouragement from others and without the fear that MIL or even bridesmaids can hear my current gripes or be shocked that I want a commitment ceremony with a full indoor garden, fairy lights, cello guys music, borrow my local orchestra and have an afternoon tea potluck reception that is booze free and vegetarian all at a caravan park. Ok I know its not offbeat like champagne peeing unicorns but my inlaws are still horrified.

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