The Anatomy of a Group
The special kind of dedication, spirit and discipline devoted to the assembly and construction of a successful Group within the vast technicolor ocean of artworks, artists and art appreciators that is deviantART might very well be the experiential epitome of what it is to be a part of the deviantART journey. From the very first conception, through the ten thousandth practical step, ^alltheoriginalnames and his cadre of steadfast partners in artful curation have built a virtual sanctuary of the fantastical— #Realm-of-Fantasy. Housing the largest and most significant collection of exceptional fantasy art in the world in every genre, they are among the most magnificent shipbuilders of the highest order navigating the waters of deviantART while inviting all of us to sail with them.
Groups on deviantART build community in a multitude of incredibly unique configurations. With both tiered content and tiered involvement at play it never ceases to amaze me all of the ways in which the Groups platform is utilized by all of us. Whether a founder, mod, blog writer, participant or appreciator there is nothing quite like discovering a well organized and managed Group laser focused on just your favorite medium, artist, world, or subject matter. Sure, Groups Platform is line for some major improvements based on the frequent comments that come through HQ but it still produces a home for everything from private clubs to vast niche audiences.
Many of us, myself included, have struggled to divine and then apply the nuts and bolts and dedication necessary to build a successful Group. One of the writing partners with whom I have built many worlds over the years #F09 have been so inspired by their success with #Realm-of-Fantasy. The hope is that this interview will help all of us manage our Groups in a more efficient and rewarding way within the community. No matter the subject, occasion, fandom, story, or artistic genre you have chosen to build a Group around, ^alltheoriginalnames has given us a rich blueprint in which to follow. I learned a lot from this interview and I hope that you do too.
We will be featuring many more Groups in profile next year. Please let me know the Groups you feel that I should be featuring.
There are a lot of deviants who try to setup a Group around their favorite obsession every year. What can you tell them about the hard work and ongoing headaches of running a successful deviantART Group like #Realm-of-Fantasy that might dissuade but also inspire those considering taking on such an endeavor?
Running a Group is a very fun and rewarding experience; but it takes time, patience, dedication and a strong passion for the Group's subject and focus. Some of these key factors will lay the very foundation for a Group. Without a strong foundation, the structure will crumble and the Group may falter. Many new Groups have given up before they get off the ground do to no member activity , while some other more established Groups that have gone dormant do to Moderator inactivity. I have found that one must nurture and cultivate a Group before it can become a living breathing community. Develop a system, and learn the Group format inside and out, front to back. Learn, adapt and grow. And don't be afraid to show your passion, and give your Group a soul.
Running a large high traffic Group such as #Realm-of-Fantasy does take a lot of work. With hundreds of deviations submitted to the Group daily, countless message correspondences and notes incoming, and constant gallery maintenance it can be a handful. In the past we have had some new Group Mods step down after just one day because they can get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages, it can wreak havoc on ones inbox lol. The difference between a small Group and a large one is comparable to the difference between a quiet suburbia and a busy metropolitan area. Very fast paced, with tons of people. Both exciting and busy, but no rest for the wicked.
How much of what the admins do at #Realm-of-Fantasy is a labor of love and a real joy (like perusing all the incoming fantasy artworks) and what is the grueling part (like checking/explaining credits, answering complainants)? Does the joy part outweigh the hard work part?
It depends on the day and who you ask lol. All joking aside one of the most rewarding aspects of being an admin at #Realm-of-Fantasy is being introduced to so many new artists and artwork, coupled with the joy of being able to share this artwork with others in the community. #Realm-of-Fantasy has become a nexus of Fantasy and Sci-fi related art here on deviantART, connecting Moderators and Members alike to artwork we may have not come into contact with otherwise. Not one day goes by that I do not find a new artist and artwork to fav, it is always a joy processing incoming submissions. I look forward to it every single day.
There is the more technical aspect to administrating the Group as well. We take time with each submission, and there are many things we must verify before one is accepted into the galleries. Issues can include Copyright Infringement, Validation of Resource Credits and links, Presentation etc. Answering questions, taking feedback, resolving any issues our Members may be experiencing. There is a lot of public relations involved with running a Group. Each day poses a challenge, but overcoming all those challenges is rewarding in of itself. There is nothing better than finally clearing the submission que after a long grind of processing a huge backlog on a busy day.
I do feel that the joy of working in the Group and the experience of it far outweighs the more grueling technical aspects of it.
“I can't stress enough how hard these people work, and it shows.”
What were the keys to making the site so successful? Was it constant immediate responses with membership? What were the keys to it’s success?
We first had to focus on a subject in which people had a passion for and a connection to, which in this case is artwork and Literature in the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres. Having a focus is not always going to be enough. With so many Groups on deviantART one must find a way to make a positive impact on that focus or genre to your audience. What makes your Group unique? What makes it stand out from countless other Groups with similar interests? This is a very important aspect to take into consideration when developing a Group.
Then we had to make this instantly recognizable to others by the Group name and presentation. Face recognition and presentation of it, along with a short explanation of the Group to inform people is very important. This instantly lets people know what the Group is about. Too short an explanation and people are confused and don't know what the Group is about, too long and people are bored. If people don't know what your Group is about or have to search around to figure it out, they will lose interest. So instant recognition of Groups' focus and intent is key.
We then had to develop an organized format in which to present and share this with others. Folders and Categories named simply in which people can recognize and relate to. This helps with both ease of browsing as well as submitting art. But we needed just the right amount of categories, as too many options can over complicate. We want people to get to where they are going in as fewest clicks as possible so that they may enjoy their experience.
Then comes the information. We had to establish guidelines for our Members to inform them of how to submit to the Group and any rules regarding these submissions, as well as guidelines for the Mods that process them. Let people know how they can participate. And communication is so important on all levels. We communicate with fellow Mods, and with our Members at every step of the process. Without these checks and balances in place, a Group can quickly become complete chaos.
Our Group is what it is today because of all of the talented people of whom have dedicated their time to it. I have the pleasure of working with the best Group of staff of whom freely volunteer their time to help keep this Group going. From processing a flood of submissions, to dealing with issues, they do an amazing job. I can't stress enough how hard these people work, and it shows. And the amount of dedicated Members of whom visit consistently and participate in the Group regularly is astounding. We have people that have been with us for years, and we see them every week. It's great, you feel like you actually begin to know these people. And you meet so many interesting and wonderful people, I really dig it.
Why do most of the artists in your Group submit their art? How many are professionals exhibiting their latest accomplished work? How many are up and coming artists who want their art exhibited by one of the top Groups on deviantART? How many are beginners learning their craft?
I honestly don't have the exact numbers, but I can tell you that beginners to professionals all participate in the #Realm-of-Fantasy Group. I have seen people that have posted their very first artwork to our Group, as well as those that have just finished another massive well known media project.
It is just as rewarding to see an artist take their first steps and watch them grow; as it is for a top professional in their field to submit concept art for a blockbuster movie, comic or project. #Realm-of-Fantasy incorporates a very eclectic Group of people, ranging from all skill levels, and from all over the world
What’s the best way to take care of unhappy members?
Patience and understanding. You must be able to first understand the problem, and how to deal with it. And you must have the patience to correspond with someone of whom is unhappy. Public relations is a big part of running a Group, and sooner or later you are going to run into some very unhappy people with a problem. So one must try to find a way to resolve the issue to the members satisfaction. Sometimes there is no resolution, and that can be an issue. Copyright Infringement and Resource Credits are both really big issues, and we call people on it. These are things we simply can't bend on, and some people are not happy about it.
So simply do the best you can, treat the person in a polite and respectful manor, and hope that level heads prevail. If worse comes to worse, one must simply end the correspondence. It is unfortunate, but sometimes that is the only way to deescalate a situation from degrading further.
We do have Group policies, and sometimes Members may not abide by them. When called on this some may get agitated. Just don't shoot the messenger, we're here to help lol. I have seen some of our Mods deal with a lot from people, when they are simply doing their job. And I commend them for keeping their cool under fire.
Some Members do have valid concerns, and mistakes can be made. So we take each and every issue seriously. We must keep in mind after all that this Group is for them. It is their Group, and we want them to be happy with it and have a great experience.
“If just one person discovers new art through this Group... gains exposure by being presented here... or rediscovers the Fantasy and/or Sci-fi genres; then it is all worth it.”
How important are contests and other rewards for your members?
Contests and rewards are very important to our members, but in all honesty we do not host these events as frequently as I would like. We decided that the quality of a contest is more important than the quantity of them being pushed out to the masses. We had a handful of smaller contests, and they were fun. But very early on we decided that we did not want to spam our members with too many smaller contests. So we focused on a very large scale one. Our last big contest for example was a few years ago; and for prizes it had over 20,000 points, commissions from professional artists, a Wacom Intuos tablets, and a feature spot in ImagineFX Magazine for the top 3 winners. The turnout was unbelievable, with hundreds upon hundreds of entries. It was amazing!
We had every intention of doing one big one each year, with a few smaller ones staggered throughout. But we took a year off of big contests to reGroup, as we learned a lot of things in the process. Hosting a big contest in a larger Group takes a lot of planning, resources and promotion. The contest subject is important as well, we didn't want to fall into the trap of having a contest subject that was overdone or cliched. And we want to do it right, so we are taking our time with the next one.
I can't divulge too much information at the moment, but I can tell you that we have a very large contest in the planning stages right now. The subject will be both interesting and inspiring, and the prizes are going to be amazing. I would also like for #Realm-of-Fantasy to collaborate with deviantART in an official site wide contest as well. I think that would be a great next step for our Group, and for Groups as a whole.
How would you like to see #Realm-of-Fantasy evolve in the future? Are there “dream” scenarios for sophisticated presentations and displays that you’d like to run? Into what fields would #Realm-of-Fantasy like to grow? Collaborations with others, self-produced publishing or film-making?
This Group is a constant work in progress, always striving to evolve and grow. deviantART has provided us with an amazing platform for artists and enthusiasts with similar interests and passions to connect with one another, and to help promote these artists and their work. While the Group system is already proving to be a great improvement over the older unofficial Club system we used to have, I would like to see the Group System itself grow as well. I have so many ideas on what could be expanded upon and improved in the Group system in order to better streamline the Group experience, from front page presentation of Groups to back room Group administrative tools.
I would really like to correspond and work with deviantART to help bring some of these ideas to fruition. This would definitely help run and present larger high traffic Groups such as #Realm-of-Fantasy, as well as up and comers. We have shown that large Groups like #Realm-of-Fantasy can reach the limits of the present existing Group system, and would like to see where deviantART can take us from here.
We will always be deeply firmly rooted in the deviantART community. But we do have plans in the works to expand the Realm of Fantasy beyond. Our focus will be on the creation and promotion of Fantasy and Science Fiction in every aspect of mass media. We have very specific goals set regarding the directions in which we would like to take #Realm-of-Fantasy, and without saying too much I can assure you that we intend to develop #Realm-of-Fantasy into a well respected name in the industry. #Realm-of-Fantasy on deviantART is just the beginning.
At what point in the growth of #Realm-of-Fantasy did you know you had completed the journey to becoming as a successful major self-sustaining Group on deviantART?
A journey is a great way to describe it. #Realm-of-Fantasy began as an unofficial Club account long before the deviantART Group System was established. We may not have the luxury of being on the front page of the Group Search, or a large offsite social media following, nor a sponsorship by a corporation, yet we grow. This started as a grass roots movement of Fantasy and Science Fiction Artists and enthusiasts. Connecting with one another and promoting the genres through art and literature.
If just one person discovers new art through this Group, if just one artists gains exposure by being presented here, if just one person discovers or rediscovers the Fantasy and/or Sci-fi genres; then it is all worth it. This is how I measure the success of the Group. Not by pageviews, or the amount of Members/Watchers, or the size of our galleries.
While those are great, at the end of the day it's just numbers. (although Hitting a million pageviews was a cool benchmark) It is only when I saw people interacting with one another, and discovering new art and artists, and gaining exposure that I felt that the idea behind this Group was a success. That being said, I don't feel that we have completed our journey, just at a particular stage in it. All that, and being offered an interview by $techgnotic.
I would like to thank *rackelstar #Realm-of-Fantasy's Co-Founder, of whom I have the distinct pleasure of running this Group side by side with and has been there since the beginning. While she may be more of the silent partner in #Realm-of-Fantasy in comparison to my more vocal approach in day to day operations, her input and dedication to the Group is invaluable.
I would also like to thank the Groups Admins *Isbjorg, *TheWildGrape, =iisjah, =raysheaf and ~GloriaPM. All of whom I have the pleasure of working with, some of them for years now. Their hard work and dedication knows no bounds.
And to all of the Moderators of whom have helped us along the way.
And most importantly to anyone of whom has found a home at #Realm-of-Fantasy. This Group is what it is today because of you.
Thank you deviantART, and especially to $techgnotic for this opportunity.
Quotes from the Moderators
To me Groups are so much more than just submitting artwork. It’s about inspiring, encouraging and engaging it’s members and creating a community where everyone can feel comfortable.
It’s been three years since I opened my inbox to find a notice from #Realm-of-Fantasy searching for new mods. I was both surprised and honored when I found out that I had been chosen. It’s not a “job” to me at all but a fun way to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day voting in the Group and just taking a moment while forgetting about real real life problems. There is an incredibly friendly atmosphere cultivated by the mods which is one of the defining aspects of #Realm-of-Fantasy. We are one of the few Groups on deviantART that sends a note to every artist that is declined with an explanation and feedback. I am very happy being a mod at #Realm-of-Fantasy.
I suppose it’s no secret that fantasy-related works make up a large part of pieces around DeviantArt. So even before becoming a moderator I appreciated the fact that ‘Realm-of-Fantasy’ actually brings most of these works together in one place.
At the same time it’s not just a ‘dump for everything’ or – the opposite – some ‘elitist’ picky Group. It truly is a gallery that does it’s best to have a wide range of techniques, talents and levels of skill, with only (and quite logical) restrictions towards the content and the presentation. With rules in place that are simple and and reasonable so that it’s not that hard to be a moderator one can really enjoy managing the Group on a daily basis.
And, I guess, the best indication that it works is that even when a members work is rejected they do not leave immediately with a door-bang, but take the sensible and constructive criticism and correct their small flaws. So that when I click ‘yes’ on their next submission I know my job is done.
Being a moderator for year and a half in Realm of Fantasy was and still is a great experience. During this time the Group has grown from 25,000 to 35,000 members and watchers. It is a real net of it's own within a social network. Being connected with so many affiliated smaller Groups and with such massive potential for new members the Group wields a positive influence throughout the DA community. From pure novices up to established artists, veteran cover designers and illustrators, professionals from the gaming industry, etc. people consider it prestigious to have their works presented in our very rich galleries. This makes me very proud and this is exactly what our work as ROF staff is geared towards - to bring all of this wonderful art to everyone and to popularize these works in the best presentation possible.
It is very fulfilling being able to help our very young members move past beginners mistakes, to learn how to better evaluate their own art from our feedback and critique and enjoy the play of imagination as it relates to what art truly is. Our "Tutorials" gallery section is full of useful information and shared experiences to facilitate this.
Having been Moderating #Realm-of-Fantasy for quite along time was and still is such a fantastic experience. Helping so many deviants in the community from beginner to professional level get recognition for their work and inspiring artists to create even more incredible pieces week in and week out really makes me appreciate what we are doing here at #Realm-of-Fantasy (All the artwork makes me feel inspired too!) And with a really friendly atmosphere and so many nice helpful people, it's an absolute pleasure to be an integral part of keeping things up and running at this level excellence.
How many Groups (and which ones) are you either participating in, working with directly, watching avidly or lurking over?
If you had to recommend just one or two Groups, which ones would they be and why?
If you could get tiny elves to make a Group you would love but we don't seem to have yet on deviantART, what would you have them cover in terms of subjects and what would you have them build?
Do Groups ever make you run the other way so you can continue to be an iconoclast non-joiner? Are you like Groucho Marx who said: "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."