What’s the biggest mistake a community manager can make?


image coutesy of shutterstock

image coutesy of shutterstock

We’ve put the question to leading community managers across the world, and they have outlined the classic community clangers that we should all avoid.

Lack of engagement

Toby Metcalfe, Community Manager and Social Networker, is straight to the point on this: “The big mistake is to not be engaged - to have a forum and not be interacting with those in the community. Not listening to the community: building in features for your product, service, site, or forum. Not being honest.”

Game producer, Frank van Gemeren, agrees: “Having a CM who doesn’t post anything. When I asked the Forum Manager for a reason, it was ‘She’s reading and knows everything, she’s just too busy to post’. My reply was: ‘Why have her name listed as CM then anyway?’”.

Christoph Geissler, Podcast Author and Senior Forum Moderator agrees: “No communication = worst communication possible.

“I always had the impression that a community manager [or] moderator is meant to communicate with the people - I mean it’s probably the most important part of their duty.

“Saying ‘I’m currently busy, but I’ll get back to you later’ is, in my opinion, better than just saying ‘I’m busy so I won’t reply’.”

Lack of discipline and communication

Antonio King, Virtual World Community Manager agrees with Toby and adds “Inconsistency in discipline (can sort of fall under impartiality)” and “obliviousness to subtle community signs”.

By far the most cited error, was a lack of communication. Communication, explains Senior Moderator Christoph Geissler, is absolutely vital.

“As soon as the community get’s the impression that you’re just a press release-posting bot with no personality whatsoever, your reputation (which also means your success in maintaining and expanding your community) is doomed.

“In other words: Communities want to talk with persons, instead of bots.”

Not supporting moderators

Sue John, Online Community Manager at BritishExpats.com cautions that moderators must be supported.

“A community needs to know that its CM is behind the moderators and supports them. On occasion I’ve had a mod make a decision that I didn’t agree with but I’ve supported them publicly and then we’ve discussed the issue behind the scenes.

“I’ve haven’t had one make a really bad error in judgment yet, but as with most things in life we don’t always see eye to eye. However, I always listened to their comments, suggestions and feedback, because they are on the front lines and happy mods help make a happy community.”

Making unexpected changes

Betty Ray, Community Manager at Edutopia - The George Lucas Educational Foundation comes back to the message of communication: “One of the worst ones in my experience is rolling out a giant change in your product without warning the community first. (Nowadays, we don’t just warm people, but get their feedback on the decision in the first place!)”

“Would very much echo what Betty Ray said,” says Chris Deary, Community Manager at Gurgle.com.

“Not communicating upcoming changes is disastrous. There’s a common assumption that communities will love new tools and platforms just because they’re more up to date (which usually means trying to mimic Facebook), but most users are stuck in their ways and hate change. One of the things I’ve learnt is to make sure users have at least some involvement in the process of change, and ideally your most loyal users should be heavily involved. “


“Inattention to building the vision/purpose of the community. Inattention to building relationships amongst the members. Inattention to enabling the free flow of information amongst the members and from outside membership.

“Every problem of a community can be traced back to these three simple community management principles,” believes Lisa Belsito from Austin.

Do you agree? What have we missed from our list?


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  1. J:

    Absolutely spot on!

    I will also add that I’ve seen many a CM get so involved in the day-to-day moderating that they become jaded and/or are looked at as the police, rather than a leader or advocate for the community.

    If you have moderators, let *them* handle the little things. Build and save your community goodwill for when you have to announce something you know the community is going to be less-than-pleased with! (And that building can only happen with interaction.. goodwill is earned by positive participation.)

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