Archive for the ‘Holly Seddon’ Category.

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 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

“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?

Why every online community needs a suicide policy

by net_efekt

by net_efekt

My husband’s been reading John T Cacioppo’s Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection and as usual when he’s enthralled by something, I’ve heard about it at great length.

While I have yet to read it (I’m too cheap to buy a second copy instead of waiting for his) it has made me think a lot about loneliness and online communities at Christmas.

For some people, through physical and perceived isolation, online communities and social networks are a main or even sole route of social interaction.

Detailed 2004 research by Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, at the University of Zurich found that suicide rates actually decline dramatically in the run up to Christmas Day - Christmas Eve has the lowest suicide rate for the whole year.

The trouble starts after Christmas, suicide rates increase dramatically, with a peak in early January.

So it’s important to know what the realistic risks are, and when, before putting any plans in place.

Any seasonal suicide sensitivity needs to continue into the New Year, and your process for dealing with a suicide threat needs to be written and ready all year round.

No-one wants to write a will and it’s no different as a community, no-one relishes writing a suicide policy. But every community needs one, even the happiest, most sunny side up communities.


  1. Every community needs to be supportive, not just support communities.
  2. Every community contains people. Where there are people, there is unpredictable behaviour.

Several professions are at particularly heightened risk of depression and suicide, and consequently even a professional community aimed at sharing knowledge and best practise could be a platform for lonely, isolated people.

On one of our communities, which is mainly a place to discuss health and beauty, sometimes life gets in the way. During a product trial, a happy-go-lucky community member experienced an unexpected and upsetting event in her life. She came to the community, to a place she felt safe, surrounded by friends and she shared her news.

It wasn’t health and beauty news, it was real, personal news and she found comfort and support amongst online friends.

How could we ever assume that someone in their darkest moments, considering something terrible, wouldn’t come to a place they regularly spent time and felt safe? We couldn’t assume that. That’s why every community we run has a suicide policy, regardless of their membership or topics.

Writing a suicide policy

There are several factors to consider, and you must consider them properly:

  • Could there be minors using the community?
  • Do you have means of contacting community members?
  • Do you have real names and locations for community members?
  • You will need a templated (but customisable) message containing links to supportive organisations such as the Samaritans and any specifically relevant organisations (such as a professional benevolent society with counsellors available).
  • Do you have functions within your community that could be used to post images or videos of an attempted suicide? It is incredibly rare, but it happens.
  • Do you have an in-house legal team to discuss this with?
  • Is there a reporting function for other members to flag content they’re concerned about? Do members know this is not just for spam or offensiveness?

It’s a tragic subject, but as community managers we have a responsibility to try and keep our members as safe as possible.

Having a plan in place won’t cause any problems if it’s never needed, but not having a plan in place could leave a community manager with a scenario that haunts them for a very long time.

The unnatural lingo of the online world

The composition of two point reflections is a ...
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As online professionals, like any profession, we have a set of words and terms relating to our job. We talk about moderation and trolls and forums.

We talk about features and modules and fields. But unlike many other professions, we also expect the lay people using all those things to recognise what they mean.

We use a very unnatural language, and I’m concerned that it puts up false barriers between users and the platforms they’re engaging with.

Why do we use these funny, clunky words?I think it’s two-fold. The first adopters of online communities were tech-enthusiasts, of course. They were – and I use this term fondly – geeks. And as a geek I can attest that geek-language is not Joe Bloggs’ language. But the early lingo got stuck, and when the Joe and Joanna Bloggs’ of the world started to find their way to email discussion lists, instant messenger, and ultimately online communities, the lingo was set.

Early community managers tended to be the person that had been their longest or showed most interest (again, likely to be a geek), and naturally, the lingo would remain and be dished out top-down. Let’s start with ‘community manager’.

On our recent blog, What does a community manager do? I included a word cloud of all the one-word suggestions we’d had in answer to that question.Not one of them was ‘manage’.

So are we really community managers? Am I really Head of Community Management? Do we manage communities, or do we do something else? By far the most popular words were ‘facilitate’, ‘enables’ and ‘connects’.

None of those are really anything like management.

What would be a better job title? What do we really do?

Community Connector?
Community Enabler?
Communication Facilitator?

All rather ugly… what do you think?And then we have ‘Trolls’, as @SueOnTheWeb suggests. Yes, offline we have insults of course, but these don’t normally become professional parlance. I’m sure the police don’t have handbooks about dealing with ‘crims’, even if they say far worse than that in the locker room.

Trolling apparently dates back to early 90s Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban, but its meaning has been adapted and is standard community/moderation speak. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t – mean anything to a happy community member though, perhaps time to give up the geek-speak?

Moderation, of course, is the backbone of a healthy community. Whether it’s reactive-moderation, post-moderation or simply a culture of self-censorship amongst users, such as with many mature email communities, it’s vital.

But does the word ‘moderation’ really mean anything to most people? When we write our disclaimers and use the word, does it mean what we think it does to community users or is it just another word to gloss over?

Do we not need something a bit better, a bit more ‘human’?

Of course we have the abbreviations, the ROTFLMAOs and the LOLs and the IYKWIMs… and that’s fine, that’s a snowball that’s melted across all social media and even seeped into emails and txtspk so that non-community connected people (like my mother-in-law and mum) will use it.

And for many people that’s part of the fun of using social platforms. But it can also be very exclusive to people new to the experience. We probably can’t do anything to prevent the spread, in fact, embracing it is part of the community management experience at many communities, but if we run abbreviation-heavy communities, the least we can do is slap up a dictionary, like iVillage do on their message boards.

So again, what’s missing? What lingo remains solely to divide people? What should be replaced with more human words and what can community managers do to ensure language-use doesn’t create unhealthy cliques?

What does a community manager do?

Sounds like a stupid question, no? But actually it’s a valid one, especially in this time of flux. If you ask some people what an online community manager does, they’ll describe a moderator.

If you ask others, they’ll detail a curator. Others liken it to being a gardener, keeping the weeds at bay and encouraging conversation to flourish.

Thanks to all our Twitter friends who suggested one word answers to this questionIn our recent community predictions for 2010 post, many of our contributors thought that 2010 would see a tightly-defined, standardised ‘community manager’ role, with various spin-off roles taking on the work that’s currently supplementary to many of us running communities.

So what are the skills that should make up this core community management role? Well, looking at the communities I am currently responsible for and have run in the past, I would suggest the following ‘job spec’.

Managing moderation and moderators
That’s right, as communities mature – and some of the first communities are veritable grandparents now – it’s simply not sustainable or sensible to have community managers spending all their time moderating.

With a sensitive or particularly ‘lairy’ community, post-moderation (or even pre-moderation) of every piece of content can be a full-time role, possibly several full-time roles.

If this is the case, community managers should be managing the work of moderators, possibly even moderation software, not doing all the grunt work themselves.

Welcoming new members
Whether you personally greet every new member, make it your business to encourage particularly shy members when their first post goes unanswered, or put together an amazing ‘new members’ pack’ to be emailed out when anyone joins, welcoming members is very important.

Engaging stakeholders
Building a flourishing community is fantastic, but if you’ve built it as part of an organisation, and that organisation isn’t committed to it, isn’t prepared to listen to it, the people that make up the community could well fall out of love with it.

Promoting good behaviour
This starts with the community management team, continues through fair and transparent guidelines and is enforced by consistent moderation and through taking tough decisions for the good of the community.

Monitoring and reporting
A good community manager understands how healthy his or her community is, they know it instinctively, they can sense it, but they also have the figures to back it up.

Reporting and statistics aren’t unpleasant monthly (or weekly) pains in the bum, even if they’re often treated as such. If you really want to know your community, and if you really want to prove that there is a point to all the work you’re doing – and the organisation is funding – then you need to know how your community is behaving, feeling, and moving around.

Be an advocate
For your community, for the members that make it up, for your organisation, for community management in general. If you don’t feel you can, this is not the job for you.

This list is not exhaustive, what shall we add?

2010: Community Management predictions

the crystal ball - large square
Image by mira d’oubliette via Flickr

As is traditional at this time of year, we’ve been looking back over 2009 and all the enormous leaps of innovation and learning that have happened in the social media space. For some of us old, creaking community managers that have been around longer than broadband, it’s slightly dizzying that the role of ‘community manager’ is creeping into the general lexicon. My mum suddenly understands what it is that I do!

So if 2009 has finally galvanised the concept that online community spaces need managers, is 2010 going to be the year when the role is formalised and ranked as highly as other CRM roles? Will the old broad term ‘community manager’ be split into various roles with tighter definitions and remits?

What will online communities look like in 2010? What will community managers be talking about? What legal changes are bubbling away? We asked some fantastic community managers for their 2010 predictions, and if their thinking comes true, 2010 is going to be a very exciting year.

Roles and responsibilities

Vincent Boon, Community Team Leader at Sony Computer Entertainment agrees thinks roles and responsibilities will become more targeted and defined: “The role itself will become less broad, with community managers trying to cover all the bases, but instead companies will employ different community managers, for their different areas of communication.”

Vincent suggests new roles will spring up around:

  • Social Media
  • Forum Specific
  • Creative Media 
  • Conflict Resolution 
  • Shaping Conversation/Interest 
  • Age group specific 

“Maybe my categories are incorrect, or you can think of many more, but with the role of Community Manager maturing, I believe the role itself will diversify into areas of expertise. Although whether this will happen in 2010 already, might just be wishful thinking.”

Wendy Christie from eModeration tweets: “Earlier involvement/consultation/hiring of CMs in new sites/products, maybe? I’m starting to see that, I think.”

She expands by email: “I think we’re starting to see a more widespread involvement of Community Managers at the early stages of project development. So rather than “we’re most of the way through developing the site which will involve some sort of interactivity - oh bugger, how do we manage that side of it?” we’re starting to see more cases of CMs identified from the beginning as vital members of the team.”

Community and moderation company, TemperoUK, agrees: “Trend = CM will take on a bigger customer service/CRM role”


Tempero’s founder, Dominic Sparkes says: “For social media management, 2010 is going to be a year of realising moderation is vital, sentiment tracking will prove ROI (hopefully!) and platform integration will be second nature.”

Ilana Fox, head of Social Media at ASOS says more retailers will be getting into social media. She tweets her prediction for “more personalisation on news and retail sites. Google will cause problems.

“Issues with UK sites launching international versions in terms of moderation and media law.”

Community in Enterprise and Research

Stuart Glendinning Hall points me to Dion Hinchcliffe: “I reckon that Dion Hinchcliff may be right in seeing the role of community manager becoming increasing important in Enterprise 2.0 projects in 2010. Particularly in markets which are already leading on E2.0, such as Germany and the US.”

Andy_buckley tweets that he sees a: “Blurring between panel and communities.” He expands, “as more later adopting clients think about having a community I think they will want both qual (community) & quant (panel).”

Community as a force

Ed Mitchell, Network and Community expert, sees: “Purposeful communities - active groups using collaborative tools to do stuff in their neighbourhoods - like the hyperlocal stuff, transition
towns etc.”


A favourite community manager of mine, Alison Michalk from Fairfax Digital predicts: “The rise of social media monitoring is going to have an impact. I’ve already seen reps start jumping in to respond to statements in my forums.

“I think ‘platform-neutral’ brand involvement is on the rise (clearly there are benefits towards this approach over attempting to build their own community) - and just how this impacts communities is yet to be seen… will we need ‘protected spaces’, how will the merging of people’s personal/professional roles impact the online space in years to come…”

My prediction

I agree with our experts here, 2010 will be the year of more roles, with distinct remits, and a more ‘conversational’ approach within all but the least enlightened organisations. I believe that a studious approach to community will deliver greater understanding of how to measure success and monitor effects, and I believe there are likely to be more community-based roles than real experience out there to fill them.

But at risk of sounding like a doomsayer, my real prediction for 2010 is one of caution. This last year has been great fun, community is (rightly) at the forefront of the best of the web, conversations and connections are starting to be taken seriously and proving their worth at enhancing so many other areas  of business.

Now it’s time community grew up.

All eyes are on us, and there are still grey areas to be ironed out. Every community manager, publishing, curating or editing content from users, needs to have a handle on all the relevant laws and liabilities.

Every community manager needs to understand the business aims of their organisation, and how community fits to them. To be a community manager within an organisation is not to be a renegade, it’s to be a diplomat.

For me, 2010 is going to be the year that we took ourselves more seriously, tooled up legally, and set clearer principles for moderation, and expectations from us and of us.

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your predictions for 2010.