Archive for the ‘Promoting Community Management’ Category.

Community manager appreciation day: pros and cons of community management

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With the second annual community manager appreciation day just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to sit back and take a look at he pros and cons that come with online community management.

So without further ado, here’s my list:

The good

  • I get to speak to passionate, like-minded people every day. The customers I interact with on a regular basis, as well as my community mananger peers, feel strongly about the brands that they interact with.
  • As a community manager I have to be as passionate as my customers to really understand what they say and why. I’m never alone. Managing online communities is not just a nine to five job and whenever I’m up early or battling a case of insomnia I know my community is there.
  • My ability as a community manager is reflected in the success of my communities. A community that performs well is hailed as a good example of customer service or engagement and improves sentiment towards the brand.
  • I get to be the first point of contact for the brand I’m representing, so my professional and friendly portrayal is the key starting point for future brand engagement.

The bad

  • It’s often difficult to find the middle ground between chat and promotion. Being able to post a good range of content can take time and there’s a risk that I’ll be seen as too spammy.
  • A community never sleeps. I have to be available 24 hours a day depending on the needs of my community and I’ve accepted that not everyone has the same sleep patterns as me.

The ugly

  • Remaining happy at all times can sometimes be tough. There are always cases where something may rile you on your community, but you can never ever rise to it. Keeping a calm, professional face at all times can be difficult times, but maintaining composure is the sign of a good community manager.
  • Online communities come in many forms. Although the role has only come to public attention in the last few years, it has been around since message boards and lists first appeared on the Internet. Having said that, I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing queries through to the end, servicing the needs of both clients and community members and ultimately providing a comfortable place where brands and consumers can have an open friendly conversation.

Getting your community management processes in order

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ducks in a row
Image via Wikipedia

As a social media agency, FreshNetworks works with clients both to manage their online communities, and also to train, mentor and coach others to help them to manage their social media activity themselves. In fact the best approach to social media for many brands can be combine experienced skills in online community management with a deep knowledge and understanding of the brand. Big online communities will inevitably find that at some stage the people managing the community change or grow. You need to be able to handle these changes without disrupting the community you have worked so hard to engage. And the secret to this is process.

Here are FreshNetworks’ four key processes to get in place on any online community when it is going through change.

1. Record all your processes

Keep a record of “what to do” in any situation on your online community. Make sure you retain the vast array of organisational knowledge that your community manager has built up over time. This could be in a number of ways, from hidden forums or private wikis online to word documents and excel spreadsheets.

It’s important that records of community activity, moderated content and guidance notes are kept up to date but they are doubly important when your community manager leaves to allow the new staff an insight into the history of the community and its development.

2. Let the community members know what’s happening

If for no other reason, it’s just politeness and common courtesy to let the members know about any significant changes that will occur in the community.

Make them part of the process, let them know in advance that you will be leaving and give them some information about your replacement, going so far as to asking the new community manager to introduce themselves in a post before they start.

3. Have a reasonable handover timeframe

This is so often neglected in employment across the board but it is crucial that you have the old and new community manager working together for some time, ideally a couple of weeks.

It’ll allow the new community manager to learn about the vibe of the community and what they consider acceptable. It will also provide an opportunity for a lot of questions and answers between the two community managers and give the departing staff the chance to share the in depth knowledge of the community they have developed and grown.
This chance to develop some good progressive outcomes should have a greater focus than a swift handover.

4. Hire skilled staff

We have written before about the skills you should look for in an online community manager. Make sure that you employ someone who will be effective in the post and continue to grow your community - skills in community management are as important as knowledge of the brand, and the perfect person (or indeed perfect team) will cover both of these.

The time will come when all online communities will grow and the people managing them will change with this growth. Getting your processes right from the very beginning will mean that you can make changes without disrupting the very community you are managing and growing.

You teach what you accept: As true in parenting as it is in online community management

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fairview blackboard
Image by Audra B via Flickr

As Mumsnet celebrates it’s 10th anniversary an article in yesterday’s Sunday Times titled: The bullies hiding behind Mumsnet’s skirts discussed how some members of the Mumsnet community have become “spiteful and cliquey” along with obscene language that now “peppers the website”.

As any parent knows (I certainly do to my cost) that if a parent allows one perhaps questionable aspect of their child’s behaviour to be acceptable that particular behaviour is soon learnt by that child’s sibling(s). This could not be truer when translated to online communities.

An established support community whether run as a not-for-profit or as in Mumsnet case on a commercial basis play a vital role in bringing together isolated people seeking answers to questions. With the wisdom of crowds phenomenon, communities help individuals with the most complex problems and in the process create a valuable asset for the organisation running the community.

Online communities’ need experienced community management from the start if their community is to grow into a vibrant, healthy and nurturing environment. By following a pre-agreed launch and community growth strategy the tone and etiquette of the resulting community activity also reflects the overall culture of the organisation hosting it.

This isn’t just about moderation. In fact moderation is rarely necessary where an effective community manager runs the community. They can recognise the patterns of behavior indicating potential problems in the future. These patterns are largely predictable in the path they take so that path can be shifted or influenced.

In the absence of proactive online community management, two less desirable outcomes are most likely:

  1. No one will come and because of that no one else wants to come.
  2. The community starts well but then is taken over by a few members selfishly for their own ends. Which if left unchecked can be extremely damaging for the organisation behind the community.

Perhaps some rocky teenage years lie ahead for Mumsnet?

Essential reading for online community managers

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books in a stack (a stack of books)
Image by austinevan via Flickr

A good friend of mine started a new job for the new year - working in social media for a UK charity. She asked me what reading I could recommend for somebody looking to learn more about online communities and how they can be launched and grown. There are a whole range of great books out there on how social media is used and the impact this is having on society (anything by Gladwell or Shirky would be a great starting point), but she was interested specifically in things that help managing and growing communities online.

Here’s the very short list I shared with her (and a few extra ones added in). There are many great books, articles and blogs out there and we’d love you to share your favourites in the comments below. But this is a good starting point and we would consider them essential reading for online community managers.

Books

  • Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities, Amy Jo Kim (Amazon) - a great text explaining the how to grow online communities, and explaining through examples why they grow like this.
  • Managing Online Forums: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Run Successful Community Discussion Boards, Patrick O’Keefe (Amazon) - another great textbook of how to set-up and manage online forums and discussion boards.
  • 18 Rules of Community Engagement: A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting With Customers Online, Angela Connor (Amazon) - a pragmatic approach to planning and building online communities, you can read our review of this book here.

Blogs

  • FeverBee - a great blog from practical community-builder Rich Millington.
  • Community Spark - a community-building blog from Martin Reed.

Articles

  • Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities (2005) - a look at how to combat under-contribution to your online community, examining how social psychology impact when and how people will contribute online.
  • Understanding Community: A review of networks, ties and contacts’, Working Paper, Real Life Methods (2007) - an interesting perspective on and review of the different ways communities form and bond online

This is purposefully a short list - what would you add to it? Let us know your essential reading in the comments below.

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

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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

“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?