Community management can be tricky terrain to navigate. Whether you manage a community of slick talking sales professionals or manage complaints for an adult daycare, as it may seem some days, tailoring your approach to fit your community is essential. However, I have found that the core principles of managing a community are the same across all platforms and interests. For example, you can have ten different communities around Bonsai Trees and each will develop a different personality, and grow and develop at its own rate, through the same set of stages. By the same token, communities with varying interests and possibly even on totally separate platforms all require certain management skills and tactics that can be applied across the board.
I’ve been an avid social media enthusiast since before anyone had even heard the term “Social Media”. Anyone remember mIRC Chat? Back in the 1990s, chat rooms were the only social medium that was readily available to the public. Bulletin boards were mostly professional and required you be a member of an organization or to be invited by a member. Being an Admin of a chat room was EASY. There was only one medium for communication and the majority of handles allowed for anonymity and therefore total freedom of text, without fear of repercussions. Additionally, admins only had three actions to consider: reply, ban, or ignore.
Today’s community managers have a bit more on their plates. You aren’t really managing a bunch of anonymous handles. You are managing, nurturing, and severing relationships. MySpace and Facebook launched the model for the modern communities we curate today. Communities where people can post a myriad of media types and where people generally use their real names and photos while interacting with people they know or meet online. In these modern communities everyone can find you, and your “likes” are even considered admissible in court as evidence.
Managing a few different types of communities, all at various stages of development, has taught me a great deal about people. Through my trials and tribulations I have discovered that three key elements are paramount to any community’s success. While they can be described simply as “work” for you, I believe that incorporating these three attributes into any community management strategy will result in marked improvement in engagement.
Your community doesn’t take a weekend, holiday, or mental health day. In fact, most communities for special interests will become more active outside of traditional working hours, when most people have time to interact and contribute. You should always be monitoring your community on a daily basis. I usually operate under the notion that if I am not sleeping, then I am available to my members. Customer Service is the most essential part of doing business. Your community may not be a retail store front, however you are offering a service to your members and with that comes the responsibility of supporting their needs and addressing their concerns as quickly as possible.
Some folks will need quite a bit more attention than others. In fact you may never hear from 80% of your community, regardless of if they have problems or not. Monitoring your community’s discussions for issues and community concerns is also an integral part of this support. You can’t rely on your members to let you know if there is a problem directly. I usually learn that there is a problem or situation from user discussions prior to anyone actually composing an email regarding the problem.
There are many, many places that your potential community members can go to learn about and discuss their cat figurine collections. For that reason it is vital that you have quality, valuable content available within your community. You can invite all the cat figurine authorities to join your community and write your little heart out but at the end of the day your members need to be able to find Value in joining and contributing to your community. Even with a new community it’s important to add quality content and interact with your members in a way that not only shows that you are educated on the subject of cat figurines but that you also enjoy the heck out of collecting them. Passion for your topic will attract others who are passionate and encourage them to interact with others in your community.
If you build great value within your community, as well as curate and promote the quality content of your members, the rest will follow. Gaining a lot of new members all at once won’t encourage growth and interaction in your community unless the value is already there. Encourage gradual growth instead, through the dispersing of valuable information and expert engagement. Your community is about interaction between members and the sharing of knowledge, as well as fostering personal sharing and building of relationships between members. Reach out to people who can lend their expertise to your community. Through their contributions, you will grow your credibility and entice new members to join, as well as increasing the participation of your current members.
Your community is not a pot of water that you are waiting to see boil. Instead it is a very delicate sauce, which needs constant attention and patience. It takes time and loads of energy to develop a truly fantastic and engaged community. Deliver Value, Be Available and Be Consistent and your efforts will be rewarded.
Alethe Denis is the Social Media Manager for iMagicLab and Community Manager of Dealer20 and Lifeclip. An early adopter of all things social media and future cat lady. Connect with her via LinkedIn or Twitter