Community Management

Some thoughts on “Moderation”:

There are many varied and valid reasons to moderate. Moderation can polish a community’s image, give it purpose or create a nurturing environment that fosters discussion, constructive criticism and relationships between users.

Moderating a community gives it focus. What you remove from your community places emphasis on what you leave behind. Moderation is a tool in the community manager’s arsenal that works both behind the scenes and center stage.

For example, your policy on profanity and vulgar speech alters the suitable age range of your product or forum. A community build around a more “adult” topic or product won’t necessarily benefit from the removal of swear words. You could alienate and frustrate your users by censoring them, similarly, if your product or service attracts a broader age range or if the community is likely to include children, a stricter policy will benefit you, both by protecting children and instilling confidence in the adult members.

You can de-politicize a community, create an online “safe space” or foster an all-inclusive, “anything goes” space. The focus will be provided by your style and amount of moderation. When you moderate, you are helping to define that vision and emphasize what kind of content is allowed.

A properly moderated community reflects the desires and needs of the community, but stays within the guidelines set by the company. A good, focused community can absolutely develop with no moderation but isn’t sustainable without it

Photo by Celeste Hutchins

One of the first things I do when I start working with a new CRM or ticketing system (Parature, ZenDesk, FogBugz, etc) is create a short list of  “scripts” that I can use to address common issues, or a template response for a task I might do many times.

I’ve recently started to use the Chrome extension PopChrom. It’s fully customizable and free.  It allows me to easily paste in my pre-defined replies with minimal keystrokes. I’d be willing to bet that everyone who does this type of work has a similar system in place. It’s great and it works. However, there is a dark side to this: I believe automation builds mistrust and even the most personal of notes reads insincere when you’ve already received it in the past.

I’m currently using a CRM tool that shows earlier tickets from the current sender. When I see that I’ve contacted a sender in the past, I will often alter the note, even if just slightly. Of course, this is dependent on the content of the ticket and the issue that’s being addressed. Quite often, a “Thanks, we’ve received this” or a similarly brief greeting is right, but when it isn’t, I’ve found there’s great value in deviating from the “script”.

It adds a personal touch and humanizes you a bit. So often, online interactions get stripped down to little more than a cartoon avatar, your first name and an initial. From reading the grateful, positive replies I receive, I believe there’s great value in taking that extra second to “switch the script up”.

Photo bScottSimpson on Flickr

One of the greatest (and simplest) ways for community managers to connect with their users is with their “Profile” page. Most communities offer users and staff a profile page where they can upload a picture, write a brief biography or list a few interests.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a bio that’s been filled out carefully and with a specific focus on humanizing and de-mystifying you. Your profile page will receive a lot of curious visitors, especially in the early weeks with a new community.

Here are my top tips for building your profile pages:

1. Use your real picture!

Cartoon avatars are fun, especially if you have a custom caricature of yourself, but you’d do well to save that picture for later. You should use a recent picture, attired appropriately – if your community is relaxed and informal, a staid, professional headshot isn’t really appropriate. By the same turn, if your community is a little more buttoned-down, go ahead and use your professional headshot. Just make sure you smile!

2. Talk about your interests but keep it light

You should post a few things about yourself, if space allows. It could be as simple as a single sentence about what you like to do on the weekends, or a detailed overview of your hobbies, complete with pictures and even video. It depends greatly on the community that you’re working with but think of this sort of like online dating – you need to come across with sincerity and honesty. Put your best, most interesting face forward here.

3. Keep it up to date

Nothing looks worse than a “link to your blog” that doesn’t point anywhere or a biography that doesn’t have your correct title or has an outdated mission. If you change your biography seasonally, be sure to stay on top of that as well. An untended, out of date biography can make users think that you aren’t taking your role seriously or that you’re only a minor part of the company. Community members will notice even the smallest changes to your profile and quite often greatly enjoy the chance to learn something new about you.

Photo by bjornmeansbear on Flickr

Lao Tzu and Kong Fuzi

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

The more I study Taoism the more parallels I see between Lao Tzu’s thoughts on leadership and my thoughts on community management. My ideas about the value of a “behind the scenes” approach to community building are obviously not new.

Photo by Yenna on Flickr

Community Management is communication – a lot of it. The message is most important and you should be accurate, polite and often apologetic in your dealings with the community. But by no means should you be the most active poster in the forums or wherever your community interacts the most. You shouldn’t be the first responder to every thread and there’s a lot of threads you don’t need to post in at all.

It’s also important to not be the one starting all the conversations – A gentle nudge here and there to direct the attention of power users is always a positive but don’t attempt to foster every discussion. This approach leads to a stranglehold on ideas by the staff and can actually wind up causing resentment among members of the community who feel like their input doesn’t carry as much weight as it should.  An effective community manager is more active in a ‘behind the scenes’ role – they alert community members to the topics that might interest them and encourage those users to get involved instead.

They also get the chance to tie together like-minded users who may have not interacted before: By letting a user know that their expertise, opinion or advice is desirable, you can strengthen both your relationship to the community and the relationships that exist within the community.

If you’re already the loudest voice in the room, take it down a notch. Try to off-set your quieting by appearing more active in other places. You can spend less time on discussion and more on pro-active education, via a blog or Knowledge Base. When you have an idea for a discussion topic, rather than starting the thread yourself, try choosing a community member who can lead the discussion for you. This way you can foster discussion in the areas that will help without directing the flow of ideas.

Behind the scenes community management is sometimes slightly more difficult than an aggressively hands on approach but the rewards are great. Just remember, don’t be the loudest voice in the room but always stay audible.

Anyone who’s ever worked as a community manager knows how hard it is to answer “So what do you do?” Community Management is a multifaceted discipline that covers many different tasks and responsibilities. It can be hard to express exactly what it is that you do, especially to people unfamiliar with the worlds of web 2.0 and social media. If only I had a pocket-sized version of this to carry around; it’s humorous, but basically right on the money! Check it out:

I got this graphic from Get Satisfaction. They offer an interactive, self-service help forum, interestingly, not just for businesses who choose to use it but for any product or service you can imagine.

When I read this info-graphic, I found myself identifying with all the categories. Every community is different but I think most community managers find themselves performing most, if not all the duties shown in this info-graphic. Either way, it’s great for a laugh! As an aside, I wish I’d known about Community Manager Appreciation Day sooner. Would anyone like to buy me a Magic Mouse this year?

I often find myself working in a public setting like a coffee shop or my local library. I find these places really stimulating and removing myself from the comfortable distractions of my home seems to help me stay on track.

I recently found myself sharing a table with a friend of mine at Brewed Awakening, a Berkeley coffee shop popular with local university students. While working through my emails, I commented to my friend across the table about the difficulties of educating my community on the beast that is digital copyright law.

The woman at the table next to us remarked to me how confusing she found the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), otherwise known as H.R. 3261. We briefly spoke about her experiences with copyright law and the conversation was finished.

Once we’d finished our work for the day, I was packing my bag up my when neighbor requests my attention again. She asks who I work for and what it is that we do. Inside, I freeze: I’ve never done even an elevator pitch for this company! I immediately launch into what we do, how we do it, why we’re the best and even drill down into how we might be of value to her specifically. Once I’d answered her questions the gentleman sitting behind me asked the company’s name and a few other questions as well.

To make a long story short, I ended up giving an impromptu presentation for my employer to two strangers and hopefully gained us new users. All in all, it went really well. Both people seemed impressed by both the site and the quality of information I was able to give them. Afterwards, I realized there’s a few things I could have done better. Here’s what I learned from my experience.

1. Try to know the product inside out or where more information is available

The woman I was speaking to worked for a non-profit. The company that I was pitching works very closely with charities. However, I don’t deal with this part of the business and have only discussed it with my supervisor in passing. There were questions that I didn’t know the answer to but I did my best to give her explicit directions so she could find out more about that aspect of our business.

2. Carry business cards, even if they’re only personal ones

My contract with this employer doesn’t provide for cards. When the gentleman behind me asked for my name and card, there was something that felt very unprofessional about dictating the site name to him so he could write it down.

If I’d had a personal card, I could have averted this.

This experience taught me that if I’m going to work in public, I need to be ready to talk about what I’m doing and to be ready to answer rather specific questions about the services my employer can offer. And to go easy on the caffeine! Jittery, fast talkers often need to slow it down and may be asked to repeat themselves, as I was.