Community Management

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.