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2137294324_d0d17a4178Community management is a developing field and as such, there’s no one set of rules on how to interact with your community members. Every community will need a unique approach, but that’s what makes it such an exciting and rewarding career. When you’re experimenting with how you will communicate with members, I’ve found there are two core goals you’ll want to meet:

Keep everyone happy and satisfied and reduce the amount of back and forth messaging you do with each member.

Here are 5 tips that can help you to design the best practices for communicating with your community.

1. Be pleasant, but not too conversational.

It’s unlikely you’re available 24/7 to respond to members. Acknowledge this by structuring your answers as letters, and not conversational messages. Time management is an essential skill of a successful community manager and using too relaxed a tone can encourage a casual, conversational interaction. Getting into a drawn out back and forth wastes time and can prevent you from responding promptly to all of your inquiries.

2. Be clear that you are there to help, but you’re not tech support

Vague, general answers often result in “bounce back” – a community member asking a series of follow-up questions that wastes time for both of you. If you’re asked a technical question that’s beyond your ability to answer succinctly, rather than being vague, re-direct the user to a where they can find a solution on their own. Community Managers aren’t technical support – we are the information desk, the signpost to help orient members, and it’s important to help your community members find answers to their issues, so don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, but if you go here, you’ll be able to get the help you’re looking for.”

3. Write a Knowledge Base or FAQ to help you direct members to self-service solutions

You don’t always need to answer every question you’re asked – even if you know the answer. You can empower a community to be self-sufficient by creating resources to help members solve their current issue and anything that could come up in the future. For extremely specific questions, it’s totally OK to answer in your communication, but your larger goal should be to decrease your communities need to write in looking for an answer – a well designed Knowledge Base can help your community run smoothly with minimal messaging.

4. Only give good answers

When you offer them, your solutions need to be rock solid. It’s frustrating for users to talk to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, so don’t offer answers that you’re not sure about. Avoid getting into a “trial and error” message thread with your users – if you can’t help them, redirect them to someone who can right away.

5. Keep it cute or put it on mute

Which is to say, check your messages for attitude, snark or condescension. It’s easier than you think to accidentally be curt or short with your users. We write a ton of messages and sometimes you can forget that you’re in a 1-on-1 interaction with another human being. You’re not a robot serving up pre-crafted responses, you’re the human face of your business or organization, so double-check your messages and do your best to empathize with your users. Maintain professionalism and don’t be overly casual but don’t sterilize your messages. Be human, be helpful and be real.

Photo Credit: erikadotnet via Compfight cc

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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.