Growing a sustainable and lively online community requires both care and feeding. A community manager must skillfully cultivate a community to ensure productive conversations. How does a community manager go about caring for and feeding a community? The approach will vary depending on the type of community (internal or external). However, I’ve found that the following activities are necessary to be successful at developing a healthy community, regardless of the size or type of community.
Let’s start by defining these terms in the context of community management. The term “care” refers to a number of activities:
Create and enforce community guidelines. A critical component of caring for a community is developing and skillfully enforcing specific guidelines. The more specific you can be the better. It is much easier to enforce guidelines among community members, if you can point to a clearly worded set of guidelines. In my experience managing external communities on LinkedIn, I found that stating the rules for discussions upfront in a concise and clear manner significantly reduced problems down the road. These were public communities that were regularly hit by spam. In an attempt to build back-links for SEO proposes, spammers would post links to their websites, with no content and zero comments. As the community manager, it was my responsibility to regularly review and remove all the spam to preserve the integrity of the community. No community member wants to sift through mountains of spam to find the authentic discussions. And occasionally an individual will inadvertently come off like a spammer. When in doubt, it is important to directly contact the member and reference the specific guideline that the person violated in a polite but firm manner, as an explanation for why the individual’s post was removed.
Engage daily with a systematic approach. The larger the community, the more critical it is to have a systematic approach. There are three things you should do on a daily basis. When managing a Jive-powered community, be sure to (1) respond to any communications directed to the community manager, (2) review status updates of members to respond when relevant, and (3) search existing discussions for questions. As the community manager, you do not have to be an expert on everything to help community managers. Often, answering these questions is as simple as connecting the poster with the appropriate person to provide an answer. However, if you are able, you should answer questions directly to both engage your community and build your name recognition.
Clean up social groups. When managing a community that allows members to create groups and subgroups for discussion, it is necessary to keep a keen eye out for inactive groups. Groups deemed inactive should be regularly pruned to keep the community robust and vibrant. Create a calendar and reminders to do this on a monthly or quarterly basis. Keep in mind that these subgroups will need time to fully develop. To avoid prematurely removing a group before it has a chance to gain traction, you’ll want to take note of when the subgroup was created and give it at least a month to take flight (on average).
Feed Your Community
Feeding is essentially the seeding of interactions among community member through content creation (e.g., starting discussions and responding to discussions). In an ideal world, the community manager would be involved in every part of the community. In most cases, this is simply not a realistic expectation. Given this limitation, how can a community manager effectively feed an entire community stimulating content? My answer is three-fold:
Create a content calendar. When rolling out a new community, having a content calendar is paramount to the success of the community. The worst case scenario would be for new community members to come in and see a ghost town. They will be on the first stagecoach out of town. The content calendar should include the names of individuals (other than yourself) that will be responsible for content and when they should post it in the community. It is helpful to have a calendar for each month. Beyond a month timeframe, it is difficult to get people to commit to content creation. Additionally, it is likely that after a month of structured content creation, the community will start to become self-sustaining – meaning, content will start to be created organically.
Engage authentically. Always write about what you love and know. As an example, I am a social media geek – that is my true passion and what I am interested in talking about. I have no desire to write about programming, nor do I have the knowledge necessary to engage in discussions about it intelligently. So, as a community manager, I’m going to focus my energy on regularly starting and interacting in discussions about social media and marketing in the appropriate space. Why? Because it is very easy to spot when someone doesn’t have interest or expertise in a topic.
Seek out and empower natural advocates. At this point, it’s natural to be wondering how to feed a group outside of a community manager’s passion or understanding. A solid and long-term solution to this challenge is to seek out people in each group that demonstrate a curiosity and proficiency in the topics under discussion. Locating these naturally active participants and empowering them to functionally be community managers is the only sustainable way to feed those parts of the community. For more information on how to empower these natural advocates, check out my Jive Talks posts entitled, “7 Steps to Empowering Your Natural Advocates.”