Community managers tend to be busy people, especially when you have an active community with many contributors, and it’s easy to forget to thank people for being really helpful in the community. I am as guilty of forgetting to thank people as anyone else, maybe more guilty of it. We need to remember that these people are contributing their valuable time to do something nice for us, and they deserve to be recognized for it in some way.
Here are a few ways to recognize your contributors:
Contact them and say “Thank You” for a specific contribution.
One of the biggest challenges for any community manager is to find ways to get new members integrated into your existing community with all of its established norms and ways of working. This can be particularly difficult if many of the things that define your community aren’t clearly documented. For any community, having great documentation can solve so many potential issues and make it easy for both new and existing members to get the information that they need quickly and easily. Ideally, you can put all of this documentation in a wiki and enlist the help of other community members. In the MeeGo community that I manage, getting all of our processes, guidelines and frequently asked questions documented has been a big focus for me lately.
Here are a few things that should be clearly documented:
FAQ: Always have a good frequently asked questions document. We have a main FAQ for MeeGo, which also links off to several other FAQs for specific topics. This is on my short list of things that still need a lot of additional work.
Processes: Document as many of your processes as you can to help members learn how to participate. Nothing is more frustrating for a new member than trying to participate, not getting it right and having to start over.
Community Guidelines: Have clear guidelines about what members are expected to do (or not do) that you can point people to for more information. I try to avoid guidelines that look like lists of rules, and instead, focus on encouraging people to make the right choices.
For those of us who manage global online communities, meeting people in person isn’t always easy. However, it is important to find ways to meet people in real life whenever possible, and we should be careful not to underestimate the value of making these real world connections. Last week, I attended LinuxCon where I gave a presentation about the MeeGo Community and did more demos than I can count, but the real value of the conference was in the conversations that I had with community members.
Some thoughts on why this is so important:
You put a face to the name and start to build better relationships with people.
People will provide different feedback in person and will often talk more frankly about community issues that they would not be comfortable putting in writing in a public forum.
It’s fun! These are people that you have something in common with and you can have some really interesting conversations with people and make new friends in the process.
I return from conferences refreshed with new ideas that come from having conversations with people outside of the typical daily routine.
You can’t get away with hiding anything in an online community; community members will notice even the smallest things. While this is true in communities of every size, it is especially noticeable in large communities with many members. People are often under the mistaken impression that they can post something in a wiki or other content system, and as long they don’t link to it, no one will be able to find it. However, we have these things called search engines and recent changes pages where people can find everything. This is especially true now that everything seems to have an RSS feed or email notifications, since many users choose to have changes, like new web pages or wiki recent changes feeds, pushed to them to review whenever they have a few spare minutes.
This creates some interesting challenges and advantages for community managers:
Advantage: Posting information early, especially in a wiki, gives you a place to collaborate with others and make the document better. Don’t worry about trying to hide things – get them out in the open early, and let people help you improve.
Advantage: People will also notice spam quickly, and if you make it easy to report spam, you can keep the community spam free.
Challenge: Once the information is out there, it is public. Deleting data on the internet is a myth, since it is cached, mirrored and in RSS feeds, and removing information from your community is likely to cause more negative responses than leaving it alone.
Most community managers keep a close watch on their online communities to be able to respond quickly, but really good community managers know when to respond right away and when to wait. If something is truly wrong, you should step in immediately to let people know you are working on fixing the issue, and when someone has an urgent or quick question, responding right away can help a community member get through an issue and back to being productive. However, there are many times when waiting and watching can be the best strategy.
Here are some times when you might want to wait:
For less urgent questions, wait to see if another community member responds. This gets more people participating and active in the community.
When someone is attacking and highly critical, a response from the community manager can seem defensive or self-serving. By waiting, you might find that other, more neutral community members come to your rescue. You can add more details later, if needed.
During controversial discussions, it can be useful to wait and let other people weigh in with opinions. If the community manager responds too early, you can shut the discussion down rather than learning where people stand.
I’m a little biased since I was moderating the panel, but I thought it went really well thanks to the amazing people who were part of the panel: Marshall Kirkpatrick, Justin Kistner and Nathan DiNiro. These three have some awesome tips and techniques that they shared during our session. Enjoy the 60 minute video!
Last week, I wrote a blog post about finding the right mix of listening and creating content for online communities or social media programs, and this week, I wanted to talk more specifically about the role of listening as a community manager. This post comes from my experience as a community manager and describes what has worked well for me over the years; however, there are many different types of communities and what works for one community doesn’t necessarily work for another.
There are also plenty of differing opinions about the role of community manager and how the job is defined. Here’s my take on the community manager role (related to the topic of this post – listening):
The community manager should not be the person answering all of the questions or responding to almost every post; however, the community manager needs to make sure that someone is responding with good, solid information.
A community manager needs to spend a lot of time listening to all of the various opinions from the community. It will never be possible to please everyone with every decision, but knowing what people think can help you make the right decisions.
Corporate community managers (those being paid by a company) need to walk a delicate line between doing the right things for the community and their employer at the same time while acting as a communications conduit to make sure that the community has what they need from the company and to communicate community issues and trends back into the organization.
I generally take a listen first, talk later approach to community management for most things, especially initially. I’ve been managing the MeeGo community for a little more than a month, and I spent a lot of time listening in that first month to give myself time to understand the community dynamics, the people and the project. I spend a lot of time on IRC; I read every post on every mailing list and forum; I watch the recent changes on the wiki; and I try to spend some time listening to what people say about MeeGo outside of the community. I respond to only a small fraction of these discussions, but I try to make sure that someone responds. There are plenty of cases where I could respond, but I like to give other people a chance to contribute. A healthy community has many people who will respond to questions or provide input, and an overly aggressive community manager who responds to everything can shut down the conversation.
This doesn’t mean that the community manager can just sit back and read all day. At some point, you need to take action by summarizing what has been said, making decisions or providing direction. The community manager can help set the tone for the community, and your interactions in the community will often be seen as a model for how you want people to behave. A community manager should be role modeling the type of behaviors that you want to see other community members display.
The community manager job is even more interesting for those of us who are being paid by a company to provide this service because of the delicate balance between providing information, maintaining company confidentiality and serving the interests of the community and the company at the same time. I spend a lot of my time working with people inside of my company to make sure that they know what is happening in the community and preparing them to interact with the community. This only works if I spend a lot of time listening to the community. As the community manager, I have a broad picture of what goes on across the entire community, and part of my job is to educate our employees to make sure that they have the information they need to have positive, productive conversations in the community. This involves a certain amount of nagging and arm twisting of everyone from developers to executives, but that is just part of the glamorous life of a community manager.
First, I wanted to thank Jeremiah Owyang for being the ultimate community manager by putting together a framework for Community Manager Appreciation Day and organizing the rest of us to help get the word out and support the effort.
Community Manager Appreciation Day will be the 4th Monday in every January, and it’s a great excuse to and recognize the contributions and thank those people who are managing your online communities and social programs. These people work tirelessly on behalf of your organization and much of what they do happens behind the scenes and often goes unnoticed by management and community members alike. Have you ever wondered who answers all of those questions, cleans up after spam attacks and makes sure that the community runs so smoothly that you never need to think about it? There is probably someone acting as community manager regardless of their official title within your organization.
The role of community manager can be a tough one. They face challenges from within the organization to justify the ROI and drive programs needed for the community while at the same time being beat up by spammers or demanding community members who want more. To top it all off, this isn’t a 9 to 5 job where the community shuts down from 5pm to 9am, so community managers often need to jump into the community during their off hours to resolve issues. Despite all of these challenges, the role can also be rewarding and fun, which is why so many of us choose this profession.
Jono Bacon (Ubuntu community manager) is organizing the second annual Community Leadership Summit on July 17 & 18 in Portland, Oregon (the weekend before OSCON, which has returned to my lovely city). I didn’t make it to the summit last year, since I skipped OSCON, but I heard great things about the Community Leadership Summit, so I’m not missing it this year!
The Community Leadership Summit 2010 is the second incarnation of the popular event designed to bring together community leaders and managers and the projects and organizations that are interested in growing and empowering a strong community.
The event provides an unconference style schedule in which attendees can discuss, debate and explore topics. This is augmented with a range of scheduled talks, panel discussions, networking opportunities and more.
The event provides the first opportunity of its kind to bring together the leading minds in the field with new community builders to discuss topics such as governance, creating collaborative environments, conflict resolution, transparency, open infrastructure, social networking, commercial investment in community, engineering vs. marketing approaches to community leadership and much more.
The event is free to attend, but you will need to register to help them plan the event. A big thanks to O’Reilly for offering up the space for the event.
Unfortunately, when an online community fails, it fails publicly. Anyone visiting the community can see that people aren’t participating, and it does not make a good impression. Whereas, traditional websites fail more privately, since only the people with access to your analytics know for sure that no one is visiting the website. Because a failure to get participation is so visible, it is important to launch with some seeded content from real people, in other words, your beta testers.
With any new community, always run a limited beta with your existing customers or a few potential customers if your company is still new. There are many benefits of running a beta.
You can get feedback and make improvements in the community before you launch. This allows you to fix mistakes, clarify any items that people find confusing, and make the community better than it would have been without the feedback.
You get a good base of initial content from people outside of your organization or project, so that when you launch, it already looks like an active community.
These existing beta users can help promote the community by bringing in coworkers, friends, and others who might be interested in joining your community.
Tips for running a successful beta
Build relationships first. If you don’t already have relationships with your potential beta testers, stop everything else and build those relationships to get to know your audience.
Before you build anything, talk to people and get their ideas. Share your plans and ideas while getting some initial feedback to make sure that you aren’t started down the wrong path. This probably involves some phone calls and meetings outside of the online space.
Start small and grow. Start with a few people in your organization and expand out a few people at time while making incremental improvements before bringing the next wave of people on board.
Listen, listen, and listen some more. During this beta period, you should spend your time listening to feedback and figuring out ways to make your community better.
You’ll know that you are ready to launch when you have finished working out any big issues and when you have enough activity that you are proud to call your effort a community.