Category Archives: Community Manager Tips

Community Manager Tip: Take a Fresh Look

Keep It FreshMost of us get into the swing of our day to day routine and work habits, which can be good most of the time. However, occasionally, you need to take a fresh look at your community to get a new perspective on what you have. We sometimes remember to do this when we notice issues, but the best time to do this is when the community is healthy.

When was the last time you really looked at your primary landing page for your community? Take the time to really look at everything on that page, and remember that your landing pages are primarily for new and prospective community members, since active community members will just dive right into the heart of the community. Is everything still relevant? Does it focus on the right things for your community to help new community members easily find what they need?

When was the last time you looked at every page on your website or your wiki to see what information was out of date or irrelevant? This may not be practical for a very large community, but you can use your analytics programs to help you at least find the most frequently used pages to review.

Are the discussions in your community productive and appropriate? Take a hard look at what people are discussing and the tone of those discussions. If it doesn’t feel right for your community (and this varies for each community), then spend some time thinking about what you can do to make it better.

Additional Reading

Photo by Mars Infomage used under a Creative Commons license.

Community Manager Tip: Don't Copy

This is the first post in an attempt to resurrect my Community Manager Tips series, a collection of short posts to share quick tips for community managers, to get me back into the blogging habit.

People often ask me for a list of the “best” communities that they can use as a model when building their own community, but this is fundamentally the wrong question. Each community has a different audience, different goals, and a different purpose. Building your community based on what works for another successful community can fail very quickly if that community doesn’t have the same needs as your community.

A better question is, “what type of communities are my competitors building and what does or doesn’t work for them?” Your top competitors are likely to be more similar to you than other companies, and this gives you a place to start. Spend some time lurking in your competitors communities to see how they work and try to get a feel for what works and doesn’t work for them. Look for common complaints, and come up with interesting ways to solve them in your community. Pay attention to what people enjoy or get excited about, and think about how you might get people excited about your community. You shouldn’t model your community on a competitor’s community, but this analysis along with some basic best practices will probably give you a start for how you want to build your community or improve an existing one.

Don’t copy other companies. Build something unique that will work well for your audience while also meeting your goals.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Juliancolton2 used under a Creative Commons license.

Community Manager Tip: Be There for Your Community

Communities occasionally go through tough times, and it’s important as the community manager to be there and support your community as much as possible. For example, last Friday there was an announcement scheduled at 2am my time with a webcast that promised to have at least some impact on the community that I manage. Rather than sleeping until my normal wake up time of 6am, I pulled my butt out of bed to watch the webcast with the rest of the community and sit on IRC to support people and answer questions where possible. I thought it was important to be there for people in this case.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • None of us can be awake 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but we should be there during tough times.
  • Don’t be afraid to shift your work day to accommodate key community activities.
  • Pay attention to your community and anticipate times when they might need you more than other times.
  • Answer questions and be honest when you just don’t know the answers yet.

Recommended Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Illustration by elkokoparrilla used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Recognition and Thanks

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.
  • Make recognition a big part of your monthly metrics reports.
  • Hold special events, like Yelp does for their elite members.
  • Seek input on tough problems from your frequent contributors.
  • Do something nice for them.

Recommended Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by William Arthur Fine Stationery used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Make Time for Strategy and Planning

It can be all too easy for community managers to fall into the day to day routines of managing your community without spending time on planning and strategy to make sure that you are heading in the right direction. All of those daily responsibilities and urgent requests are usually a full time job, which leaves little to no time for reflecting on what works well (or doesn’t), planning improvements, thinking strategically about where the community should be heading and coming up with a plan for how to get there. Many communities tend to slow down during the holidays, so now might be a good time to start!

A few suggestions to get you started:

  • Take some time right now to look at what works / what doesn’t, and ask the community what they think.
  • Schedule some time on your calendar when the community tends to be less active (for me this is later afternoon after European community members are in bed), and spend a couple hours of focused time devoted to strategy and planning every week until you get a basic plan together.
  • Share your objectives and plans with the community and get feedback on them.
  • Put some time on your calendar every month or so to take a another look at your strategy and plans to make sure that you are making progress and make any adjustments as appropriate.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Levente Fulop used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Community Building with Werewolves

I don’t play werewolf just because I love it. I play it because it builds community.

I played many games of Werewolf at the recent MeeGo Conference, and I talked about it in my conference wrap up post, but I wanted to also repackage it into a community manager tip because I think people underestimate the importance of games as community building tools.

Werewolf is one of those games that I really like to bring to conferences because it gives people a chance to get to know each other. It gives the quiet guy who doesn’t really know anyone something to do and an excuse to meet new people, and it puts people on a level playing field where the company executive, the university student and the internet famous are all equal as werewolves and villagers. It gives people something in common to start a conversation while they learn enough about each other to find other things in common. Many of us tend to talk to the people we already know, which keeps us in our own little friend bubbles that can seem cliquey even when not intended to be. Werewolf is an excuse to talk to people that we don’t know and otherwise might not have met. Unlike those other team building and conference games, people really seem to enjoy werewolf.

A few tips to get you started:

  • Start a game the first or second night of the event.
  • Print up special cards for the event and make extra decks to give away. This allows anyone to start a game later in the week.
  • Encourage new moderators to spread the load and introduce new variations of the game.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Community Manager Tip: Automate Tasks

This is one of those things that can be hard to make the time for, and it is more technically challenging than many other community management tasks, but over the longer term it can really pay off in time savings. Think about those repetitive tasks that you do over and over – monthly community metrics come to mind as one of the most common examples. I started really looking at the time it was taking me to compile my monthly metrics, and I vowed to start automating as much of it as I can. Right now, I’m getting close to having most things at least partially automated.

Here are a few ways to automate your community tasks:

  • APIs: Many APIs are easier to use than you might think and can be a great way to suck data out of commonly used services like wikis. You can often format a URL and get a file without any programming required.
  • Database queries: Yes, I’m picky, but I’m almost never happy with the reporting tools in community software, and I always end up needing a few database queries. If you don’t have the technical skills, find a geek to help you write a few queries that can be set up to automatically run every month and email you the results.
  • Scripts: I have one gigantic shell script and a couple of smaller ones where I dump a bunch of commands that run other stats gathering programs, do database queries, download data into files (parsing if needed), etc. This requires a little programming knowledge, but it’s easier than it sounds.
  • Schedule: Many web hosts make it easy to schedule your scripts to run every hour, day, week, month or on some custom schedule with a nice, user-friendly interface into cron (which can be incomprehensible to some people in its native form).

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Image by hobvias sudoneighm used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Reuse Your Work

Community managers get asked the same questions over and over and over, so being able to quickly and easily reuse your work can save a lot of time and help maintain your sanity. The second time I’ve dug through my email archives to reuse a piece of a previous email to answer a repeat question, I usually realize that it’s time to formalize that answer and make it easy to reuse it.

Here are a few ways that you can reuse your work:

  • Have great documentation: use your online community or a blog to document frequently asked questions, processes and other useful information so that you can send a quick note and a link the next time you get the question.
  • Resources: pull together collections of links and other resources for people on a single page or section of your community to make it easy for people to find enough information to get started. The ‘Starting Point‘ page on this blog is an example of a quick and easy way to do this.
  • Use email templates (Gmail canned responses): these can be a quick way to organize information or content that gets sent by email, and I use them for collections of links, confidential information (invoices, etc.) and other things that are commonly sent via email multiple times.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Image by Flickr user andriux-uk used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Always be Professional

The good community managers can maintain professional communications when faced with the most belligerent trolls on the internet without letting themselves be goaded into unprofessional behavior. As a community manager, you are often the face of your company to the outside world and everything you do in the community reflects on the organization that you represent. If your interactions are unprofessional, the company looks unprofessional, not just in front of current and potential customers, but also potentially the media and industry analysts. Staying professional at all times can be harder than it sounds, especially when someone catches you on a really bad day or when you are being bombarded by negative comments. The Earth Class Mail example in the image below provides an example of what can go wrong.

Here are a few tips to help you stay professional.

  • Don’t be afraid to wait and see if other community members chime in with a positive response. A post coming from the organization might sound defensive when the same information would be seen more positively coming from a neutral third party.
  • Don’t post angry. If you start to feel really angry, step back and stop interacting with the public until you cool off. Go for a walk or catch up on some work that can be done without talking to anyone else.
  • Take a really hard look at what you plan to say. Can it be misinterpreted? Would you want to read a quote of that post on the front page of the newspaper? Would you be embarrassed if your mom or your boss read it? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, throw it away and start over.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Community Manager Tip: Have Great Documentation

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.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Flickr user mind on fire under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.