I have long been a fan of Rich Millington and the excellent advice he dispenses daily from his blog at FeverBee.com. For those involved with leading online communities, you need to go to FeverBee and subscribe to his updates. You’ll benefit from the brief, insightful posts he publishes nearly every weekday. I was extremely glad, therefore, when his book Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities was published a few months ago. I readily digested it upon arrival and am eager to share these thoughts with you about the contents of the book, why it’s important, and what specific actions it has already prompted me to take in order to be a more professional and effective community manager.
The book’s two parts and twelve chapters span nearly 300 pages and are devoted to the categories of “How to Manage Your Community” and “Everything You Need to Know About Your Members,” with the vast majority of space given to the former. The part on managing your community includes nine chapters: Strategy; Growth; Content; Moderation; Influence and Relationships; Events and Activities; Business Integration; Return on Investment; and User Experience. The second part includes: The Community Ecosystem; Competition – Existing Online Communities; The Audience – Demographics, Habits, and Psychographics; and a wrap-up on Community Management Success.
Online community management is a relatively new profession that still lacks much in the way of formal training, education, certification, standards, and proven, documented, and accepted best practices. In such an environment, Millington’s book raises the bar and sets the standard for what community management is about and where it must go in the best interests of the communities served and the professionals who have responsibility for them. Anyone whose role includes in whole or in part leading an online community will benefit from taking a slow, diligent walk through the book.
Usually, when I read a book, I underline some things as I go and absorb at an intellectual level the contents of what I read. For this book, however, so many helpful ideas jumped off the page or sprung to mind while reading that the margins are filled with notes to myself with actions I need to take in my online communities in order to implement the concepts discussed. Such ideas make this one of the most practical and helpful books I have read with immediate impact on how I do what I do every day.
One of the core ideas of the book is that “data is the single best asset you have to develop a thriving community.” Millington is wonderfully relentless about the need to gather, analyze and make decisions based on data in order to grow and strengthen communities. He is spot on correct when he states that too many community managers are “too reactive, too ad hoc, and too lacking in long-term strategy.” They fail to use their data probably because they don’t gather the data needed to make the best decisions. Some platforms are woefully limited in the data easily mined to help with this need, but even in those instances you’ll at least know what you’re missing by reading the book. Be forewarned: If you read it, you will no longer be able to speak the lie that “It’s hard to measure the ROI of social.”
Unfortunately, I can relate all too well to the above shortcomings. How much of my days have been spent reacting to the vocal minority instead of planning and improving things for the majority? How many weeks pass with no progress on big-picture strategic paths because I have taken too many member complaint detours or spent too much time in the weeds to even notice how far off path we traveled?
The book provides ample specifics to guide community managers through the early planning of new communities through the day-to-day building of existing communities. Millington’s insights apply both to internal and external communities of all types, sizes, ages and platforms. I challenge any community manager to read it and not come away with a to-do list of things you can immediately do to help build your community.
Speaking of a to-do list, let me share with you some of the things from my to-do list having read the book. Keep in mind that I am the community manager for a 23,000+ member internal community for a Fortune 100 company and also have responsibility for some of our external social platforms as well.
- I changed the welcome email that I send to all new members by adding one specific thing they could go out to the community right then and do to get them involved immediately.
- Since I lead a bi-weekly call of nearly 30 others in our company who have some level of responsibility related to community management, I’m taking one of the book’s chapters each call over 14 meetings to discuss the key ideas and insights from that chapter.
- We have purchased a quantity of the books to put copies in the hands of community managers in-house.
- I routinely do not open my email at work until I’ve been there 2-3 hours so that I can concentrate on getting important tasks done related to big-picture, long-term growth instead of allowing email to force me into a reactive mode.
- I limit the amount of time I give to member complaints or the vocal minority daily.
- My manager and I have been in conversation about adding a new analyst role to the team (in addition to the analyst role already planned) to assist with all the data-related needs. Writing up the proposed job description and role justification is my next task on this matter.
- I’ve made notes to do a number of additional things in the coming weeks, such as:
- Schedule town halls with group admins to provide a forum for sharing success stories, best practices and advice about being a successful group admin;
- Survey the community to gauge their sense of belonging;
- Create a group for new members and populate it initially with helpful links and info, and then modify the welcome email again to invite members to join the group;
- Schedule a monthly town hall for new members;
- Solicit current members regarding their favorite platform or community tips to include in the weekly broadcast I send to all members;
- Post a list of community volunteer opportunities since it isn’t possible or wise for me to try to do it all in the community.
You can see that I had many takeaways from the book. I am certain that you will as well. In fact, let me help you get started with this list:
- Buy the book and read it.
- Subscribe to Rich’s blog at FeverBee.com.
- While you’re there, check out his many additional resources including an extensive professional community management course and a monster list of previous key posts grouped by helpful categories.
- Follow Rich on Twitter at @RichMillington
If you’ve read the book already, or if you read it soon, please leave a comment below with your thoughts. I’d love to hear your takeaways from it as well.