Posts Tagged ‘Community Moderation’

Construction SiteAs online communities continue to grow in number and usage, the professional role of community manager is also growing in prominence as a valued position that can, frankly, make or break a community. Of course, I’m biased from my perch as a community manager for the past 3.5 years for my company’s enterprise social network and a few external communities. Still, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in my role is the necessity of having the right person at the helm who understands communities – especially online communities – and who has the passion, training, knowledge, judgment and evolving experience to know what needs to be done, and who has the leeway to act accordingly.

Others have written great articles about the many hats community managers wear, the mind of the community manager, and qualities effective community managers must have. There are a host of phenomenal online resources related to community management such as Rich Millington’s, Tim McDonald’s My Community Manager and others. In this post I want to make a simple point that will be self-evident to other community managers but not always so obvious to others.

First, a little background…

Our Enterprise Social Media Team at work has had a couple of open positions for a few months for various social media roles, one of which is for a community manager. We have no shortage of people applying for the roles. In fact, back in the spring of this year when we posted for an open position we had over 200 applicants. However, the number of people worth talking with and interviewing from among those applicants was in the single digits. Why? Nearly everyone thought that because they used social media to some extent in their personal lives, they were therefore qualified to be a community manager.

Let me state this as clearly as I know how: The fact that you use social media personally does not qualify you to be a community manager.

Billions of people on earth use social media. There are not billions of qualified community managers out there. Anyone can be a part of an online community, but using one and building one are two very different things. Using one and managing one are light years apart in skill sets and mindset.

Imagine that you are in the automotive industry. You are about to hire various people to do the best job possible designing and building your next great car model. How successful will you be if your criterion for hiring is that the person has used a car before? Using and designing are not the same. Using and building are not the same. While you may (and should) care about and consider input from everyday users throughout the process, the ones with the ultimate responsibility and authority to design and build the model will surely be limited to those trained in, passionate about, and experienced with that aspect of the process.

Another example… You’re a business owner and you want to create or greatly improve your company’s website. To whom will you go for advice on what is possible and effective? Hopefully, you’ll go to those who are experienced in website design, marketing, user experience and any other aspects specific to your purpose for the site. You won’t consider going, for example, to your neighbor next door because he’s used a lot of websites before. It won’t enter your mind to have your social media-addicted family member create your business website just because she is online all the time. Using and designing are not the same. Using and building are not the same. Using and managing are not the same.

The analogies could continue: You would not, for example, leave the construction of a major business complex to those who have merely worked in offices before. You would not entrust the creation of a fine, multi-course meal for your wedding guests to a few friends who like to eat. You would not eagerly wear clothes made by people who like clothes but who have no experience in sewing or working with various fabrics and materials. Why, then, do so many businesses use such failed logic when it comes to community management?

I heard someone proudly mention recently that in her company those who have responsibility for their enterprise social network have “real roles” – meaning other full-time jobs and that nobody has the title or responsibility of community manager. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sorry that the company proud of that situation doesn’t understand the value a community manager uniquely brings to the table. I’m sorry that the company is not getting the most possible out of their internal community due to the absence of passionate, qualified community managers. It’s great that they have some enthusiastic users, but I’m sorry that the company doesn’t grasp the difference between using and building or managing. I wonder how much the company and its employees are missing out on?

My simple case for community management is this: It takes special skills and qualities to design, build and manage online communities, and merely having used one or more before doesn’t quality anyone for the role. If we understand that there is a difference in building, using and managing other areas of life from cars to websites, then it’s time we recognize that the same holds true in building, using and managing online communities. We need specific community manager roles to exist and we need training and professional development paths and opportunities appropriate for the role expectations so that those interested in the profession have a legitimate opportunity to break into the field and to succeed in the role.

When it comes to building, using and managing online communities, the typical community participants do one of those three things really well – they use the platform to connect with others. That is why they are there. They are, of course, vital because without them the communities would not exist. They are the reason we community managers do what we do.

The best community managers, however, know how to do all three – build, use and manage.

Your online community – whether internal for your employees or external for the public – needs at least one dedicated, trained, community manager.

Buzzing CommunitiesI have long been a fan of Rich Millington and the excellent advice he dispenses daily from his blog at  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:

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.