Online Community Management Strategies
Passion can't be faked. But with some creative nurturing, it can be transformed.
That's the mission of an online community manager, and to a broader extent, the founders of an online community. Their job is to provide an environment for intersecting interests and causes - the architecture, the tools, and the ongoing engagement and grooming. In turn, that environment takes on a life of its own to ferment those interests and causes for its members, and potentially, a global network of like-minded people.
Every online community should have clear goals, but those goals will fall along different strategic spectrums. Regardless of your community focus, having a Whac-A-Mole strategy for engagement will never allow your community to grow to its full potential. Here are 4 proactive strategies to improve your community management skills and create shared ownership among users.
4 Proactive Strategies for Online Community Management
1) Work hard to enable users' learning addictions
We all have that perpetually growing inventory of things we want to explore in our spare time, even if you don't realize it. (Your Google searches are usually the smoking gun for what those things may be). Maybe it's mastering SEO, understanding venture capital, or learning Arabic.
Whatever your "learning bucket list" is brimming with, sometimes these learning addictions actually align with what's going on in your career, and other times they are worlds apart. As a community manager, you should leverage the undercurrent of your community's common theme and play off of members' supplementary passions. This is especially important in communities based on seemingly dry subjects. It's your job to spice things up and provide the nuance to open up the realm of possibilities for community discussion and discovery.
2) Capture the right data and use it to constantly evolve the member experience
You have the advantage of being able to hover over your online community and assess how its activities and interests migrate on a regular basis. You have a bird's eye view of what users care about, worry about, ask about, argue about, and probably even what they think is worth spending money on.
Yes, capturing data means analyzing metrics such as clicks, likes, comments and shares. However you shouldn't get too caught up in analyzing the internal landscape of your community. Don't forget to mine other communities and the internet at large for trending topics and reactions to certain subjects or content pieces.
This will be a more complex process for an Open Garden online community that has some publicly accessible content, but there is also more to gain as your audience, data, and insight will have more reach. Pulling meaningful data from both inside and outside your community allows you to add more insight into your arsenal of engagement strategies - strategies that should be evolving appropriately over time.
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3) Have systems in place for managing popular or controversial content
This translates to having a well-thought-out content plan. A huge facet of that is having command of the content journey, along with strategies in place for aspects of that journey you can't control. That applies to original, curated, and user-generated content. For example, one of your articles might get picked up by a high-traffic source - how do you leverage and promote that? Or what happens when a user starts a controversial thread that picks up steam and creates a negative stir in the community? You need to have steps in place and language ready to diffuse the situation and turn it into a productive experience. This shows your acumen as community manager and provides much needed stability in communities that tend to buzz with debates.
4) Take cues from the core online community
When it comes to management theories, one of the classic dilemmas is knowing when to inject yourself into a situation and when to stand by with perked ears and passivity.
Learn from the language and interactions of your core members and understand when you need to:
- Be "Defuser in Chief"
- Play chameleon
- Get on your soapbox
- Display community etiquette (directly or indirectly)
- Open up and get personal
- Play host and connect members to one another
As you'd expect, leadership styles will vary greatly from community to community. This isn't something you should put on autopilot. Reading situations, coming to the discussion with a critical eye, and above all else, understanding your members, are the most useful tools to have in your arsenal.
The waltz of managing a new or growing community involves a lot of experimenting and strategic adjustments. The best way to hone your skills as a community manager and get to know your members is to go in with the willingness to put in long hours and be proactive in your approach. The 4 above strategies are a great starting place, but as you learn and grow, they will surely be expanded or replaced by your own unique systems of thinking.
If you liked this article, you may learn from these:
- Measuring Online Community Success: Lurkers Deserve Your Love Too
- 6 Ways Community Managers Can Transform Member Attitudes
- Too Big to Engage? Why the Size of Your Online Community Matters