From fortune 200 companies to large associations, we help a variety of different types of organizations plan online customer or member communities. Since building community is still an emerging business strategy, we get a lot of great questions from some very smart business people.
Our online community consultants answer a fair amount of questions about creating a solid online community strategy. However, the majority of the questions that we field focus on the logistics and management of online communities.
Common questions involve forecasting the level of effort, resources, and investment needed to maintain high levels of customer engagement throughout the online communities' lifecycle. It is human nature to want to plan for the future and resolve as many unknowns as possible in order to limit surprises that may impact their budget, standing in their company, and their staffing capacity.
It is understandable why you'd research whether you can re-allocate your online community manager to another community or customer engagement project once your community is consistently showing signs of member-to-member engagement.
Will You Still Need an Online Community Manager After Six Months?
When you're implementing social software and peer-to-peer communities, it can be unclear how involved your organization needs to be once the community is live, active, and growing.
Often people assume that since you are dealing with social networks and user-generated content created by members of your community, the community manager can step back after six months or a year.
It's a common misconception that after a certain period of time the community runs on its own.
While this is possible, it is a rare occurrence. This type of autonomy typically only occurs when a member or a group of members in the community have taken ownership over the community management tasks.
In these situations, the community management effort never stops, it is just delegated to specific members of the community. This model shifts the role of the community manager to focus on other areas of the community, such as expansion or addressing some of the weaker engagement processes.
Does the Role of an Online Community Manager Change Over Time?
Community management activity will always exist. Someone needs to monitor and maintain the health of the community.
If you look at any of the most popular community lifecycle models (FeverBee, The Community Roundtable), you'll notice a shift in where community managers spend their time as the online community becomes more sustainable.
Community managers that run more mature communities focus on things like:
- Refining the community's culture
- Optimizing the structure of the community to increase engagement
- Testing content, programs, and processes
- Further integrating the community with measurable business outcomes
- Expanding the role of the community in the industry
While the day-to-day focus of your community manager may shift as activity in your community increases, the role is never obsolete.
The reality is that your online customer or member community will probably not to get to the point where it'll maintain and take care of itself. Some of the roles and responsibilities for adding value in the community through discussions and content may shift to other people in your company or members of the community, but that doesn't mean the role of community management diminishes.
There will always be a direct correlation between the involvement of community managers and the success of their community. The role will just look different at month six, twelve, or eighteen than it did during months one, two, or three.
Online Community Management Takeaway
Given that your community will always need community management, your organization should plan and allocate resources accordingly. A thriving online community hinges on consistent dedication and investment from its community manager. Communities that manage themselves are few and far between in the world of online communities.
We would love to hear from you! How has the role of community managers shifted over time in the communities that you have run or been a member of?
Please share your experiences in the comments below!