Many people think that the Holy Grail for community managers is proving a community’s ROI. Wrong! In Rachel Happe’s Super Forum keynote address, she said that many people misunderstand this point. The Holy Grail for community managers isn’t proving ROI -- sometimes when you’re starting out, it’s negative -- it’s improving the value of your community to ultimately increase ROI.
Your first aim as community manager is probably to make sure members are happy. That’s important, but what if your organization isn’t happy with the community? Equally bad is working to make the organization happy but alienating community members in the process. Rachel asserts that you need to find overlap -- that sweet spot -- of shared purpose. Don’t just stop there. Make sure once a shared purpose is established, people engage and interact. It's where the shared value is.
Don’t be fooled: if no one is tending the community, it’ll fall apart. That’s why you need someone who is dedicated to taking care of it; they might be doing other things as well, but they are responsible and accountable for the community. Once you’ve found that person, professional development is critical for them, since community management is an emerging discipline and there aren’t many people to look towards for inspiration.
This means patience is key. When you first open a community, you need to have the long game in mind, working on cultivating a community that will last. To do this, start small. Organize believers rather than attempting to convert non-believers right away. It’s easy to start certain behaviors and create social norms in a small, dedicated community rather than a large crowd. Train these initial dedicated community members, then add another round -- they’ll quickly catch onto existing behaviors and learn how the community works. Rachel said it’s like cooking risotto: you don’t dump all the rice in at once. You add ingredients slowly, over time. That’s the most effective way to grow a community, by slowly adding members, like grains of rice.
Before you start a community, you need to build out policies and governance. It’s critical to hash this out at the beginning, as your community grows, so everyone follows the same procedures. Outline exactly what behaviors you do and don't want to see. Put those policies on the front page, so members know exactly what you expect. Maybe even make a downloadable playbook that outlines, in detail, how to behave and how to handle conflict. As you create this document, know that conflict and differing perspectives are critical for driving a community’s value -- you want to have real discussions -- yet respect should never be compromised. Also keep in mind that your procedures need to scale and work as the community grows. The other part of this is knowing your job, as community manager, is to model the behavior outlined. Everyone needs to feel supported yet challenged (respectfully).
With so many metrics to measure and tools for measurement, it’s easy to get distracted. What do you do? Rather than looking at everything, it’s critical you identify a few behaviors within your community that generate value. Once you’ve found them, focus on measuring those specific behaviors and ignore everything else for now. In your reporting, use metrics to educate stakeholders and help make tactical adjustments. This will allow you to translate behaviors into financial value and ROI. Remember: you don’t need exact data to do this -- you’re never going to have it -- so accept working with a lot of averages and assumptions.
Now that you know a community manager’s Holy Grail isn’t finding ROI, but rather finding value to increase that ROI, it’s easy to feel intimidated. It’s a big task. Rachel ended by saying if you don’t have a shared purpose and value that excites most members, then start there. Take it one step at a time and know you don’t have to have everything figured out right away.About Rachel Happe
Rachel has spent the last 20 years helping organizations implement emerging technologies to advance their business strategies. She understands how networked communications environments can transform how people work, their productivity and their personal satisfaction by aligning their passions, skills and relationships.
Rachel co-founded The Community Roundtable to support business leaders developing their community and social business strategies. Clients including SAP, Aetna, BASF, CA, H&R Block, and CSC benefit from Rachel’s ability to make sense of abstract trends and her ability to see the implications that technical and operational decisions can have on people and processes. During her career Rachel has served in analyst, product management, product marketing and executive roles. Find her on Twitter @rhappe and at communityroundtable.com.