As I mentioned in my previous post, I am coming from a previous online community launch from which I learned a great many lessons. My only hope is maybe others in a similar position can possibly learn from my “shoulda coulda woulda’s.”
I'm getting settled into my new job and my main task for these first few weeks has been to study the online community field. Sometimes the huge information overload that comes with starting a new position can be daunting, mundane and downright exhausting. But in this case, I feel like an eager college student again. Not the first two years of undergrad, “I already learned about the make-up of cells in 10th grade” type student, but the third and fourth years, “I'm really digging into my major” type learning.
I have been able to study something I am passionate about - online communities. I'm learning many different perspectives about best practices, mistakes to avoid, history, human behavior and so much more – I can't read and listen fast enough. Granted that hindsight is 20-20, but man, I could have avoided a lot of mistakes, frustrations and heartbreak, had I really truly studied this field I was thrust into.
So here’s my top five list I wish Jenny circa 2014 had seen:
1. Leave unanswered posts front and center on your homepage.
This may seem like a small detail, but it was one I struggled with in the past. When I mentioned displaying unanswered questions in a highly visible area to a customer service colleague, the response was immediate: “No, then people will see if we’re falling down on the job!”
I quickly joined them in those fears, so imagine my surprise when it popped up in my research as a good practice. The reasoning totally makes sense: if you make it easy to find open questions that need answers, it will encourage peers of the poster to reach out a helping hand. That’s what we all want anyways, isn’t it? For members of our community to help one another? Obviously, if a question is unanswered for several days (or *gasp* weeks), it’s our job as community managers to make sure that person is getting a response.
2. Don't over-segment your communities.
This one was HUGE and I sure do wish I had known this a long time ago. When building my community, it was easy to convince myself that every segment of customer/user/member needed their own private spaces to talk. It never dawned on me that this would hurt the overall health of my community. Having one, central place for everyone to talk creates a greater sense of community and drives participation. After all, aren’t novices joining the community so they can talk to the experts, not just their fellow novices?
3. Not all conflict is bad.
I hear the word conflict and immediately want to crawl into a fetal position until everything magically goes away. In other words, I don’t care for conflict. One of my biggest anxieties was if two members were fighting, what on earth I would do? It never crossed my mind that debating and disagreements could actually be good for my community.
Obviously trolling and personal jabs should be shut down, but if two people are having a lively discussion about a relevant topic, it simply means people are engaged. As Richard Millington states in this excellent blog post, “People are far more likely to stop participating in a community because it's boring, than because there are people, opinions and activities which they don't like.”
4. Create a newsletter all about the community.
My previous work life had both a separate, curated newsletter emailed out to hundreds of thousands of contacts and then content generated on the community. It had never really dawned on me to combine the two. It makes sense to promote the happenings of your most engaged members – it keeps them motivated to contribute.
5. Study, study, then study some more.
Find books to read, write out notes, identify main themes across your various research and write blog posts or whitepapers about them. Or better yet, use your studying to create an action plan for your community. Even you've already launched your community, it will help you be more proactive and fine-tune your strategy. It is never too late to be a student, especially in a field that is constantly growing.
I could probably list out another five or ten things I wish I had known, but these are the most prominent ones. If you're new at this, take it one step at a time and work on creating a community blueprint - we've got a pretty good one you can download here.
What piece of advice would you give your former self about Community Management?