Congratulations! You're now in charge of an online community. Assuming you have already introduced yourself to your community and filled out your new profile, including uploading some cute pictures of the important people in your life and/or the places you've traveled, what's next?
The answer to that question depends largely on whether this is an existing community that you inherited or one that is just getting off the ground. If the community is just getting started, you'll want to do the basics:
- Ensure you have an engagement plan based on the goals you'd like to accomplish with the community.
- Understand how you will measure these goals.
- Get buy-in from the higher-ups. If you already have buy-in, have deeper conversations about your goals and how they tie in to the organization's mission.
- Create a Terms of Participation document or something that contains your community's rules of play, posting etiquette, etc.
- Set a posting schedule and editorial calendar as needed.
- Cultivate a group of content seeders in your membership and on your staff.
- Begin connecting, posting, and engaging.
When You're New, but the Online Community Isn't
If the customer or member community has been around for a while and you're just starting, your job as a community manager is a little more difficult because in addition to continuing to engage the members of the community, you need to do some assessments and discoveries to find out what the community and organization need from you.
To skip this discovery phase is to run the risk of an "unknown" catching you off guard. That's not what you want the first couple of weeks on the job. Here's what you need to do in your first two months as an online community manager in an existing community.
Action Item #1) Assess Current Goals
What are the goals for the community and how successful has the community management team been at attaining them in the past? Do these goals still fit what the organization wants to accomplish?
Action Item #2) Sort Through Supporters and Detractors
Successful community managers know they can't go it alone. Support from management, or your board, is essential to your long-term success in the role. Take the time to assess the key players within the organization.
Who supports the community? Who is its biggest advocate? Do you need to work on attaining more support for the community and your efforts? Building relationships in the community is important, but so is building relationships within the organization. Don't by-pass this important step.
Action Item #3) Assess Critical Mass
Is your community at critical mass? Is there enough contribution from community members that your organization does not need to participate in discussions for the community to be sustainable?
These are great questions to ask when getting to know the health of the community and its current needs. Understanding if content is generated by the community itself or if it is still being heavily seeded by the community management team will help you gain a greater understanding of your daily tasks.
Action Item #4) Get Help with Content
Next, it's time to look for content partners. These are people who you can count on to help you create content. Look to your peers, as well as members of the community to help. Ideally, this is already in place and you merely have to build on the volunteers you currently have.
If your organization doesn't have something in place, look at creating an ambassadors' group for members and staff people who are willing to help with community management and content creation.
Action Item #5) Delight Your Members
Emotional moments create lasting impressions. Find little ways to delight your members with opportunities and attention they only get through your online community. You can do this by using surveys to improve the member experience, personally responding to questions and comments, or finding new ways to ensure your members feel valued. This will help keep them satisfied with both your community and your organization.
Action Item #6) Look for Ways to Drive New Traffic to the Community
This may involve working with internal staff to find out what information you can share on the community before anywhere else. Creating a "you heard it here first" atmosphere in your online community will help you keep numbers and participation high.
Does your organization have a learning management system or continuing education credits that are awarded online? Can you tie that into your online community? If not, you might also enjoy prompts in the LMS to the online community to drive more traffic?
Action Item #7) Assess the Existing Content
Content assessment and creation on top of everything might seem overwhelming, but it must be done. Review current content and plans first. If there's an old content calendar, take a look and see if there are any holes or new areas you'd like to fill. An online community requires helpful content and engaging features such as updates, opinion surveys, and forums.
More than likely you're also going to need to find ways to create new content also. To make this easier you can take a look at what's in your community and see if it's possible to expand or update that content. You can use it in another way, cut snippets and produce them in a different medium, or ask people to give feedback on an opposing view. This type of reuse will help extend your content and give it new life.
Takeaway for Online Community Managers
Online community management is an exciting field. Your day is never the same twice. Assessing the state of the community within the first 60 days is critical to your success in the role.
It's easy for a new online community manager to ask the community questions. It's natural and a nice way to open up the dialogue and get to know the members. Once you know the landscape of your community, you'll have better insight into what needs to be done and the challenges you face. Good luck!