Have you ever noticed that everyone and their brother has some advice for you?
Oh, you got a new job? Get there early, make sure you reply to emails right away and ask lots of questions so they know you're interested. And wear your gray slacks, they're very professional.
It gets even worse when you start a job in online community management. The job title just sounds so sexy. And, didn't you know? Everyone and their brother and sister is an expert on the internet, communities, or social media so they have truckloads of advice to give.
Those with some experience may even give you advice on increasing engagement, which is on the right track since increasing and maintaining engagement is probably one of your main responsibilities.
Customer or member engagement is also likely a key indicator that your executive team and board will use to measure your success, so the right engagement advice could make your career. Bad advice, on the other hand, could cost you your job.
So how do you sort through all the advice you get and separate the good from the bad?
There's a lot of noise out there and your job may depend on your ability to know what to listen to and what not to. In order to help make sorting through the mess a little easier on you, I've compiled a list of the worst advice for an online community manager that I've ever heard. File these under things not to do.
There are some people who believe you are merely there to seed content and the rest is up to the community members. But while seeding content is a great start, it isn't the end-all be-all to driving participation.
As a community manager, you need to consistently interact with your members and build relationships with them by sending emails, answering questions, and rewarding engagement. Encourage your best members to keep participating and give new members or lurkers the nudge they need to start posting. Your goal is to get to the point where your community consistently generates its own content.
Even when your community reaches critical mass, there are still times for you to get directly involved, such as when someone's question goes unanswered or when someone is getting bullied.
You need to be an active participant because you are your association's representative as well. If you're not involved, that will color how members feel about the staff.
Facebook is a great tool, but you don't own it. It's like borrowing someone else's net to fish. The net is a great tool, but at any time that person can demand the net back and they just might take your fish with it. Facebook can do the same, changing their posting policies and news stream algorithms so your content gets more or less attention. They can even wipe out your organization's presence completely.
SUNY New Platz, a New York university, experienced this firsthand. They built a vibrant Facebook fan page with just under 5,000 followers, had years of history and interaction, and were quite successful. Then it was gone. Facebook simply removed their page for five days.
If your association relies on Facebook for engagement, what would five days of downtime do? Would your members ever come back? Would prospective members? With a private online community, you own the platform and have more control over data, outages, and content.
Just take a couple of minutes a day, pour through your newsfeed, find something interesting and post it. Easy.
That would be easy, but with no strategy or purpose behind your posts, it's unlikely to be successful. You need to be deliberate in your posting and develop an editorial calendar.
I also recommend consistently evaluating that calendar and your posts' efficacy using analytics so that you can start charting what types of content get the most engagement.
Don't leave your posts up to chance. Figure out what's important and interesting to your members and do more of that.
What do you need others for? You're the community manager, right?
That seems to be a popular, but old school, management strategy. Yes, you are the one who's closest to the community and its members, but effective management means using all the resources at your disposal. That may mean soliciting help from other staff members.
Asking for help doesn't mean that you can't do your job. It's part of providing a richer experience for your members by ensuring that they hear from all facets of your organization. It helps improve the "know, like, and trust" that establishes relationships and keeps members invested in your organization.
Each staff member also has unique areas of expertise, so by bringing them into the fold you help provide the best possible information for your community members.
Every one of your customers, partners, or association members could join your online community and you still wouldn't be guaranteed success. It's not the raw numbers in the community that matter. It's the level of active participation among the members and the logins that count.
If you're reporting to your staff or the board, make sure you look to show engagement levels and growth ratios, not just signups.
Once you have engagement level information, contextualize it. If engagement dipped, explain why. A decrease in engagement is common during summer months when members are on vacation, for example. Similarly, you might see an increase in engagement if you implement a successful email campaign to encourage forum posts. The efforts you're taking have a significant impact on your metrics, so include relevant context whenever possible.
While it is difficult to quantify the progress of any relationship, there are aspects that can be measured and tracked. Interaction with content, event attendance, connections, and referrals, for instance, can all be tracked by membership management and online community platforms.
If you make the mistake of telling people these types of engagement activities can't be measured, you're also saying they can't be valued.
Instead, take the time to explain to your board and executive team how engagement will be measured and work together to identify the success indicators you will watch for. Then, find ways your data can be analyzed to improve the performance of your community and association as a whole.
All the advice in the world won't make you a successful community professional if you don't learn to separate the tactics that will work for your association from those that won't. Your members are unique, and so are their needs.
That means that, as an online community manager, the most important thing for you to understand is your members.
Once you understand your members, you have all the information you need to create content and posts that will engage them in a positive manner.