Higher Logic Blog

Lead the Community You Inherited

Written by Molly Talbert | July 26, 2016 at 12:30 PM

You’ve been hired -- or got promoted! -- and are now in charge of an pre-existing community.

From the outset, taking on an existing community can be easier than starting a brand new one -- someone else already did the heavy lifting of establishing that community. Now you just have to take the reins and run with it.

But stepping into an existing community as the new leader can also pose its own challenges, especially depending on the community’s history. Just because it’s already established doesn’t mean it’s running smoothly, or that members will trust whoever is in charge. If you storm into the community expecting everyone to follow you and love every single change you make, you’ll be in for a shock.

That’s why it’s important to step into your new role armed with research and a plan of action.

1. Educate yourself

If you want to have a positive impact on your community and gain people’s trust, you need to know where the community came from -- you don’t want to make the same mistakes twice.

So, before you start making grand plans, you need to educate yourself on the community’s history. What’s the back story? Why did your organization make the investment in the first place and how do members feel about it now?

Part of your education is also learning about your organization’s culture (if you’re new to the company) and your community’s culture. If you don’t know the cultures you’re dealing with -- because sometimes organizational culture can differ from community culture -- you won’t be able to communicate effectively.

To understand the culture, you need to read discussions and watch how people participate. Talk to MVPs, ambassadors and community volunteers to learn their perspectives. But don’t forget about those lurkers, or other everyday members -- try sending out a community-wide survey so that you understand all types of members, not just the most vocal.

Another part of the educational process is figuring out your platform. Have you ever used it before? Although different platforms have similarities, each one comes with unique functions. In order to get the most out of it, you need to learn about whatever features it has to offer, whether those are specific dashboard configurations or automation rules.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the situation as it stands -- before you start tinkering with anything -- then you can move onto the next step.

2. Assess

Now that you have an idea of where your community came from, you can begin taking stock of what’s going on in the community right now. Part of this overlaps with your initial education, but it’s important to try and separate them -- don’t get ahead of yourself in the very beginning, and plan before you have a clear and accurate picture.

To do this, get your hands on all the data you can and thoroughly read the community’s business plan -- if they don’t have a business plan, you’ll have to create one once you’ve established yourself. What are the organization’s goals for the community and what are the members’ goals? Compare those goals with the numbers and KPIs you have in front of you -- do they match up? In other words, is the community headed in the right direction, and are there any discrepancies?

Don’t just stop there. Dig into the answer to figure out how to get the community on course. This will inform what you do next.

This CMX Hub post had some great ideas for community managers who are taking over an existing community. Here are a few questions you should find answers for:

  • Why do members stay or leave?
  • What’s the community’s value proposition -- for the organization and the members?
  • What are the organization’s business objectives?
  • Who are the most influential members?
  • What has and hasn’t worked for engaging members

3. Create a plan (and implement it)

Ok, time to take action. Throughout the entire planning process, keep in mind both organizational and member objectives for the community -- in order to succeed, you need to find overlap between the two.

Don’t forget to include your members or volunteers in the process. They offer key insight that you need, and they’ll feel valuable if they’re included in your community planning. This will help your engagement -- members who feel valued usually engage more -- and will make sure you have member buy-in. As you form your plan, find places for members to help, whether you’re looking for volunteer moderators, bloggers or brand ambassadors.

Are you stuck in your planning process or can’t connect all the dots? Try storyboarding the journey you want your members to take -- it’s what AirBNB does. Distribute your plan throughout the organization so that everyone is on board and knows what the plan is.

Earn Trust

Why go through such a calculated process?

One of the hardest parts of being the new community manager in a pre-existing community is gaining trust. Don’t expect to necessarily waltz in -- especially if you plan on making significant changes.

Learn everything you can about the community, talk to everyone involved and then move from there.