Most successful online communities are that way because of the mutual respect between members and community management. Whether the community is a brand wishing to to reach consumers or a forum where members talk about their favorite topic, the best online communities flourish because those in charge know these environments are made up of groups of like-minded people participating, and not one person alone.
When an online community is run well, members don’t even realize managers are there keeping things moving along. Instead, they see management as people who are contributing to the conversation, asking questions and allowing members to peacefully to interact. However, the reality is, they’re good at what they do because they follow a few simple rules:
1. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
The problem with publicly making promises is that someone will always hold you accountable. So if community members ask for a particular feature or product and you say “yes” but your superiors say “no” it can lead to a negative situation. If you promise something by a certain day, and that day passes, someone in your community will remind you of it. If you promise to bring in a person to answer questions, and that person can’t make it, you will be blamed because you’re the one who made the promise. Don’t offer to do or give anything to your community unless you know for sure you can deliver. Breaking promises is the best way to lose the trust of your community.
2. Don’t Allow One Negative Person to Set the Tone for Your Community
There are always one or two chronic malcontents in the group. They gripe about everything or bait management on every occasion. If this is allowed to happen, it encourages others to be negative. It also means the community manager is in for a hard time as the negative person will continue to snark and bait at every turn. For sure you want folks to speak freely, but you also want to ensure they do so respectfully. Anyone who doesn’t follow the rules has to pay the consequences. Don’t be afraid of words such as “censorship” and don’t worry about asking folks to tone down the language or play by the rules. Also, don’t worry about them threatening to trash you on Twitter or take it to a higher authority. If someone has truly been stirring up trouble, the people who matter know you’re doing your job and will stand behind you. If a negative member of the community feels you’re afraid of what will happen if you ban him or edit his posts to remove swear words, he’ll probably do whatever he can to bait you.
3. Don’t Lie…
Don’t make up answers. If you don’t know, say you’ll find out – and then do so. Don’t make up stories to make yourself or your business look good and don’t say anything that can be proven otherwise or come back to haunt you in any way. The problem is, if you lie to temporarily fix a situation it’ll be remembered on down the line. Members of the community will remind you and it may even come to light if you’re looking for another community manager job. We’re no longer living in a world where things can be covered up and swept under the rug. If you’re telling lies to your community they WILL find out and they won’t trust you anymore.
4. …But Be Mostly Honest
Transparency is good, but you don’t need to share very single detail of the day to day running of your community or business. If it isn’t relevant, there’s no need to bring it up. Don’t sweep everything under the rug, but some items are best shared on a “need to know” basis.
5. Don’t Overshare
Your community doesn’t need to know about all your parties or sex life. They don’t need to see risque pictures or know what you did with your girlfriend the night before. They don’t even need to know how you spend your time offline, unless it’s relevant to the topic or talk. Sharing is good, oversharing is awkward, especially if it has nothing to do with community discussions. Again, the trust thing. Community managers are also authority figures, they won’t have respect for you if you’re acting inappropriately. It’s not your private life if you’re sharing it online.
6. Don’t Get Involved in Cliques
Many online communities have cliques, groups of people who side together for a common cause. Community managers must remain neutral, regardless of their beliefs, and not get involved with cliques, or take sides in disputes. Your job is to keep the community together, not drive them apart.
7. Don’t Play Favorites
Again, community managers are supposed to be neutral. This means even some of the more unlikeable members of your community should be treated the same as the people with more agreeable personalities. There can’t be teachers pets. Not if you want to hold the respect and continued trust of the community.
Your community won’t grow unless you take all feedback into consideration, and that includes the stuff you’d rather not hear.
Communication is a two way street. Respond to your community’s questions and comments and let them know that you’re not just someone who makes sure everyone’s playing nice.
10. Don’t Become the Scapegoat
When a community doesn’t get along, it’s easy to point fingers at the community manager and say, “well, she didn’t do her job.” It’s not necessarily management’s fault. Sometimes it’s a regular troublemaker who stirs up negativity everywhere he goes and sometimes it’s because the community manager’s manager isn’t allowing her to do her job properly (I have so been there) . When you take the fall for an unsuccessful community it will come into play with future community based gigs.
What are some of your tried and true rules of community management?