Articles

How to Manage a Thriving Online Community

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by Kennedy Lukey

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“If we think of moderators as the hosts of the party…” Judy Garvey, the Community Manager for Rust-Oleum’s Creator's Studio thought about the perfect analogy to describe her role and settled on one: “...I would say that online community managers are the event planners - someone who does the planning and organizing to make a fun, engaging environment for the “attendees” and also gets to participate and enjoy the gathering too.”

Online Community Management is an emerging profession, and oftentimes there is a question mark around what the job entails. But when you think about what goes into planning a great party, you start to get a sense for what a community manager’s role includes. 

A party planner might come up with a schedule of fun activities to keep the party going, and a community manager does the same, designing programs filled with interesting and valuable things to do,  activities that will help make sure community members are engaged and keep coming back.

Community managers act as a bridge between the brand and the community - they are one of the main faces of the brand within the community. They help set and maintain the tone, provide support, supply content, and establish a sense of connection between community members and the brand itself.

Where Does Community Management Start?

Community management starts with the purpose of the community. Sometimes, a community manager gets to be involved in defining the purpose, the ‘why’ behind the community, and sometimes it is passed on as part of their onboarding. Either way, it’s hard to manage a community unless the CMGR knows what the core purpose of the community is. Make sure your guiding light is set and they know what it is.

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If you’re looking to hire your first community manager, but aren’t exactly sure what the job description should look like, CMX has a great resource here.

What Does a Community Manager Really Do?

Let’s put aside the theory and take a look at what a typical month, week, and day looks like for a community manager.
Hint: a lot of planning, goal-setting, organizing, and scheduling.

Monthly:

On a monthly basis, there is a lot of planning and reporting. Having a set plan in place for the next month, quarter, or even half-year, sets the pace for the weeks and days, and holds people accountable as they work towards a shared goal. You can think of your monthly to-dos as “look-backs” and “look-forwards”. You should be asking yourself what worked, what didn’t work, what was a success, and what needs to be recalibrated moving forward. These insights and learnings serve as the foundation for your goal and content planning for upcoming months.
The Chaordix Community Platform allows you to create a program calendar of content and activities right within the tool, but many community managers just use tools like Excel in order to stay organized - use whatever works best for you! Using a program calendar of any kind allows you to plan content that is aligned with the community’s goals and seasonal focus. It’s important to have a clear idea on what you are looking to get out of the community.

  • Is it inspiration? Are you looking for content to share on other social platforms, or content for an upcoming campaign? How can you inspire the crowd to help you achieve that?
  • Is it validation? Do you have market research that you need to benchmark against? What assumptions have we made that could be worth doing a gut check against?
  • Is it brand affinity? Are you trying to build a base of passionate fans? What would be the incentive for members to join your community? What gets them excited & how can you step into that opportunity?

Identify what the true goal is and get a plan in place that will support the achievement of that goal.

Weekly:

On a weekly basis, you are managing according to the plan you set above, A.K.A. the “doing stuff” part of the community. This could be posting new activities or blogs, writing newsletters, coordinating with other members of the community team, and following up on member requests.

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At Chaordix, our weeks include client check-ins and coaching calls, assessing what’s going on in the organization, the goals for the week, and how we can leverage the community to help meet those goals.

Daily:

One of the joys of community management is that every day is different. Each community has different needs, members, and may require a different management approach - flexibility is key.

While the plan you’ve set in place acts as a solid foundation for reaching your goals, remaining flexible and making adjustments as things pop-up on a daily basis is equally important. “Go in with an open mind – you may have a perfectly timed content plan, and all of a sudden, the most amazing discussion starts happening in a single comment thread. Capitalize on those organic, genuine moments – that’s where the gold is! Adjust and recalibrate as many times as needed. The crowd will feel appreciated and your community insights will be so much richer for it," says Courtney Chaisson, Community Manager.

Being adaptable allows you to take advantage of authentic interactions happening within the community and makes your members feel valued (like their input matters). For Judy, this looks like checking for new, interesting content, welcoming members, and addressing any member issues as they arise.

What Makes a Good Community Team? 

Oftentimes when a community first launches, the management (and often moderation) of that community is done as one part of an employee’s larger job. As the community grows, that might become their whole role. Over time, a community team might grow to include a Community Director alongside a Manager and a Moderator.

Because every community is unique, the amount of time community managers dedicate to running their communities really varies. Some community managers invest time once a month setting out a content calendar that is engaging and meets their business needs. Others tend to build content as they go, organically creating content that reflects the mood and topics of interest inside the community. “In either case, most communities likely need [at least] a dedicated half-time person to ensure the community is vibrant and keeps members returning again and again,” according to Amanda Moloney, Client Engagement Director at Chaordix. 

As a brand, there are many things to consider when putting together a community team. We’ve narrowed it down to 3 key characteristics: 

Authority & Ownership 

It’s important to make sure that the community team has the necessary support and buy-in of senior management and the license they need to create a valuable community. These individuals are going to act as champions for the community that openly support and “fight” for the community internally. They are willing to take ownership and accountability over the success of the community, and view the community as a priority, not a “side of the desk” project.

Well Connected  

Brand communities have an impact on, and get input from, many different departments - Marketing, Customer Support, Sales, R&D, Legal, IT - just to name a few. This is why having people on your community team that are well-connected in the organization is so important. It allows you to pull from a number of different teams, overcome internal hurdles, and drive more value for more people.

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Being well-connected means being able to look outside your own department and identify some “experts” in their fields that have skills and knowledge in spaces your community may love to hear from. Pick their brains and draft content around that. Consider introducing them to the community in an “Ask the Expert” activity. It makes your members feel like they have exclusive access directly to your brand’s smartest and most interesting people.

Creativity

In addition to needing buy-in and connections internally, a community team should also be able to creatively turn business needs into engaging community content or activities. 

A brand community forms when members feel like they are participating in shaping and influencing a brand they care about. Community Managers who can turn complex business questions into engaging and creative activities will gain greater, more meaningful insights and continued member participation. 

At Chaordix, we try to leverage some of the best thinking in innovation and creativity to design activities that provide insight while encouraging participation.

How to Keep Your Community Thriving

A community manager has been successful when the community is active and engaged. Here are a few tips & tricks to keep your community thriving: 

  • Continuous learning: Being a community manager means you’ll be continuously learning along the way, because the role depends on the needs of the community. Remember, the best way to learn is to get your hands dirty, be curious, and try new things!
  • Be actively involved: Don’t be a lurker in your own community. Make sure you’re creating connections and engaging with members. You can’t expect your community members to be vocal and participate, if you aren’t. Sometimes there is a moderator, and sometimes one person plays both the management and moderation roles, but in either scenario, it’s important that managers chime in and be actively involved. 
  • Look outside: Look outside the community for inspiration. Be aware of what is of interest to your community members and become tuned into people in that space external to the community. 
  • Deliver value: In order for your plan to work, it has to deliver value to your members - make sure the relationship isn’t a one-way street. Provide a steady supply of fresh content to keep members engaged and coming back. Make sure there are different ways for members to participate - people have different participation preferences. Give members real things to do - people like to engage in purposeful and meaningful ways
  • Don’t be a Black Box: If you’re asking people to share information and ideas, compile that information and report back in a timely manner. This lets them know their participation is meaningful and will encourage more participation in the future. 
  • Listen: Adapt, support, and encourage members to share their thoughts and opinions, and take action! Adjust your plan to meet members where they are – not where you want them to be.
    Tailor Content: Don’t be afraid to segment messaging to your crowd. A “one-message-fits-all” approach doesn’t always fit, so tailor content based on what members are interested in, their backgrounds, and experiences. But, this means you have to get-to-know your members first.
  • Safety: Ensure the proper community guidelines are in place, so you can create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable sharing.

Ready to Thrive?

Community management is no easy feat. The role as we know it today often comes with undefined responsibilities and little-to-no guidance, making the thought of stepping into the position an overwhelming one. But, with the right resources and support, community management can be a wonderfully unique and rewarding job.

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Courtney Chaisson loves the variety of the role, saying that, "each day you get the chance to interact with so many different types of communities and brand fans. You find inspiration and trends…every day is different, and it’s wonderful.” 

Over the years, we've learned that community management is equal parts planning and spontaneity. It requires the right team, one with authority, connections, and imagination. And it relies on value (for the business and for the members of the community). Community Managers should be authentic, helpful, and outcome-focused (for all stakeholders), and they will surely be successful.

If you’re interested in launching an online community, or learning how to grow your online community, we also have a slew of other resources available here or on our YouTube Channel.


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