It’s clear that we have the theme going on in this blog about internal community management success. We wrote about general success characteristics, as well as what it takes to build out and nurture a nascent community. It’s now time to write about what happens next — when your network finally gains the critical mass to mature. Kate and Maria joined forces to bring tip-top tips for community managers of engaged audiences.
Organize structure and facilitate:
Kate: In a mature community, you need well-established norms. The average user should understand the rules and help inform newbies. There will always be a role for a central community manager, but it shouldn’t be a one-woman-mission.
Maria: While the biggest challenge in a nascent network is getting people to share, one of the biggest challenges in a mature network is navigating the increased levels of content, enabling everyone to share, while still being useful to all participants. Optimizing the signal-to-noise ratio is really critical, as people need to be able to find what they need. Help the community form good habits by establishing modes of communication and community structure, such as using groups, topics and other syntax. A community manager often acts as the traffic cop, directing conversations to the right groups, connecting people and igniting conversations.
Maintain quality of content:
Kate: A new community needs activity, almost for activity’s sake! In a mature community, the level of activity is less important than the percentage of highly valuable posts. Step one is volume. Step two is quality. Step three is higher volume while maintaining quality.
Let the community “float”:
Kate: In a mature community, it becomes impossible to track down an answer to every single question or to read every post; this model is unsustainable! A community, especially if it is an internal community, must float on its own.
Activate Super Users; delegate and empower
Kate: Delegation is also key. One of the biggest challenges of managing a larger community is the onslaught of requests, such as, “I would like to set up a group, and I just want to sit down and talk to someone first.” From the beginning, it’s important to set up a pay-it-forward model – “I’ll help you, but once you’re up and running, I’m going to send others to you. By then, you’ll be the expert.”
Maria: It’s all about allowing the community be a community. If your community depends on the community manager to be always present, it will fail. If your community can self-sustain, it will succeed. Thus, the job of the community manager is to encourage people to talk to each other, build relationships, work together and take ownership of parts of the community.
Fine-tune your crisis response:
Kate: You need to establish a plan for bursts of activity, with a quick and easy strategy for your champions or ambassadors. This needs to be a specific set of actions to do (and perhaps, some you shouldn’t do) when there’s a fire, flood, or earthquake. What do I do if my network grows by 50% in a week, and the new people create such noise that the abandonment rate is the only thing rising faster than the number of users? What do I do if an employee says my CEO grinds small children’s bones to make his bread? What do I do if someone posts how much they love haikus, and I’m inundated with angry emails about wasted company time? What do I do if someone who is just plain boring asks me why no one ever replies to him?
Educate, be a resource
Maria: As a community manager, you will be the resource for best practices and continued support and enablement for the whole community. Treat that as a badge of honor, and always focus your discussion on what you want people to do vs. what not to do. As new users will come in, you will find yourself answering the same questions over and over. Recognize patterns over time and create your own list of FAQs; direct people there.
Keep the house in order:
Maria: While you have to establish a solid usage policy that aligns everyone without too much constraint, you also get the distinct pleasure of enforcing the policy. The community manager knows where the line is, and is empowered to do both: take action on minor infractions and escalate the major ones to the right departments to take disciplinary action. Outside of infractions, the community manager should take action to ensure that the general mood of the community is productive and constructive by a continued focus on things to do vs. things not to do.
Have some fun!
Kate: If a community manager is always business focused and unquestionably right, employees will feel they, too, must be perfect. Bring business value, but also ask an obvious question, don’t delete your typos, and make a lame pun!
Maria: Your community is made up of people, and people are not going to collaborate if they don’t feel want to be there. You want people to want to share vs. participating begrudgingly. Create regular activities and launch events; let your imagination run wild and take some chances. As we all experience information overload, you need to stand out. Check out some creative things our customers have done.
Your turn, reader! Do you manage a mature internal network? What works for you? Share your stories in the comments!