By Rachel Happe, Principal and Co-Founder of TheCR
No matter what stage your online community is in, there are basics of community management to be followed. It is helpful to go back over them again and again to be sure that you are staying on track. This is probably the reason our slideshare presentation “Community Management Fundamentals” has over 92,000 views and is often shared through social media channels. Today, I thought it would be good to take a deeper look at one part of that presentation that involves building a thriving community from slides 30-41.
So how do you build a thriving community? Here are some tips:
Observe Your Audience
Get to know your community. What are their likes, dislikes? Where do they hang out online? When do they hang out online? What do they value? What questions do they ask most often? All these questions will help you better understand who your community is and how you can make their experience more frictionless and pleasant.
Keep a Regular Schedule
Isn’t it disconcerting when you head to your neighborhood convenience store and it is closed in the middle of the day? So, too would it be if your community was closed unexpectedly. However, community managers are asked to do a lot. You do not have to operate 24-7 to please your members. But keeping a regular schedule of when questions can be answered and giving your community a heads up if you will be “closed” unexpectedly will go a long way toward gaining their trust and loyalty
We all know what it was like to walk into the cafeteria in a new school. It was noisy, and unfamiliar and you weren’t quite sure how it worked. You knew no one but it seemed that everyone else knew each other. It did not feel good. Wouldn’t it have been great to be met at the door of the cafeteria by a friendly face who showed you around and introduced you to others with interests in common? So do that for your new community members. It isn’t hard. A welcome email, a quick introduction to another member in the same industry or with similar challenges, an introduction through a weekly newsletter is all it may take.
Provide A Guide
We are all crunched for time and trying to learn new systems is time consuming. At TheCR Network we have new member orientation calls. This is where Hillary Boucher, our online Community Manager walks new members through how TheCR Network works, learns more about what each member’s challenges are and suggests specific resources within the community that can be helpful. It is also where we suggest reaching out to existing members of our community that could be helpful and who already know the ropes at TheCR Network.
Communities are about relationships, and are not one way streets. If the community is getting something from the member but the member is not getting something of at least equal value from the community then it is no longer a relationship and chances are that community member will come into the community less and less often until they disappear. By sharing what is valuable with your members – be it curated content, discounts, thought leadership, access to experts, or something else – you ensure a healthy community.
Be a Connector
Too often in business people are afraid to share information or help each other out. But that is at the essence of a community. Connecting those that may help each other with each other is key. In our case often this means connecting TheCR Network members with each other, but sometimes it means connecting them with those outside of the network.
All work and no play is dull. And while we need to work…we also need to play. What sort of activities can you think of that may not be purely business for your community but will help them better connect? We find engagement in TheCR Network goes down with everyone’s busy summer schedule. And that’s okay. But we don’t want to totally lose connection with members and we want to bring some fun of summer into the community. Last summer we sent out “Flat Hillary” a play on a project many school children undertake. “Flat Hillary” had some great adventures with our members around the country. It was fun and it kept us in touch with our members and our members in touch with each other.
While you may think your community will bring out the best in people that is not always the case. As many a community manager has experienced, some community members don’t treat everyone as they would like to be treated themselves. So have rules. Here’s a great example from Career Builder.
Lead From The Back
Community managers do not need to do all the work. It is great to watch members of the community take over building relationships, adding content and making connections themselves. But community managers do need to nudge members in the right direction and be sure the community stays on course – much like a shepherd.
Encourage Your Cheeseheads
Once you know who are your biggest champions give them reasons to continue to champion you. Thank them, tell them how much you appreciate them, help them out early and often and be sure they feel appreciated.
Ride The Waves
Not all will be smooth in your community so be sure to revel in the smooth times so that you may be ready for when the wave crashes. And don’t panic. This is how life and communities work. Not all will be smooth but also not all should be overly drama-filled either. Often the tone you set will be the tone the community follows.
It’s okay not to react immediately to everything that appears a be a problem. It may work itself out. But then again, it may not. If it is persistent or is something that you already know is a problem but you may not have been transparent with your community about, don’t ignore it. Acknowledge it, figure out what steps to take, take them and evaluate how it went.
Not everyone in your community will think and act the same way. You need to be where they are. This goes back to the first item on this list. If you get to know your audience you will learn where they hang out and how they like to operate. But this is not a one-time only process. You need to do this regularly. Your audience may shift their likes and dislikes and you need to be ready to shift with them.
Protect The Fish
Congratulations you have built a great community! Now watch out. Others will want access to what you have built for their own purposes. The rules you have set up and communicated should help you here, but be vigilant. Make sure your members are getting value from you without fear of sharks preying on them.