Yesterday I listened in on the twitter chat #cmgrchat which discussed community management specifically for customer service communities. During the one-hour chat the moderators ask 4 questions typically. One question took me back to my days in the work/life field.
The question was: When taking time off/office closure for holidays, what needs to be in place to ensure a happy community?
Some of the answers didn’t really surprise me, but they gave me pause.
“Time off? I love my community too much.”
“Who has time for vacation?”
“Being a Community Manager is a 24/7 job. You are always on.”
Well, perhaps it is my background in the work/life sphere but I disagree. A healthy community needs to have a healthy community manager. And that includes taking time away and having a personal life. There is already enough stress on community professionals these days. Adding to it the feeling that you cannot get away will only exacerbate the problem and in the long run have dire consequences for the community including, most likely, the eventual burn out and departure of the very community manager the community has come to lean on.
I spoke with members of TheCR network about this back in 2010. And I told them they did not have to be on all the time. And here are some tools to use to ensure that:
1) Have boundaries and stick to them. No, you do not have to get back to your community immediately every time. Set the hours you are on and maybe even publish them. I understand that customers today demand more and more and expect companies to be listening at all times. But they also understand that everyone needs to sleep, eat and live. Yes, they will want access to you 24/7. No you do not need them to have that much access for your community to thrive.
2) Manage expectations. Once you have set up the boundaries, manage expectations. If you have said you will not be available, but consistently are anyway, your community will expect that you are on even you say you are not. Also if you are consistent in which holidays your community is “closed” temporarily that is what your community members will get used to and eventually accept.
3) You cannot have it all, all at once. You will need to say “no” to things. No one likes to hear the word “no” but if you say it in a way that communicates well but that also makes them feel heard and valued then they will be more accepting. Something like “I am so glad you contacted us. I look forward to hearing more once I return on…” Letting them know that you are not going to be as responsive during holiday/vacation times but that you still care for them should do the trick.
4) Ask for help. While a community manager’s job is to manage the community, that doesn’t mean they are the only ones capable. When on vacation, ask some of your best customers to help out or deputize another person in the company. Perhaps someone who is interested in managing the community and helps you with it. Now, don’t panic. They do not need to actually do the same level of work you do. They need to remind community members that you are on vacation, that the message has been received and that someone will get back to them.
I know this all sounds simple and feels much more complicated, especially for those in the customer service sphere, but it is doable and others are doing it, successfully.
My favorite answer to yesterday’s chat question came from one of our TheCR Network members:
“There are always “off” times. There need to be. Just tell cmty when and why. Have a system in place to flag priority issues.
How do you manage time away from your community?
TheCR Network is a membership network that provides strategic, tactical and professional development programming for community and social business leaders. The network enables members to connect and form lasting relationships with experts and peers as well as get access to vetted content.