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Community Management

Community Management Tidbits – The Circle Game

Community Management Tidbits – The Circle Game

Circle Game?

Forums have cycles, and so do users.

Community Phases

Writing Progress Report – Third Quarter 2018 community phases circle game

There isn’t a lot that you can do about this. You can, however, stretch out the individual phases.

Discovery

The first phase is discovery. It all starts with excitement. The user has found your forum! It seems huge! The user can’t possibly read everything. It’s all too much. It’s heady, and the user may very well tell everyone he or she knows about you. Or, the user might want you all to him or herself. Either can happen.

Nesting

The next phase is nesting. The user makes friends and starts to get into an enclave or two. Enclaves are little groups within your forum, whether formal or informal. Even if your forum does not have actual designated groups, per se, this still happens. In a single fathers’ community, for example, a user might hang around with other users who became first-time fathers after the age of forty. In a folk music forum, a user might spend time with (and follow around) other users from Ohio.

This is perfectly normal – a carving of familiarity in an alien sea. But it does set up the next phase.

Boredom

The next phase is boredom. The community has too much sameness and does not seem to be changing quickly or thoroughly enough for a user’s taste. But the user sticks around, however, grudgingly.

Departure

The final phase is departure. Whether that comes with a bang (a user suspension) or a whimper (the user simply fails to sign in any more), is immaterial. Or, there is a third type of endgame, where the user posts a topic about their departure. This topic can be fond, hostile or even a ploy to get other users to beg that person to stay.

Fighting Back

Does it always have to be this way? Well, this kind of a cycle is more or less inevitable. The trick is to stretch out the first two phases, discovery and nesting, as much as possible, or to have the user cycle back from boredom to nesting again (e. g. to find a different group to hang with). Or, a positive situation would be if the boredom phase were at least short (and put off) so that the departure phase would not be a suspension. And it would be less fraught with meaning. A user taking leave, no matter how popular that user is, will leave behind less of a hole if he or she is a part of a 100,000-person forum versus a 100-user community.

How do you do this? By phases, of course!

Discovery, ReImagined

The Discovery phase of the circle game has two essential elements: new users and new topics. Increase both with good SEO and with encouraging as much user participation as possible.

Nesting, Transformed

The Nesting phase can be encouraged and promoted by keeping your community a safe, warm and welcoming place. Having formal specific groups is not strictly necessary for this, but it can be of help if your users are struggling in this area. And, if you do go with formal groups, ask your users which groups they would like. They might surprise you. And it (almost) doesn’t matter whether a group is terribly active. It will still serve its purpose, to continue to afford your users with a friendly place within the forum, even if it is small. This is a place they can call their own.

Boredom, Shortened

The Boredom phase of the circle game can be delayed and/or truncated by keeping the twin flows of new users and new topics going. This means more and better SEO, offering new features and encouraging your users to continue adding new, interesting and diverse topics. Can’t think of new topic fodder? So try taking a stand on a controversial subject, or ask for comments on a related news article. Or look in your archives, and see if an older subject might benefit from a fresh, new take.

Departure, Delayed

Finally, the Departure phase of the circle game can, of course, be put off if the first two phases stretch out. When departure happens, don’t ask most users to stay. Unless you have a very tiny forum, this kind of behavior will be impossible to scale. And it generally doesn’t put off the inevitable for too terribly long. Instead, try to find out from the user just why they are leaving. Except for purely personal, internal circumstances (e. g. the user just started a new job and has no time for your community any more), there may be something you can learn from and improve on. And asking why will also give you an opportunity, not to entreat the user to stay, but to let the user know that he or she is welcome to return at any time.

Your users’ interest in your community will wax and wane. You cannot always do anything about it, but if an effort is made, your users are generally going to appreciate that. And your circle game will go on.

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Community Management

Community Management – Snakes in the Garden

Community Management Tidbits – Snakes in the Garden

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

It’s inevitable. Virtually every community open to the public is going to get its share of trolls and spam. To keep from being overrun, you need to be vigilant.

Trolls

A troll is, essentially, a disruptive presence.

Community Management Tidbits - Snakes in the Garden
Troll in Trondheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But know your community. Chances are that a community of young mothers will have a far different tolerance level for disruptions versus a community of gun enthusiasts. And disruption also has a situational definition. Because a community of atheists very likely does not want to hear from someone extolling the virtues of prayer. Similarly, a community of fish owners may not wish to read about how to make fish ‘n chips. Or maybe they do.

Shaping the Dialogue

You, as the Community Manager, can shape the dialogue. And one thing you can do is to help dictate the community’s response to, and level of tolerance for, off-topic digressions. For example, with the possible exception of a dating site, few communities will welcome new people as their main subject of conversation. Yet every community probably should have a means for the currently existing membership to welcome newbies. This is not only common courtesy; it can help newbies to stick around. So decide just how much going off-topic you wish to allow.

Getting Help

Next, enlist your super user(s). A super user is, essentially, someone who loves the site, is around a lot and probably makes a lot of good or at least decent content. These people can often be tastemakers so you can enlist their assistance to defuse a troll’s behaviors or bring discussions back on track. Or, at least, these people can take the lead in creating and promoting other content, thereby burying and nullifying a troll’s handiwork. Furthermore, if your super users can create, promote and magnify their own content, that can assist your other users in wielding a great and powerful weapon against trolls: ignoring them.

Technological Solutions

Another solution is to use blocking software, either to suspend the troll’s posting privileges or to curtail them. Or, if available, allow your users to electronically ignore a troll (or at least demote or vote down that person’s posts), by either blocking the troll’s posts or disproportionately promoting those of their friends.

Going Nuclear

Completely suspending a troll from all usage of, and interaction on, your site is something of a nuclear option. It does not mean you should never use this tactic, although I would advise you to use it relatively sparingly. After all, a troll may simply be someone unused to forums, who charged in without looking. Tone and humor are hard to gauge, even with a liberal sprinkling of emoticons. Everyone has bad days and your “troll” could actually be a perfectly good member, or even a superstar user, in disguise, if properly nurtured. So go easy on the heavy-handed moderation if you can. Pick your moments and battles: a person urging suicidal members to go through with it should not be tolerated, but isn’t a debate among music lovers about the merits of Bach versus Mozart, well, healthy?

Spam

Onto spam. Spam is essentially a form of commercial speech. You first need is to define it in your Terms of Service. You may wish to allow your members to promote their own blogs but not their own commercial ventures. Or you may be more tolerant of commercial speech if it’s more on topic (say, a parts dealer’s site being touted on a Chevy enthusiasts’ board). However, you need to get this rule clear, and you need to be consistent in its enforcement. You will, inevitably, miss an exception or two. Accept that as just something that’s going to happen, post your rules and move on. And make certain to make it clear that the Terms of Service may be subject to one-sided changes at any time. This is not the time to ask for a vote by the site’s membership.

Zero Tolerance for Spam

Once you have spam defined, you really should go with a zero tolerance policy. First off, it’s easy to be overrun if you’re not careful. Plus, if you allow spam to remain on your site, you are allowing the spammers to piggyback on your SEO. Excise them and their messages quickly and, unlike in the case of trolls, don’t be afraid to rapidly go to the nuclear option.

You will, inevitably, get appeals on any form of communication you’ve provided to the membership, whether it’s in the form of a Help Desk ticket, a feedback form, an email address you’ve made public, a “contact us” link or something else. Monitor these channels and investigate every appeal. Some will be groundless, while others might not be. So, if it’s at all possible, make sure that you have fully reversible means for excising potentially spammy messages.

Enlist Your Membership to Help

Also, provide your general membership with the means to report spam and get those snakes out of there. The membership will not always perfectly understand your rules or apply them consistently and fairly. But that’s not their job. All you need is a report, and for them to be your eyes and ears on the ground. You, of course, should also be checking, along with your moderating team if you have one. But give your membership the means to report spam and they can help you. They want to help you.

Trolling and spamming are not the signs of a failed forum. To the contrary, they are often signs of success, that your forum is large enough that spammers wish to market to your members or trolls seek to shake them out of complacency. Spamming and trolling only indicate a failed forum if you let them take over your site, drive out all other means of interaction, and those snakes send your other members scurrying for the hills.

Next: Analytics

Categories
Community Management

Community Management – How to be a Terrible Netizen

Community Management – How to be a Terrible Netizen

Are YOU a Terrible Netizen? I have been managing Able2know for over fifteen years and I have seen my share.

Terrible Netizen
idiot (Photo credit: electropod)

It is a generalized Q & A website and the members are all volunteers. I have learned a few things about making yourself the biggest jerk online during this time. Because I have seen a lot of people being awful, as if it were their aim in life.

How to Be a Jerk Online

  1. Post as fast as you can and don’t think about it. And anything worth doing, is worth doing fast. Editing is for wimps.
  2. When you’re being attacked, never step away from the keyboard. Because the way you feel about people online is never related to the offline world. It only comes from online events.
  3. Be vague with your words. Because anyone who cannot figure out what you really mean is an idiot, and you should tell them that. Clarity is for other people.
  4. Everyone should/must get you, oh terrible netizen, even the aforementioned idiots. What you have to say is perfectly wonderful for every audience and needs no tailoring.

Yet More Jerk Advice

  1. Be First and Best, every single time. Why let anyone else be happy? They’re a bunch of idiots anyway.
  2. Always get in the last word, terrible netizen. And this is even if you have to do that over and over again while someone else tries to do the exact same thing. That person is an idiot. You, of course, are not. Never!
  3. Call people by names, because there’s nothing that says maturity like using a taunt from second grade or a word that trips a profanity filter.
  4. Discuss as many controversial topics as you like, and don’t expect hard feelings. Because if people become defensive, their skins are too thin for them to be online in the first place. So have at them.
  5. Never stop, and never surrender, and never ignore anyone. All comers deserve your pearls of wisdom, 24/7! Therefore, even months later, when the other person has clearly gone off to do something else, go back and pick at that scab some more.

I hope you let me know if you’re going to do any of these. So I can find a way to cross the street and walk in the other direction when I see you online. ‘Course, that probably just makes me an idiot.

Categories
Community Management

Community Management – Let’s Get this Party Started

Community Management Tidbits – Let’s Get this Party Started

Let’s Get this Party Started! You’ve made the decision to have a forum on your website. Great!

"Party

It can be for any number of reasons, such as to cut the number of lower level technical support calls, to generate buzz for various advertising campaigns, to generate sales leads, or maybe to bring together people interested in a common cause. And you have a site with forums, done up in Drupal, or maybe using a PHP application out of the box. Or it might exist on Facebook exclusively. Or perhaps you’ve conjured up your own proprietary software.

And … nothing.

You’ve got no users, no content, no conversations. The community should be a hubbub of activity, a virtual village. Instead, you’re stuck with a ghost town.

Whaddaya do now?

Don’t panic.

Recognize that no one wants to be first attendee at a party. So, you’ve got to get the party started. But how?

Success?

For any website to succeed, you need to be strong in four areas:

  • Design
  • Metrics/Measurement
  • Contentand
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

So let us operate under the assumption that you’ve got the first two set (and, if you don’t, make sure you fix, perfect and beautify your design as much as possible). If you’re not already getting metrics, go get Google Analytics and Yahoo Site Explorer and get started on Compete (Compete takes a few months to gather data, so get cracking now). Add Alexa and Quantcast if you wish, as well.

Now with those two set, you can, fortunately, work on the other two together. First of all, let’s work on some elementary Search Engine Optimization. SEO divides into optimizing onsite and optimizing offsite. So start with a few basic offsite measures. It used to be that you had to submit your site to the DMOZ Directory. Yahoo runs this human-edited directory. At this point in time, that advice is out of date. Don’t worry about it. You can do just fine with social media and indexing on social bookmarking sites instead.

Submit your site to the follow social bookmarking sites:

There are any number of others but these are the really big ones and give you the most bang for the buck (most readers) versus others out there. You don’t need to pay some service to do this. It will all take you less than half an hour, no lie.

Content

For onsite SEO, let’s move onto Content. Because the two are intimately intertwined. Furthermore, your future users are going to want to see topics. And they are going to want to see them started by a number of different people. You’ll need to pull in some friends for this, and divide the new topics up as much as possible. Be sure to start with topics like this:

  • Welcome to the New Members/Getting to Know You
  • Basic News from outside your company, about you (if you’ve got a company blog or press page already, link to them here and
  • A few (say, half a dozen) topics showcasing your best keywords but are written for humans to read

Keywords

That brings us to keyword research. Go to your competitors’ sites, right-click and select “View Source”. Which keywords are they using? Consider using similar if not the same ones. So if your site is about, say, infant and child care, your main keywords and key phrases are probably going to be words and phrases like infant, child, child care, childcare, children, baby, babies, pregnancy. Do Google searches using these keywords and key phrases, with and without the words forum or community added. Look at those sites’ keywords and key phrases as well. Because you want to keep thinking of terms that your target audience will use for their own searches. Incorporate these words into your site and into the titles of some of your first topics.

Look at synonyms! If baby works better than infant, then use baby in the title but you can still put infant within the body of the post. Think like someone searching. What are they really looking for?

Specifics

Don’t be afraid to be specific, for the child care site, try topics on such subjects as teething, sibling rivalry and readiness for kindergarten. Keep the keywords in the titles if you can logically and grammatically put them there.

Consider some really niche topics, such as handling siblings who are acting out because one child has special needs or a terminal illness. Because searchers are looking for those answers as well.

Now, you’ve got some content, and you’re getting some SEO, even if you are still low in rankings (don’t worry, it’s percolating). But you still need users. Here’s where invitations come in. You, me, all of us – we have online networks. We’ve got friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter and a network on LinkedIn, and a whole host of other groups of online acquaintances. Plus we’ve got friend and family email addresses.

Invitations

So craft an invitation. Make it polite, pleasant, simple and short. Be definite about what your forums are about (e. g. write more than “Please check out my site.”). In particular, if you know people who like forums (perhaps you already regularly post on some other forums site, even if the main subject is radically different), invite those people. And do this in small doses, say, 30 people at a time. This will keep an influx of new members from overwhelming you. And you can greet everyone personally, at least to start. Furthermore, it will add to the feeling of exclusivity that a small site can engender. Don’t worry if people start inviting others to your site, even people you’ve never heard of before. Because this is a good thing. You want them to do this.

So look for sites to link to you, and be sure to get reciprocal links. Consider adding Google News Reader, and a blog to provide directed quality content if you don’t already have one. Furthermore, it will keep your users updated as to outages and new features as you add them. Add a Facebook fan page for your site, although I’d recommend waiting at least a little while after launching. After all, if no one likes you on Facebook, you’ll have the same issue. It’s trying to attract people who don’t want to be first. Furthermore, you’ll need at least 30 Facebook fans (that number may rise in the future) to get metrics. And then you can really get this party started.

But above all, have fun. And get this party started!

Next: Look at Me! Look at Me!

Categories
Community Management Facebook

Why Use a Screen Name?

Why Use a Screen Name?

Screen name – good idea, or no?

I was inspired by this post in Angela Connor‘s blog. If you don’t know Angela Connor, I urge you to check her out; her blog is extremely insightful and is still one of my favorites.

Her ideas make a great deal of sense, and I think some of this is why the Blizzard forum experiment in real names for users was such an immediate and egregious flop.

Masks

The ‘net, like it or not, is for many people a place of masks. You pretend to be younger and thinner than you are. Or you pretend to be unmarried. You pretend to be a Klingon. Or you’re a teenager and pretend to be an adult. Or you pretend to be another gender or richer or lovelier or more conservative or whatever.

And the masks can be freeing to many. Perhaps they were freeing when the ancient Greeks donned them while performing “Oedipus Rex” for the first time. I think there is more of a place for them than perhaps we’d all care to admit. Because there seems to be a value to being able to spread war paint (or lamp black) on one’s face, or wear a Halloween costume.

Screen Name Unreality

screen name
Halloween Costume Close-up (Photo credit: trustella)

And this is not the same as our reality. It is related but not identical. Maybe the librarian who goes out for Halloween dressed as a dance hall girl wants to be known as someone who takes risks (and maybe foolish ones, at that). But when the morning after rolls around, she’s back in the library helping others do research.

Anonymous Commenting

This kind of anonymous commenting allows for something like this. Because the sympathetic guy who’s really seething inside gets to call people out. He gets to be a bully and be an all-around racist jerk (I have worse names, but don’t wish to besmirch my blog) behind one screen name. But then he surfs to a different site where he can chat up the ladies with his sensitive New Age guy demeanor, all behind another screen name. And then when the time to log off comes, he goes home and kisses his wife and plays with his children. And this is all one guy.

Facebook

To comment openly through a full, correct name (usually) medium like Facebook would be to cut off the dance hall girl. And it would stifle the racist jerk, the ladies’ man, and any number of other secret selves in favor of a drab and ordinary world. Even on a news site, which is pretty much the definition of drab unless there’s some sort of a hot story, the jerk, the dancer and the Romeo all want to be free.

Who’s Real?

But we shouldn’t take their opinions as seriously as the real people. Because, even though those personae live in real people’s skins, it’s the real people who vote, marry, pay taxes, work, make the news and are members of our real society.

The trouble is telling them apart and knowing which one is real.

Can you always tell? I bet you can’t. Not always.

Categories
Community Management Opinion Personal Social Media Work

Hesitation Generation

Hesitation Generation

Hesitation Generation. So as I travel around the ‘net, I also take note of what is happening in my own backyard. What I have seen is an odd and somewhat disturbing trend.

I am the Project Manager for Able2know and in some ways it’s got its finger on the pulse. But, a caveat, the pulse is rather limited. This is a mere fraction of the web and therefore, by extension, an even tinier fraction of the world. Yet this is the world I know, and so I will report on it.

Relationships

A2K is a generalized Q & A website where people can post all manner of questions. The availability and quality of the answers varies greatly. Keep in mind: no one is paid to answer questions on Able2know.

Hence inquiries about voltage are generally answered with an admonition to hire a licensed electrician. Requests for medical advice are answered vaguely, and nearly always involve telling the poster to follow up with their personal physician. Inquiries about the law receive a nearly identical treatment, save for the advice to contact an attorney.

And then there’s relationships.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to be able to dispense advice. Anyone who appears to be clinically depressed is told to seek treatment. Anyone who appears to be abused is advised to leave, and to contact their local authorities.

But it’s the people in the middle who I’m talking about.

Communications

What does it mean when someone stares at you? What is a good idea for a first date? How do I ask someone out? How do I get someone to ask me out? And the saddest – how do I get over a heartache?

And it’s amazing to me (and it really should not be anymore) how many people are paralyzed at the thought of actually speaking to the object of their desire. They wait and think they are seeing signals, and then they ask what those supposed signals mean. It’s like reviewing the Zapruder film, frame by agonizing frame.

My advice is usually – ask.

  • How do you feel about me?
  • Do you want to go out for coffee?
  • Are you seeing anyone right now?
  • What would you like to do together?

So many of them thank me and promise they will ask (I have heard back from some, and  they tend to report either success or relief that they finally know).

But why the heck couldn’t these people have figured that out from the get-go?!?!?!

Back to Ike

It can be a little bit like the 1950s, where girls preen and sit by the telephone, waiting for Prince Charming  to deign to call – and heaven forfend he should take more than 20 minutes to get on the stick and call! And guys hem and haw about the most letter-perfect thing to say, when the reality is that the perfect thing to say is something, as that beats the pants off saying and doing absolutely nothing. The same is true in non-cis relationships, of course.

Hesitation Generation
Ubuntu Kitty Smart Phone Preview (Photo credit: j_baer)

I’m not so sure who that dynamic favors, except for the phone companies. Because minute numbers go sky high, and Facebook’s advertisers benefit as people check each other’s statuses and relationship statuses obsessively. And  then they get to serve yet more ads.

It seems as if everyone wants to fast-forward through the movie, and cut the suspense. Instead, all they seem to want is the sunset and the fateful kiss. Dorothy clicks her heels together before she ever leaves Kansas. And nobody seems to miss the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch and the Tin Man and the rest of the middle part. All that matters is the destination, and never the journey.

Risks

Something is missing here, and what’s missing is the taking of chances. I get that these are generally rather young people. The vast, vast majority of them are between the ages of 13 and 28. That 15-year span is the worst – it’s a combination of raging hormones and self-absorption. But nowadays that’s spiked with a seemingly inbred inability to take a chance. Plus it’s all fueled by the artificial immediacy of far too much social media.

Hesitation Generation
Risk (Photo credit: The Fayj)

Instead of risk-taking, everyone seems to want the risks scrubbed out of their lives. They want the endgame handed to them on a silver platter yet refuse to do even a smidgen of the legwork required in order to get there.

Sample Size

A second caveat – this is, to be sure, a small group of people. Furthermore, they are self-selecting. Very confident folk are far less likely to request advice in any endeavor. Plus there is the age issue, as I have already mentioned.

People in their forties ask relationship questions, too, but those tend to be different. They are less about an initiation of connections and more about either reentering the dating pool or the dynamic of being a parent (or dating one) while in the game.

Upshot, Kinda, for the Hesitation Generation

So, where does that leave the Hesitation Generation and the rest of us?

An inability to take risks does not bode well. It clouds decisions on everything from trying a new brand of fabric softener to consenting to an experimental drug trial. It colors employment and investment choices, and keeps people out of new business ventures and away from new books, films and music.

The upside, naturally, is that it may be preventing sexually risky behaviors. That’s a good thing, of course.

However, risks are often good, and a life without them is rather dull indeed. It can be mindless consumerism as people give themselves the same personal rewards over and over again.

The trick, as in all things, is to find a balance.

And now, a bonus.

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | Hesitation GenerationOne last thing – here, for free, for Hesitation Generation, is my standard heartache cure. Your mileage, of course, will vary.

  • Expect to feel lousy for a while, and understand that that is a natural reaction. Congratulate yourself – you were affected enough to really feel something.
  • Relationships often keep us from doing other things, such as seeing other friends. So spend some time with your friends.
  • Explore things to do on your own. Some are inward, such as making art or even baking cookies. Others are more outward, like taking a class.

More You Can Do

  • Fill up your time. Being busy gives you few opportunities to wallow in misery. Your boss is likely not without sympathy, but you still need to write the reports, etc. or do whatever it is that you do. Treat your leisure time a little bit more like a job, in the sense that you should make some commitments and stick by them. If your leisure time is to paddle a canoe, then paddle the damned canoe. Don’t back out of that.
  • Do something physical. Exercise can not only fill up your time, it can also help with depression.
  • Do something for someone less fortunate than you. Read to a blind person. Serve at a soup kitchen. Visit people in a nursing home. Volunteer at a group home. These actions don’t just help the community, they can also help you gain some sorely needed perspective.
  • Don’t jump into a new relationship right away. Being single does not have to automatically mean being lonely. This is a time to cultivate your inner resources.
  • If you think you need it – and in particular, if you are experiencing suicidal ideation – please seek out the care of a professional. There is no shame whatsoever in getting the help that you need. If you need medical help to mend a broken heart, it should be no different from seeking medical help to mend a broken arm.

Enjoy the Bee Gees, Hesitation Generation.

Categories
Community Management

Community Management – Collection of Users to True Community

Community Management Tidbits – Going From a Collection of Users to a True Community

What is a True Community?

I’ve written at least seven obituaries.

That is, perhaps, an odd thing to confess. But when Jill, Kevin, Paul, Joanne, Olen, Joan, and Mary all passed on, it was up to me to write something, to not only commemorate their lives, but to try to help comfort a grieving community.

I am not saying you will write as many, or even if you will ever write even one. And I certainly hope you will never have to, as they can be gut-wrenching. But it was with the first one – Mary’s – that it became manifest (if it was not already self-evident) that, to paraphrase the old Brady Bunch theme, this group had somehow formed a family.

Community Management Tidbits - Going From a Collection of Users to a True Community

How Can This Happen to Your True Community (Without the Tragic Part)?

But no one has to cross over to the other side in order for your collection of users to coalesce into a Community with a capital C. The secret is very simple, although many companies don’t want to hear it: it’s going off-topic.

Let us assume, for example, that your community is a corporate-run one. And the product is a soft drink. Corporate tells you to stay on topic, on message. However, your users are saying something very different.

For it is easy, as you’re talking about the soft drink, to slide into discussing foods eaten with it (frankly, for such a community you’d almost have to go off-topic. Nobody but a truly dedicated corporate marketer can talk about a soft drink 24/7). Food slides into a discussion of recipes. Recipes turn into a talk about entertaining. And then suddenly you’re off to the races and talking about family relationships.

Corporate tries to pull you back on topic. Yet your users pull the true community ever further away And they pinball from family relationships to dating, raising children, and elder care, if you let them.

The Community Manager’s Role

Here is where you, as the Community Manager, can talk to Corporate and forge a compromise. Corporate needs for people to talk about the product, tout it, and virally promote it. And they need people to make well-ranked (on Google) topics about it. Corporate may also realize that they need to hear the bad news about the product as well. The users need to talk.

So make a compromise. Create an off-topic area and move all off-message topics there. And be fairly loose with your definition of what’s on topic. In our soft drink example, the recipes topics, even if they don’t use the product as an ingredient, are still close enough so you can consider them on topic. Also, don’t be surprised if the corollary is true. Hence topics that begin on message veer off it, even by the time of the first responsive post. That’s okay. Those topics should still be considered to be on message. Because Google is far more concerned with a forum topic’s title and initial post than with its tenth response.

The Benefits of the Off-Topic Section

Don’t be shocked if your off-topic section becomes a large one. And recognize that you and your Moderating staff (if you have one) may need to make on message topics in order to continue creating germane content. But your true community will be talking and the site will be a lively one. It’s a party that’s going nonstop, your users will stick around and from this you can build a marketing database. And that is one of the standard corporate aims behind creating a community in the first place.

So when your users start talking about life events, such as births, school, divorce, moving, jobs, marriage, children and, yes, deaths, it matters. And when they start supporting each other through each of these phases, it marks a bright line distinction between a haphazard agglomeration of users and a true team of like-minded individuals.

Finally, that team, that family, that army, is what being in a true community is really all about.

Next: Wandering off topic

Categories
Career changing Community Management

Risks of a Community Without Management

The Risks of Having a Community Without Management

Is yours a community without management?

The post is a riff on The Community Roundtable’s 5 Risks of Having A Community Without Management.

The author comes up with five good ones:

  1. A Ghost Town
  2. Land of 1,000 Flowers
  3. Drama Central
  4. A Circling Storm
  5. A Clique

Ghost Town

Here’s what they mean. A Ghost Town is, essentially, either a more or less empty community or one without deep engagement. People may come in after an initial push and then just abandon the place. Now, the converse to this is people who hang around forever and never seem to convert to paying customers of any sort. In a commercial enterprise, that’s no good, either. But definitely you need for people to hang around, at least a little bit.

Land of 1,000 Flowers

Flower - Yellow Flowers Without Management
Flower – Yellow Flowers (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Land of 1,000 Flowers is where there’s perhaps a little bit of everything but there is little connectivity. Some of the problem could potentially be alleviated with a very good search engine, e. g. if people see that the question about who wrote Peter Rabbit has already been answered, they might just go to that answer, rather than asking it again. Of course the downside to this is converting potential participants right back into lurkers.

Drama Central Without Management

Drama Central, ah, yes, this bit of juvenalia in a community without management. This is a byproduct of having a smaller community/one that is not too active. If there are 100 members, and one acts out, that one will loom large. With 1,000 members, that person’s impact diminishes.

And with 1,000,000 members, they barely register as a blip on the screen. And, even in a smaller community, if there are 100 members but also a good 1,000 topics are created every month, the one Drama Queen’s attention-grabbing me me me topic can be more or less swept under the rug. However, if your users create only five or so new topics every month, guess what’s gonna be front and center?

A Circling Storm

In A Circling Storm, there are a lot of entrenched factions, hostile to one another, when your community goes without management. Even in a well-moderated community, this can still happen in a Politics section (and, to a lesser extent, in a Religion section). Hence people form strong opinions and don’t want to back down. How to handle it? I say let them argue, for the most part, but intervene if newbies are being chased off or it becomes too personal.

A Clique Without Management

A Clique, of course this is a niche or fringe group that grabs and hogs the spotlight. This can be whiny teenagers (you know who you are), organic gardeners, birthers, I dunno. They can absolutely create a self-fulfilling prophecy, e. g. if the only people they welcome are from Omaha, then those will be the ones who stick around. And then eventually people from Poughkeepsie or wherever don’t stick around and suddenly your board is filled with Nebraskans.

What to do? Well, it may seem obvious, or it may not. Manage the site! Don’t just leave it to chance!

Light Touch with Management

However, don’t go overboard with management. Heavy-handed community management can stifle. So find a balance, and do your best to follow it, all while respecting the community and its interests, but nudging it in the proper directions if it threatens to go off-course. You don’t just have to let the boat go wherever the currents take it but, at the same time, you also need to leave the dock.

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Community Management

Community Management – From Small Things

Community Management Tidbits – From Small Things

Small Things – Every forum starts out small. Getting started is one thing. How do you get big?

Social Media Influence - Small Things
Social Media Influence (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

The secrets to getting big go hand in hand with those for getting started: Search Engine Optimization and content.

Small Things Like SEO

Let’s start with SEO. If you haven’t checked your keywords in three months, check them now. Compare to your competitors, and check Google Adwords. Consider changing up your keywords for a while and see if you can draw more traffic.

The basic principles of offsite SEO apply: get your site listed on other sites which are more popular. Also, consider article marketing (if appropriate) and blogging. Perhaps some of your best content can be repurposed as articles or blog entries. Ask the creator(s) of that content for their permission (even if your Terms of Service say that you own all posts, this is courteous) and update and repackage the content. Articles are a great way to generate interest in your site so long as you add your URL into the “About the Author” section. And make it clear that you allow reprint rights only so long as the article remains completely intact, including the aforementioned “About the Author” section.

Blogging

One good blog deserves another. If you want to see if your better content can be presented on others’ blogs, why not create your own site blog? So at the absolute minimum, you can use it to inform your users of site changes and planned outages. But you can use it for a whole lot more. Because you can showcase and expand better content, announce contests and promotions, and keep important site information front and center. Plus, if you add a blog, you can again make the rounds of basic social media bookmarking sites like Reddit and Stumbleupon. Add another one to your bag of tricks: Technorati, which is a site that, among other things, lists blogs.

Add an RSS feed if you have not already. You can feed it into Twitter and Facebook using a promotional site like HootSuite.

Facebook

Create a Facebook fan page and, at minimum, populate it with the RSS feed. And also use it to assure users if your site goes down, particularly for unexpected outages. Because such an outage can make some users nervous. So, Facebook (and Twitter, too) can be a means by which you reassure them.

Small Things About Site Redesign

Another area where you might be able to better grow your user base is with some site redesign. Be careful with this as a community can often take (frequently somewhat unfounded) proprietary interest in the site’s look and feel. One way you can ease users into a change is by telling them (don’t ask for permission) that you’re going to be testing some site changes. Consider using A/B testing and compare a few different versions and see which one works better.

Simplified Registration

Consider simplifying your registration process, if you can, and embrace user-centered design. You still want to use a captcha code and you still want to have your members sign up with a real, usable email address.

But look at your process and see if there are any unnecessary hurdles. Are you asking for something like a potential user’s middle name or home city? Isn’t that kind of useless (and many users would feel that the home city information would be excessively intrusive)? Jettison the question and your registrations might increase. Since you’re tinkering with the signup process and not the overall look and feel of the site, your regular membership might not take so much of a proprietary interest. They might not even notice.

Analysis

Check your metrics. Small things on a daily basis are not going to matter too much. But if you’ve got a continuing decline over time, or if membership is staying the same and not really increasing much, you may need to take action. To grow your site, you need to continue to promote fundamental principles: improve your site design and test it; take care to add and promote good, keyword-rich content; and continue good onsite and offsite SEO practices. And be patient as small things become bigger ones. Most communities weren’t built in a day.

Next: Going from a collection of users to a true community

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Community Management

Community Management Tidbits – Get Together

Conquer Your Fears and Get Together

Get Together! Life online is all well and good. Many of us spend large chunks of our time connected, whether that is via a desktop PC, a smartphone, a laptop, or a tablet. Newer technologies will, undoubtedly, make it even easier to get and stay connected.

Community Management Tidbits - Get Together
Flickr Meet #3 – Nottingham (Photo credit: CraigMarston)

But sometimes you’ve just gotta say: Stop the Internet, I want to get off!

Of course you go offline every night for bed (you do, don’t you?), at the absolute minimum. But there’s more to it than that.

When your community has been around for a significant period of time (say, a year), your users are going to, naturally, be curious about meeting one another. In person. With no screens dividing them.

And this is excellent. It is a sign of the community jelling. You should encourage this. Or, if you like, you can even suggest a meeting yourself.

Informal Gatherings

For informal gatherings, there is little, if anything, that you need to do. If you can attend, great! And if you can’t, ask people to take pictures. However, remind your users they should get permission before they take any photographs and post them online. Furthermore, if there will be minors present, emphasize that photographs of them really should not appear online. Be prepared, if the child’s parents ask, to remove such photographs if they end up on your site. But that’s about it.

Formal Gatherings

Formal gatherings allow for a lot more dazzle. A get together can be as expensive or cheap as you like. Your attendees might wish to reserve a block of hotel rooms, or even a hall. Or you might just need to make reservations at a restaurant.

Or you could think outside the restaurant, and consider a visit to a museum, historical attraction or nature preserve. Your group might enjoy attending, say, a minor league baseball game (it’s often a nominal fee to get your site or company mentioned on the scoreboard or over the public address system. Usually this takes the form of a charitable donation).

Or your users might even enjoy a potluck, or a cruise, or a bowling tournament for fun. They might like to run a 5K race (or just watch) or even attend lectures or form a book group. And they might even enjoy helping to build a house for charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen for the day. The only limits are your imagination and the focus of your community. Because a forum devoted to young mothers, for example, might enjoy a gathering where they can bring their children. Whereas a board focusing on a hip hop artist might prefer attending a concert.

Get Together Swag

For a gathering (in particular, for one specifically planned and sanctioned by you), it’s nice to bring swag. That is, forum- or company-specific merchandise. Make it free for the taking! Hats, tee shirts, frisbees, key chains, whatever you like. The young mothers’ forum might like diaper bags or onesies. That hip hop forum might like licensed mix CDs, or special music that they can download. Just give them the URL and a key or password, so they can get it exclusively, at least to start. And, it’s not a problem if people begin to share the URL and the password. Because you want them to do this.

Gatherings are fun. It’s enjoyable to finally see and get together with people you only know from online. Once you’ve heard their voices and seen their mannerisms in the flesh, you’ll never read their posts the same way again.