Let’s focus on how we build and manage online communities

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We often take it for granted that it’s important to build, grow and manage an online community carefully, that you need to put effort in to make it work and that the right people need to be involved to help your community really take off. However, too often people think about technology when they talk community. They talk about how the community will be structured, how you can use online tools to engage people and what their website will look like. I’m a strong believer that good technology is important, that the user experience should allow them to do everything they want to do, should be easy to manage efficiently and should help to deliver on our client’s objectives. But really, technology should be invisible. It’s the management, growth and building of the community that we should be focusing our efforts on. This is where we can really make a difference.

That’s why it was great this week when Rich Millington over FeverBee posted a first draft of his Online Community Manifesto. It’s an insightful piece that builds on and expands many of my own thoughts, and our endeavours in promoting community management. The need to focus on the skills and strategies needed to build, grow and manage an online community are important, yet many people focus on the technology. As Rich says:

We’ve forgotten the purpose of technology. Technology exists to make communication easier. It doesn’t exist to let us do things we wouldn’t have bothered to do anyway.

This is so very true. When we work with clients at FreshNetworks we don’t talk about technology until we’ve worked on aims and objectives, who a brand is trying to engage (and why), what they know about them, how they interact with the brand. As Rich notes, we’re talking about a social environment and it’s important to understand this first. We don’t even use the word ‘online’ for the first few sessions we have.

Technology is important, but it should be taken as a given. It is the management of the community that will really make a significant difference in how it builds and grows. Online community management is a real skill area and one that all of us who work in the industry should work together to help expand, refine and share.

If you’re interested in meeting other Community Managers then there are a couple of groups in social networks you might want to join – groups in Facebook and LinkedIn. Also keep following our series on Promoting Community Management to hear about what we’re doing and events we’re organising.

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