1. Introduction to community management

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Brilliant and thrilling though it is, managing an online community is a strange and unusual job. Community managers will find they often fluff their words when describing what they do. That’s because they do so much.

Sometimes, as a community manager, you will feel like a primary school teacher, despairing at squabbles and laying down the rules. Sometimes you will feel like a grief counsellor, as members lay bare their deepest feelings, and you give them a safe place in which to do it.

Sometimes you will want to join in, but know you need to hold back to retain good, safe boundaries. Community members will enlighten you, amuse you and sometimes drive you a little bit crazy. (Which is why it’s great to be able to meet up with other community managers and ‘talk shop’).

And you will be trying to increase the number of members that you have, and encouraging the right kind of members to get involved and become active.

Maybe they’re the right kind of members because they fit a certain demographic, or have an interest in a set niche.

Sometimes they’re the right kind of members because they want to engage and they get the rules.

Sometimes they’re the right kind of members, because they will use a breadth of features and encourage others to do the same.

In a handful of cases, you will get members that tick all these boxes and more. They’re your community champions, they will spread the word about your community and bring in others like themselves – more about them and their fellow members in upcoming blogs.

Community Champions will back you up and support your work and they will make the community their community.

Who can run a community?

When online community forums first arose – perhaps as the natural follow-up to an email list, or face-to-face meetings or even a paper newsletter – naturally a lot of people ‘fell’ into running them.

The early community managers tended to be the practical organised ones that had always ensured the newsletter went out on time, or the good Samaritans that always listened to griping, or waded in when emails got personal.

We’re several ‘generations’ in now, with some of the newest community managers barely old enough to remember a world without mass access to the internet. But the core skills are essentially unchanged, see: The ten commandments of managing online communities.

Humans have always created communities that congregated around a place (such as a school or local pub), around a shared interest (a Bay City Rollers fan club or a football team) or a shared need (new mums, wanting to support each other over coffee and cake or sufferers of the same medical condition).

These communities have either been self-motivated and self-governed (informal but frequent meetings), gently organised and formalised (an unofficial fan club) or rigidly controlled (i.e. school).

The same skill-sets needed to shape, manage and keep-safe these communities (and by keep safe, we mean safe from spats and trouble-makers, just as much as safe from any more serious offences) are displayed by community managers online.

Chris Brogan put together a hard-to-beat list of the essential skills of a community manager.

Lingo and buzzwords

If you’re new to social media and community management, some of the language may seem a bit obscure.

Your community members, especially those who engage in social media a lot, will probably use text speak and standard community abbreviations without blinking. You’ll quickly get the hang of these, but here is just a tiny sample:

  • DH – Dear Husband
  • DW – Dear Wife
  • DP – Dear Partner
  • DS – Dear Son
  • DD – Dear Daughter
  • BBL – Be Back Later
  • ROFL – Rolling on the floor laughing

The full list runs to the hundreds, probably thousands, but as with Twitter hashtags and text-speak, it is usually fairly easy to pick apart the meaning.

You’ll find that your community develops its own quirks of language too, for example a pregnancy community will use abbreviations like TTC (trying to conceive) while a niche scientific community will use even more nuanced abbreviations – but as a good community manager, you’ll be soaking up the syntax daily and speaking it like a native.

Next week we’ll be looking in depth at user type and behaviour.

Read all our posts on Promoting Community Management

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8 Responses
  • May 16, 2009

    As community managers we wear so many hats it’s unreal. You are absolutely right about the complexities and I know I’ve felt many of the emotions mentioned above. There are days I feel like the mother of 12,000 toddlers fighting over who gets to play with the toy next. Those days can be tough. There are other days when I’m donating bags of clothing for a yard sale organized by members to help other members who have lost their jobs. It’s a lot of work and you have to possess an amazing amount of patience, communicate with tact and exhibit grace under pressure. This is no job for the weak or the weary.
    Angela Connor | @communitygirl

    Angela Connor May 16, 2009
  • Footprints (24.05.09) | Chris Deary
    May 25, 2009

    [...] 1. Introduction to community management [...]

    Footprints (24.05.09) | Chris Deary May 25, 2009
  • May 25, 2009

    Great post Holly, as a Community Manager of a parenting website I can relate to this post!

    As for abbreviations I learn new ones constantly, the latest being OFP (optimal foetal positioning). Although my all time favorite is the LTTTCBG.. the long-term trying-to-conceive buddy group :)

    As with Angela there are always challenges but the support you get to be privy to is heart-warming stuff.

    Alison May 25, 2009
  • May 25, 2009

    Thanks for the comments, I think my favourite/most shocking abbreviations were definitely learned on the ‘love life’ forums within the women’s community I used to work for! Far too eyepopping to type here ;)

    Holly Seddon May 25, 2009
  • Jun 2, 2009

    TMI no doubt Holly! Enjoying this series of posts, thanks again :)

    Alison Jun 2, 2009
  • [...] Introduction to community management Starting out in community management(from FreshNetworks) (tags: socialmedia howto onlinecommunity communitymanagement community) [...]

  • Apr 10, 2011

    ZDL792 Good point. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way. :)

    Keiwan Apr 10, 2011

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