1. Introduction to community management

start hereImage by massdistraction via Flickr

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