As one of Jive’s community managers, I know that growing a sustainable and lively online community requires both care and feeding. Community managers must skillfully cultivate a community to ensure productive conversations. How do we go about caring for and feeding a community? The approach will vary depending on the type of community (internal or external). However, I’ve found that the following activities are necessary to be successful at developing a healthy community, regardless of the size or type of community.
Let’s start by defining these terms in the context of community management. The term “care” refers to a number of activities:
- Create and enforce community guidelines. A critical component of caring for a community is developing and skillfully enforcing specific guidelines. For example, in my experience managing communities on LinkedIn, I found that stating the rules for discussions in a concise manner significantly reduces problems. Public communities are regularly hit by spammers, attempting to build back-links for their website’s SEO. It’s my responsibility to regularly review and remove all the spam to preserve the integrity of the community. No community member wants to sift through mountains of spam to find the authentic discussions. When in doubt if someone is a spammer or accidentally breaking the rules, it is important to directly contact the member and reference the specific guideline that the person has violated in a polite but firm manner.
- Engage daily with a systematic approach. The larger the community, the more critical it is to have a systematic approach. There are three things you should do on a daily basis. When managing a Jive-powered community, be sure to (1) respond to any communications directed to you, (2) review status updates of members to respond when relevant, and (3) search existing discussions for questions (often, answering these questions is as simple as connecting the poster with the appropriate person to provide an answer).
- Clean up social groups. When managing a community that allows members to create groups and subgroups for discussion, it is necessary to keep a keen eye out for inactive groups. Groups deemed inactive should be regularly pruned to keep the community robust and vibrant. Create a calendar and reminders to do this on a monthly or quarterly basis. Keep in mind that these subgroups will need time to fully develop – to avoid prematurely removing a group before it has a chance to gain traction.
Feeding is essentially the seeding of interactions among community member through content creation (e.g., starting and responding to discussions). In an ideal world, we would be involved in every part of the community. In most cases, this is simply not a realistic expectation. Given this limitation, how can we effectively feed an entire community with stimulating content? My answer is three-fold:
- Create a content calendar. Heather Burks does an excellent job of providing a strategy for developing and using a calendar to ensure content creation. When rolling out a new community, having a content calendar is paramount to the success of the community. The worst case scenario would be for new community members to come in and see a ghost town.
- Engage authentically. Always write about what you love and know. As an example, I am a social media geek – that is my true passion and what I am interested in talking about with others. I have no desire to write about programming, nor do I have the knowledge necessary to engage in discussions about it intelligently. So, as a community manager, I’m going to focus my energy on regularly starting and interacting in discussions about social media and marketing. Why? Because it is very easy to spot when someone doesn’t have interest or expertise in a topic.
- Seek out and empower natural advocates. At this point, it’s natural to be wondering how to feed a group outside of your passion or understanding. A solid and long-term solution to this challenge is to seek out people in each group that demonstrate a curiosity and proficiency in the topic being discussed. Locating these naturally active participants and empowering them to be community managers is the only sustainable way to feed those parts of the community. For more information on how to empower these natural advocates, check out my Jive Talks posts entitled “7 Steps to Empowering Your Natural Advocates.”
Having a checklist and regular calendar reminders is the best way to ensure a consistent effort. Here is a snapshot of a basic outline for a Care and Feeding checklist:
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