Managing an online community can seem like a daunting task. It takes time and energy to build a community that has really good, positive engagement.
There are ways to keep it as simple as possible, though! These 9 tips for online community management will help.
9 Tips for Online Community Management
#1. Be prepared to be in the community every day.
The benefits of an online community for your business are unique. You’re going to be able to build trust, understand your audience better and help them out in ways that you might not have ever thought of if it weren’t for the community.
If those benefits sound good to you, then you’re going to want to make sure that you are there, every day, interacting and managing the community.
In the early stages of building your community, you’re going to need to be there to make sure you are creating ways for the community to engage.
When the community is more mature and members are easily engaging with each other, you’ll be monitoring that engagement and consistently engaging yourself.
#2. Pick the right community management platform for you.
The first place people think of when they think of an online community is a Facebook group.
But there are other options.
Slack is my #1 favorite community platform. It’s conversational and very easy to manage as a Community Manager.
I’ve also used Discourse and I would recommend it as well for a community that is more into longer form discussion. It has a lot of features, but it can be a little more complicated than Slack.
We’ve recently just tried Circle.so as a community platform and so far it’s great. It’s more of that Facebook style discussion platform. It’s easy to use and it looks great.
#3. Let no question go unanswered.
You don’t have to answer every question or respond to every comment yourself, but you do want to make sure that every question and comment has some type of engagement on it
There’s nothing worse for your community member to feel ignored.
In Slack I use the “remind” feature to make sure I come back to questions of comments that haven’t been engaged with. This gives the community time to respond, but it also reminds me to come back to the question in case no one else does respond.
#4. Think about the values you want to emulate in your community.
Sit down with yourself and think about what is the tone you want in your community. Depending on your topic, there will be values that you want to make sure are expressed as you engage.
So, for example, if you are managing a community of people who are working building a healthier lifestyle then how would you respond when someone comes to the community to say,
“I fell off the wagon and ate a whole container of Oreos yesterday.”
If Accountability is an important value in your community, how do you respond to that? If Encouragement is an important value, how do you respond to that?
Thinking about the important values for your community ahead of time is going to help you respond in a consistent way when there are difficult situations that come up.
#5. Understand the different phases of community engagement.
There’s a commonly known statistic in community management that says
- 90% of your community members are lurkers. They are there observing, but they don’t actually engage.
- 9% of your community members respond to the content in the community but don’t create their own content (meaning, they don’t create their topic whether it’s a question or comment outside of a response).
- 1% of your community members actually create content. They are asking questions and creating their own posts or topics in the community
The numbers are debatable and it will be different for every community, but the concept is important.
Because in addition to those three types of members, there are also the people that aren’t aware you have a community to join or don’t understand the value that the community can bring them.
It’s important to understand because you’ll want to encourage engagement differently for each phase of engagement.
Which bring us to…
#6. Have an engagement plan.
It’s very important to have a plan to build engagement when you are just building your community. But it’s something you want to always be working on because even mature communities have ebbs and flows in engagement.
When things are starting to ebb, you want to make sure you have ideas on how to build that engagement back up.
There are lots of different ways to build engagement within your community.
- Daily prompts – Bring thoughtful questions to share with the community daily that encourage responses
- Accountability groups – Depending on your niche, these can work really well for smaller groups
- Community Newsletters – These work really well to help engage the people who are not actively joining the group
- Webinars/Lives – Interacting with your community via text is great, but scheduling face to face time to tackle different topics is a good way to build engagement.
#7. Set availability expectations.
I almost started this paragraph by saying, “No one expects you to be online 24/7 in your community”. But actually, people sort of do.
Not exactly, but when someone pops in with a question or comment, they aren’t thinking, “Hm, I wonder if she’s eating dinner or getting the kids off to school”.
They just type their comment or question and go about their own day. If they have seen you respond immediately to questions then their expectation might be that they should get an immediate response to.
If that’s not something you can commit to (constant immediate responses) then you just need to make sure there is an expectation of when you are readily available and when you are not.
For example, in your welcome to the community post or email you could say, “I’m readily available in the community Tuesday-Thursday from 9-3 and outside of that timeframe, I’m checking in regularly”.
#8. Be consistent.
One of the greatest benefits of an online community is that it builds trust between you and the members.
As long as you are showing up consistently and interacting in a way that is consistent with the values that we talked about.
If you’re not consistent, then that trust will start to break down and trust is a very precious commodity.
#9. Be prepared to handle conflict should it arise.
If you are keeping your values in mind as you are interacting in the community, then your members will see that and they will emulate them.
That means there should be very few times when you have to handle any type of conflict.
But, when conflict does arise, and by conflict I mean conversations that go against those values that are important to your community, take a minute before you respond.
Think about the conversation that’s happening and whether there is value in furthering the discussion and getting to a more positive place. Or you might even find that it’s a good opportunity to say, “You know that’s just not a value that we want to encourage here”.
Let’s take our Oreos example from before.
If someone responded to that comment and shamed the person for eating Oreos and shame is not a value you want in your community, then you could say something like,
“We’re not publicly shaming anyone for eating Oreos. Melinda, get back on the plan today, you’ve got this. We’re here to encourage you”.
Go Manage Your Community
You’ve got some tools in your community management belt now that should help with keeping that group engaged and happy.
And an engaged and happy group means your business should be growing, too!