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community-engagement

Starting an online community seems easy.  You set up a website, install your forum software, and away you go!  There’s just one small catch… you need people to build a community.  Maybe you’ve already found your audience… now what do you DO with all of those people?  Angela Connor can help!  18 Rules of Community Engagement is a great book that explores many of the concepts and actions that make for a great Community Manager.

As a fan of Angela’s blog, I was excited to hear she was writing a book.  Over the last year, I’ve found incredible value in her various articles.  Angela launched and currently manages WRAL’s online community at GOLO.com.  Her talent and expertise helped her to grow the community to over 11,000 members in just 18 months.  As an actively working Community Manager, Angela has a wealth of knowledge to share.  That’s really what makes 18 Rules of Community Engagement a great read.

About the Book

At a brisk 84 pages, this book is a quick read that won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed or bored to tears.  Angela touches on each topic, expands just enough to make her point, then moves on.  Each topic is very focused and well thought out – usually with great real-life examples.

The cover of the book states that it is a “Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting with Customers Online.”  This book really explores the art of dealing with the users of your community.  Angela gives a variety of ways in which Community Managers can engage and relate with users of their site.  She mentions tactics like Stroking Egos, Asking Questions, Pouring on Compliments, and Making Things Personal. Each chapter provides new ways that a Community Manager may engage members to create a stronger sense of community.  Engage, engage, engage! That’s really what it’s all about.

Whether you’re just starting out as a Community Manager or you’re an old pro, I feel like there’s a little bit for everybody in this book.  For beginners it’s like all the secrets are being given to you!  If I’d known even half of these tips when I started my communities, it would have helped me immeasurably.  For an experienced manager, this book almost reads like a checklist.  Each of Angela’s 18 Rules are a reminder of things you could be neglecting in your community.  This book makes a great reference for even the most advanced manager.  Have you engaged your members lately?

I’d recommend 18 Rules of Community Engagement to anyone who manages people in any capacity.  Though the book is written for people who manage online communities, the concepts are really broad enough to provide good points to anybody who manages people as part of their job or even a club.  If you are considering community management, or already run an online community, this book is a must read.  Check it out!

Book information

Disclosure: I was been quoted in this book and received a free electronic copy.
However, this is an unsponsored book review that is completely my own opinion.

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empty-advertising

I just read an blog post from Richard Millington over at Fever Bee called When A Short-Cut Takes You In An Opposite Direction.  At the end of the article, he declares “If you want to sponsor a community, that’s fine. It gets your name in front of the right people. But it’s not even close to building one.”

I’ve been watching something very similar to this on the Cornhole Players Forum over the last couple of years.  In my case, it’s a matter of participating in a community being more effective than sponsoring or advertising on a community.

I’ve always encouraged businesses to become active members of my communities.  Growing up the son of 2 small business owners in a town of 100,000 people has taught me that personal relationships and customer service can be crucial.  Advertising can be helpful, but word of mouth is a huge part of building and maintaining a successful brick and mortar business.  The same is true in an online community.  Business owners who are active members in my community have seen their workload increase in major ways.  People love to be able to support somebody who they feel deserves it, or who they feel they have a relationship with on some level.

This isn’t to say that advertising on my communities is ineffective.  Advertisers on my community are generally very happy, and I have a very low turnover rate.  However, when it comes to word of mouth, or referrals within the community, it’s the active members who will receive the business.  They may sell exactly the same thing as those who purchase advertising – often for more money – but they’ll receive the business a good chunk of the time.

If you are an advertiser on a community, consider taking the time to interact with the members of the community.  You could find it to be very good for business!

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community-managers

I recently came across a bunch of links for Online Community Manager groups or communities via the Online Community Manager LinkedIn group. I figured I’d share them!

I haven’t signed up for many of these, so I don’t know if they’re worthwhile or not, but you can find that out for yourself.

Communities of Practice on Yahoo Groups

Online Facilitation on Yahoo Groups

Assoc. of Online Community Professionals on Yahoo Groups

Association of Online Community Moderators on Ning

Community RoundTable (invite only) on Ning. Also on Twitter as @TheCR

Community Admins online forum.  This is one I actually use.  It’s fairly quiet, but I love the concept of an open forum for forum administrators to discuss common issues.

Twitter can also be a great way to keep “in the loop.” Searching certain hashtags can help you find interesting information. For example, you can search for the #octribe tag, which was a tag that came out of this year’s Online Community Unconference, as a way for online community professionals to collate information and keep the conversation going after the conference.

You could also check out the community chat on Twitter every Friday from 1pm – 2pm et. The tag is #cmtychat

Did I miss any?  Do you prefer one of these over the others?  I’d love to hear about it!

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customer-service

Members of your online community are your customers. They may not be buying anything from you, but they are your consumers. You provide a resource, and they use it. Many of the same concepts that apply to good customer service can be applied to online community management. I’ve collected 10 common customer service practices that I feel apply to interactions with community members and online community management.

10 Customer Service Practices for Online Communities

  • Treat your members with courtesy and respect. Treat them like people, not numbers. Always remember that you need the members of your community more than they need you. It’s the simple truth. If they bail tomorrow, your community will fail. Engage your users and ask them questions. Then ask follow-up questions. Remember that these are real people, and relate to them the same way you would if they were sitting in the room with you.
  • Get to know your members. Make them feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. When possible, use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. I’ve recently introduced an Introductions Area to one of my communities. People have responded well, and it’s a great way to spark new discussion.
  • Always look for ways to help your members, even if there’s no immediate profit in it. When they have a request give it serious consideration or effort. I often have people email me questions that could have been asked in the forum. The temptation is to instruct these people to post their question in the forum. Frankly, that’s lazy. If I know the answer, I will just respond, and provide links to the information. If I don’t know the answer, I will go ahead and post the question in the forum myself. Once I get an answer, I will email the person back and provide them a link to the answered question in the forum. A lot of work to help just one person, but in asking the question in the forum I may have helped others who weren’t willing or able to post the same question.
  • Identify and anticipate needs. Listen to your members. Stay proactive and keep gathering ideas for new content and services. You are in business to service consumer needs, and you can only do that if you know what it is your members want. When you truly listen to your users, they let you know what they want and how you can provide the best content.
  • Help users understand your systems. Hard to imagine, but not everybody understands the internet all that well. Not everyone understands how to attach a picture, add a signature, upload an avatar, send a PM, or even register! I often create quick tutorial threads for processes on my site that could be difficult for certain people.
  • Provide multiple means of communication. As the community administrator, you must be available to help in any way. Sometimes a user will have a hard time registering, posting, or using some other feature on your site. That person will likely make an effort to contact you to help. If you’re not a visible leader, your community will suffer.
  • Always give more than advertised. What can you give people who come to your site that they cannot get elsewhere? What can you do to follow-up and thank people? What can you give members that is totally unexpected? I hold simple contests on my sites. For something as easy as sharing a picture or posting a story, members can have the chance to win fun prizes!
  • Never deal with a member when angry. Never argue with a member. Resolve issues promptly. Moderation can be an ugly process. It’s easily one of the biggest drawbacks of community management. Sometimes a member will do something so irritating that the first instinct is to shoot off a snippy email. Don’t. Often times the member doesn’t even know what wrong they’ve done, and you’re more likely to offend and run off your users than fix any problems. Be gentle, but simply state the facts. Tell the user what they’ve done that is not okay, tell them what will happen if they continue that action, and move on.
  • Reward your loyal members. This can be done in a variety of ways. I find that a genuine “thanks” is one of the most appreciated gestures. Also, things like badges or icons can be awarded for a certain number of posts, etc. In certain cases, you may even reward your some members with Moderator positions.
  • Build Business to Customer Loyalty. This is ultimately the grand prize for all of your efforts. If you can succeed in every area listed above, this should just come with it. Community loyalty is your lifeblood. Happy members tell their friends, and those friends tell their friends. Members will link to your website in other forums and blogs. I’ve even been offered free event sponsorship, just because members loved the community. You never know!

What do you think? What “customer service” models to do you follow in an online community?

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community-leaderWhen I started my first online community in 2006, I posted important annoucements and happenings with my Administrator account.  For everything else, I posted under an alias.  I thought that Administrator posts should be important, intelligent, and wise.  I didn’t want to have to be those things all of the time.  I was learning, right along with my members.  I wanted my alias to be able to ask some unintelligent questions, speak casually, and have flaws.  This system worked just fine for a couple of years.

I’ve recently learned the error of my ways.  By using an alias, I was actually neglecting to fill an important role in my community.  I’ve recently quit using my alias to post, and I’m now posting only as myself.  The result has been 100% positive!  I regret waiting so long to realize what was happening.  Through this process, the number one thing I learned…

Online Communities Need a Visible Leader.

  • People need a contact person.  Sometimes people need help posting or finding information.  If your members have to search out ways to contact you, they won’t.
  • You’re the expert.  While you may not be an expert on the subject matter, you are an expert on the content of your website.  You’ve likely read every post, and you have the broadest overview of your members, posted topics, and how your software works.
  • It shows you care about the community.  When you join the discussion, you’re a part of the group.  It shows you care, and you’re not just out to make a quick buck.
  • You become a person.  When a member breaks your user guidelines, they’ll respond differently to your warning if they’ve seen you post.  You’re not just the hand of God, you’re a person.
  • Your posts matter.  When the administrator posts, people listen.  If you’re posting compliments and spreading goodwill, people notice.  The way you post, and the tone of your posts, will influence how other members post.
  • ‘Stupid’ questions are okay. People who are new to a forum can be hesitant to post their questions.  Nobody wants to ask the wrong thing.  If people see that you’ve asked and answered some very basic questions, they will see there is less to be afraid of, and they’ll be more apt to post.
  • People need someone to thank! This surprised me more than anything else.  When people appreciate the work you’ve done, they want to thank a person, not “the creators of this fine website”

My online communities have transformed since I changed my ways.  Before, I was simply administrating a forum.  Now, I’m actually managing a community.  I’ve got a long way to go, and I’m always learning, but this first step was huge.  If I can stress anything from my experiences, it’s that you need to be active in your own community,  interact with your members, and Engage!

What do you think?  Has anyone else ever had similar experiences?

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