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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?

  • Travis February 14, 2009, 7:51 pm

    Great post. I found that most the users on my forum like to see me an active participant. It shows them that I’m interested in the topic and what they’re doing. Not just a man behind the curtain.

    I do find that I have to walk the fine line of being an administrator and a buddy. Too much administrator, you have a stranglehold on the community. Too much a buddy makes administrating users pretty rough.

  • Ben Barden March 5, 2009, 12:27 am

    Couldn’t agree more. :) I’ve owned or moderated various web forums since 2000, and I’ve always used my own name instead of a generic admin login. Although most of my forums were never all that busy (until late last year, when my blogging forum took off), those who visited enjoyed the community and found it very welcoming. I saw a few forums here and there that used generic logins and they never appeared to be all that friendly.

  • Jeremy Lindh March 14, 2009, 2:11 pm

    Thanks for the comments Travis and Ben!

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