Monday, May 18, 2009

Online Community Management -- Weaving the Golden Thread

In a post from January 2009, Tom Humbarger wrote about what happened to the professional online community he was managing when he got laid off and the community was left on its own.

Tom writes,
Durng the time of my involvement, active community management and consisted of:
  • delivery of bi-weekly email update newsletters
  • production of monthly webcasts
  • active blog posting and blogger outreach
  • uploading of fresh content each week
  • continual promotion of the community in various forums through guerilla marketing
  • ongoing brainstorming and strategizing with respect to improving the community experience
  • priming of discussion forums, and
  • ongoing communications with individual community members

It’s interesting to discover that a neglected community will indeed continue to function without a dedicated community manager. However, the results are lackluster and the picture are not ‘pretty’.

Reading the comments below Tom's post made me wonder about the philosophy behind community management. Some suggested that the end goal should be to create communities that do NOT need management. I believe this is a wholly bad idea.

Think of it this way. I like going to the movies. I like watching movies. I am going to invite a bunch of friends, neighbors, and anyone else for that matter over to my house to watch and talk about movies. I'll get the TV ready, DVD player all set up, have a variety of movies to choose from, make snacks, and even ensure there is plenty of seating and that newcomers know what to do and who is who.

So, people start coming over, there are the regulars and a lot of people who are intermittent in their visits. After a year, I decide that the movie watching and discussion events can still happen at my house, but I won't be there anymore. Sure, the event can still function as it always did, but that golden thread that wove everything together -- content, people, familiarity, continuity, maintenance, individualization -- all those things are now fragmented and forgotten.

The role of online community manager is far more than just content publishing and functional oversight. It is hospitality incarnate. It is an essential and consistent human element ensuring that all the pieces fit together. To equate it with a short-term facilitator, believing that the truest measure of an online community's viability is its ability to thrive on its own, goes against every successful community (on or offline) that's ever existed. In this case, community engagement is the same online as it is offline -- the rules are basically the same, it's just the medium that's changed.

What do you think? Am I totally on to something here or way out in left field?

-- David Kinard, PCM

[photo credit: HyperLocalEdge]


Alison Michalk said...

Hi David. I can't help but think anyone advocating a community devoid of a community manager, doesn't really understand what the job entails. And granted at this point community management covers a very broad spectrum and overlaps with so many other roles, the picture is not always clear.

Whilst some communities are self-organising, and others very good at self-moderating (at least to a point) there are three major components to a CM's role that you can't expect members to look after: legal liabilities, your brand reputation and an overall positive user experience. So much work goes into achieving each of those, I think they only way they could be managed without a Community Manager was if your community was very very small and you planned for 0% growth!

Love to hear others' opinions though.

Kevin Micalizzi, Dimdim Community Manager said...


Thanks for this. It's important to cultivate leaders in the community, but not to abandon them.

Feeding information back into the organization and ensuring consistent follow-through are two critical roles a community manager should play. Makes for a busy day and can make you the least favorite person in the office when news is bad -- but it's necessary.


Kevin Micalizzi, Community Manager
Dimdim Web Conferencing
twitter: @dimdim

David Kinard, PCM said...

Alison - thanks for highlighting more of the practical elements of a community manager's role.

Kevin - ahh, the role of the messenger! Yeah, when community feedback isn't so great, who is going to socialize that with the company leaders? Great call out.

-- David

Tom Humbarger said...

David - thanks for taking my post and expanding the reasons for active community management.


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I recently tried - good app for uploading documents and working on them in real-time.
Most file types are supported and it needs no installation. - andy

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