Community Management

I got my start in Community Management back before I knew that Community Management was a thing. My hobby from high school through college was working on gaming fansites and forums. After college I gradually began leading more in-person community groups.

My philosophy on community management, as a profession, touches a few points:

  • We organize, making plans and putting those plans into motion.
  • We facilitate, connecting members to each other in a safe environment.
  • We lead by example, filling gaps (e.g. creating content), especially in the early days.

Overall, we take the initiative where others would ask for permission or wait for someone else to do it first. We’re the ones who step up, who volunteer, who see an opportunity to bring people together, and we figure out how to make that happen.

In other words? Community Managers create communities.

What is a community?

A community is a connected group of people with something in common.

There are communities of place, where members unite around a shared geography. There are communities of purpose, where members unite to bring about change.

There are communities of practice, where members all share the same profession or do the same kind of work. There are communities of interest, identity, and even circumstance.

A strong community has aligned values and principles. “People like us believe these things to be true.” Members may even adjust their personal views to fit within the community.

This is one of the areas where large communities may fracture to form smaller groups. These smaller groups may still identify as part of a larger community, but they’re also set apart by their values and principles. Political parties are rife with this sort of splintering.

Shared symbols and language communicate who is (and isn’t) part of the community. For example, symbols that carry meaning for people within the community may have no meaning for people outside of the community. We see this in religion and culture. The same goes for language. We see this in corporate environments with industry jargon and company-specific acronyms.

Communities are organic. They start small and grow over time.

You can’t build a large, thriving community overnight. Communities need to start small. While this might seem discouraging at first, it’s actually an opportunity.

A small community group has time to get things in place without potentially affecting thousands of members. In other words, use those early days to figure things out and find you footing.

Start by defining your purpose. Why does the community exist? Who is it for? Why would they join? What’s the upside? This is also a good time to lock in your community values. Early members and conduct will set an expectation for those who come later. If you don’t define what those things are early on, you’ll have to deal with potentially problematic members setting that expectation on your behalf.

Next, choose a venue. Where will the community come together? This is your “home base” where members will gather. It’s where most of the activities will happen. Emphasis on most. A community is a connected group of people. It’s not a single place or platform. Your community members will show up in other places.

These days it’s a good idea to have both an online and offline venue. The online venue could be a Facebook group, Slack team, Discord server, discussion forum, or something else. The offline venue could be a regular meeting space, like a local coffee shop, pub, or office.

When you know your purpose and have a venue, it’s time to find your founders. These are the first members of the group – the ones who will help set the tone for what’s to come. Of the members who join in your community’s early days, a subset will (hopefully) go on to become regulars and “veteran” members over time. Others will drop off.

Content creation and community management go hand-in-hand.

Content brings people in. It’s the reason people will join your community. And when I talk about content in the context of a community, I’m thinking about activities. It’s those shared experiences that reinforce a member’s sense of belonging.

Community content can cover a wide range of formats: Blog posts; videos; podcasts; livestreams; video calls; forum threads; chats on Slack or Discord; in-person events like meetups and conferences; social outings; etc.

Creating an artifact from all of these activities — written recaps, videos, photos, testimonials — serves two purposes. First, it creates more content to draw people in, giving them a sense of what the community is about. Second, it reminds existing members of their experiences, reinforcing their sense of belonging within the group.

This takes us to the flywheel of content and community. Content brings people in, the community brings people back. As community managers, our responsibility is to keep that flywheel turning.

It takes a lot of work to move the flywheel in the early days of a community. We do that through programming, i.e. “seeding” the community with original content. Over time, if everything goes well, more members will come in, and we’ll see member-created content pick up the momentum.

Great community management keeps the group healthy.

Great community management is a lot like tending to a garden. We seed the community (create content); feed it (share & participate); weed it (moderation); and harvest it (leveraging the community for other initiatives).

When we “seed” the community with new content, we’re leading by example. We’re publishing the type of content we want to see in the community. We’re also leading by example when we participate in the community, e.g. by joining conversations and responding to other members.

Community moderation, at a high level, is all about enforcing your Code of Conduct. In turn, your Code of Conduct sets behaviour guidelines that align with your community’s values, and explains how those guidelines are enforced by the moderation team. For example, you may have rules against religious or political content.

Recognition goes hand-in-hand with moderation. It’s the positive reinforcement to moderation’s negative reinforcement. Rewarding members for their contributions and participation helps by highlighting the best of what the community has to offer. It also gives the recipients a bit of an ego boost.

Leveraging the community for other initiatives — “harvesting” it — takes on different forms, depending on the group. For example: a business might use their customer community to support marketing campaigns; a neighbourhood might use their local Facebook group to organize a community yard sale; or a professional group might use their mailing list to run an industry survey.

A quick aside on community management professionals…

A professional Community Manager does more than post on social media. They oversee the community as a whole.

From setting goals through tactical execution and performance reports, a professional Community Manager handles the community with the same discipline that any other professional manager brings to their area of an organization.

More thoughts about community: