If your organization already has or is considering a private member community, it’s likely that this question has come up --- “Who on our team is going to grow our online community?” When resources are already stretched as they often are, taking on one more commitment can seem nearly impossible. The value of a membership community is significant. It provides a framework for building member connections, engagement and a deep sense of belonging that members are seeking. A community will evolve over time with continuous attention and interaction. A dedicated community manager can mean the difference between a quiet wasteland and a vibrant connected membership.
Let’s begin with fact #1:
An online community is successful only when the members in it are actively engaged. That sounds obvious and simple. While most of us will agree that “obvious” is true, we should also agree that “simple” is anything but true. Creating an engaged online community is a process that takes time and commitment. With the right plan and people, it will happen.
Every organization has a different objective and expectation for its online community. The current levels of member engagement are different for any number of reasons. It is likely that many members already connect through some social media network.
This brings us to fact #2:
A private online community is not the same as a public social media network. Facebook is not a community. Private communities enable a deeper level of connection and trust among members with a shared purpose. There is continuity and context in a private online community that does not exist in social media networks. The reasons for participating in a social media network are different than engaging in your private community. It is important to recognize that difference and develop your strategy accordingly.
It is this sense of shared connectedness and active engagement that creates the need for a dedicated community manager. All too often organizations confuse community management with social media management, and the outcome is predictably disappointing.
While a community manager has a solid understanding of social media and the network effect, there are much broader skills necessary to successfully develop, engage and support a private online community. Simply making an occasional Facebook post or sending random Tweets does not develop deep engagement. The community manager takes a strategic approach to creating and executing a disciplined plan.
Strength #1: Leadership
A successful leader is one who actively encourages community growth and engagement. Members and organizational leadership both feel a common sense of purpose and achievement.
Your community manager should have the leadership experience to successfully integrate the expectations of both members and the organization. She should have the ability to identify super members who will be effective contributors and evangelists.
Strength #2: Strategic
As a conduit between the internal organization and the member community, the community manager must be able to maintain a professional balance between the two.
The community manager should be a valued organizational team member who is included in regular strategic discussions. Together with a core team of both members and the organization he will prepare the member engagement plan. He will be able to continually evaluate the success of the plan and execute changes as needed.
Strength #3: People Dynamics
An understanding of and curiosity about the actions that lead people to do what they do is essential. It’s an obvious statement that members are all different. The reasons for joining vary widely and will change over time. Members react to situations in very distinct ways. An awareness of human dynamics will lead to a harmonious community with powerful outcomes.
The community manager must understand the factors that drive prospects to become members and members to develop a lasting commitment to the organization. The insightful manager will be continually monitoring the online conversations and offline connections to strengthen the community and mitigate issues.
Strength #4: Project Management
Providing community leadership is very much like managing multiple projects and teams. Often the community manager will work with volunteer members as well as staff to develop content, implement delivery schedules and manage the external social media channels.
Anyone who has ever lead peer volunteers understands how different those leadership tactics are. The project manage must be a confident delegator within the context of the various team dynamics.
Strength #5: Communication
The community manager communicates not only in writing but also through face-to-face interactions. While the manager may not produce the posts and other community content, she is the curator and editor. She has the business communication experience to deliver content that clearly reflects the organization’s brand.
Strength #6: Listening and Awareness
As the one who crosses the bridge between the members and the organization, the community manager is the receiver of valuable information and insights. How often has a random conversation led to a pivotal moment?
An effective community manager is one who lives the “talk less, listen more” mantra.
Strength #7: Analytical
A powerful component of the online community is the data collected. The community manager has the ability to continuously view, analyze and craft community engagement based on what is happening right now.
More than just looking for obvious patterns or proof of assumptions, the true analyst looks at data in new ways. The new insights are communicated within the organization to help it continually provide the most meaningful member experience.
Strength #8: Natural Networker and Connector
Connecting the dots among members begins offline. Meeting and learning the preferences, personality and purpose of each member is essential. This natural connector sees the potential for putting certain members together and makes the introductions.
The connector is a curious person. Because of that she follows the progress of the relationship. She encourages members to contribute success stories that feed community engagement and provide valuable analytics.
Strength #9: Commitment to the Organization
The community manager is the vital connector between the members and the organization. Neither exists without the other. The manager believes in the core mission of the organization and builds the online community in support of it.
A successful online community can only happen when there are actively engaged members. Build it and they will come isn’t a strategy that will bear fruit. Building a robust community won’t happen overnight, and there needs to be a clear plan for continuously moving forward.
If your current organization does not have a community manager on the team, the benefits of hiring one can’t be underestimated. Your community manager will bring the community to life and build a loyalty among members that is invaluable.