The importance of community management

By Angela Ashenden posted 08-21-2015 06:20


A major area of debate and concern for organisations considering how to establish, grow and manage an online community is the importance of the community manager, and what exactly the role entails. As a general rule, every online community should be allocated a facilitator or community manager; while some communities will require more facilitation than others as they mature, this role is extremely important in the early days in order to encourage and stimulate activity and adoption, and to ensure the growing community remains focused on its primary objectives.

It is worth clarifying the terminology at this point – I intentionally use the term “facilitator” here rather than “moderator”, because of the underlying connotations of the words in relation to the role that this individual needs to carry out. In consumer-oriented communities, the role of the “moderator” is largely focused on governing the community, and ensuring that inappropriate or inflammatory content is efficiently removed and the authors notified or expelled from the community. However, in a business-focused community, there is less of a need for such “policing” of the community, rather for driving and seeding the community. Clearly there is a secondary role relating to monitoring the community for inappropriate content, but it is important that this is not perceived by the individual – or the broader community – to be their main function.

Given their responsibility for driving the community, the facilitator or community manager has two priority areas – people and content. From a people standpoint, the facilitator is responsible for growing membership and activity within the community, inviting and then directly engaging new users, responding to questions and comments within the community, and encouraging discussion by posting questions and introducing new topics. On the content side, the challenge is to ensure that there is a constant stream of new content being added to the community, either by contributing themselves, or by inviting content experts from inside or outside the organisation to post comment to the community and engage in discussions relating to that content.

Who this person should be and how much time it will require of them will very much depend on the nature of the community. For example, in an internal community this may be someone with a communications background, someone who is responsible for knowledge management, or perhaps someone who is closely related to the theme of the community – such as an HR person for a new joiners’ community, or a senior member of the product development team in a process community, for example. In an externally facing community the facilitator is likely to be someone in marketing or customer relations, or in partner management, for example, depending on the focus of the community. Whatever the background of this person, it is vital that they have good communication and social skills, is able to convey these in written communications, and is already a strong supporter of the community initiative. In many external communities, the facilitator or community manager is a full-time role, particularly during the early phases of establishing the community and growing its membership. However, in an internal community this commitment is typically less, although it can easily require at least half of a full time role.

While the facilitator or community manager is the most easily definable cost in terms of the commitment needed to establish and support an online community, it is important to remember that the community will demand time and effort from other individuals within the organisation – even in an externally facing community. The facilitator will constantly be looking for content to populate the community, and will be approaching relevant experts to provide this. While this responsibility will typically be shared by a wide group of individuals, it may require a significant investment of their time, which they will need to be incentivised to provide.

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