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There are a lot of folks out there who understand how social media can help businesses and organizations thrive. There’s also a lot people out there acting as if they do, and don’t have the real experience to back it up.

As someone who manages an online community that I also launched two years ago, I am in the trenches daily. If you are a regular reader here, you know that I share my ups and downs and hard-earned advice. It is no walk in the park by any means.

My book, “18 Rules of Community Engagement” essentially details all that I learned while in the trenches and is a play book for anyone new to community management.I share details about what worked for me and even some of what didn’t.(You can read reviews of the book, here.)

My blog is a continuation of those rich details and advice. There are many bloggers who do the same. I read them faithfully and learn from them. I value their input, insight and the work they do and have done in this space. There are some though who simply repeat information from other bloggers and I am slowly but surely weeding them out of my RSS feed.

One issue I have is this unfounded idea that growing your own community through various social media platforms somehow automatically provides the ability and know how to run, grow and manage an online community as a full-time job.

It does not. I read at least five press releases each day about new company X advising on community building or Big Brand Y building a slew of online communities and what I hardly ever see in these release is information about who will manage them and take on responsibility for their growth. It’s almost like it’s an afterthought, and it should be the first thought.

This is serious work. Why do you think most online communities fail? It’s because there is no real ownership and the “if you build it they will come” mentality. It’s because many of the big-wigs think their products are so unbelievably exciting and interesting that consumers will bang down the doors to  interact with their brand, in their space and on their terms.

This is not true. It may be true for some exciting brands but it won’t last if there is no ‘resident nuturer’ charged with making it a success.

As you are seeking people to help you with this kind of work, look for experience. Sure,  big names are nice, but a big name may not always be able to deliver what you need.

Am I that person? If you are all about engagement tactics, I will go out on a limb and tell you that I am, because engagement is my thing. It is what I do and love. I have also created social media guidelines for my company, something that I rarely talk about in my blog and I’ve worked with a huge restaurant chain to do the same. Again, things I don’t readily talk about. I want people to contact me because of my work and not necessarily the people I’ve done it for.

That might be backwards and a little naive and I may change that at some point, who knows…but it’s important to understand that there are people out there doing the work you need who just arent’ selling it on every corner.

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I had the opportunity to moderate the weekly conversation known as #CmtyChat yesterday, and what a great experience it was.  This weekly chat, (which I have attended since its inception)  started out on Twitter but has since migrated to Friendfeed, where the conversation flows and is no longer limited to 140 characters.

The invitation came from co-founder and Social Media Strategist, Sonny Gill, and I was more than happy to accept. I was given free reign in the topic department, so I’m sure it surprises no one that I chose my favorite subject of engaging and growing communities.

I posed seven questions to the group of talented folks in attendance and the conversation was pretty robust. If you have any interest in communities, the transcript is worth a read.

I will provide each question below, with a link to the conversation that followed so you can get to know some of the contributors and maybe even consider subscribing to their feeds and following them on Twitter.  If you’d like to read more, and see questions and conversations from previous chats, visit the Friendfeed room known as Community Chat.

By the way, the #cmtychat is the brainchild of Bryan Person as well as Sonny Gill. You can find them both on Twitter.
Now, on to the discussion questions:
Q1:Community Managers know what it means to engage a community. Share with us what it means to you.

Q2:Tell us about any features or franchises you’ve created within your community that have taken off? Example: I created the GOLO profiles, where I interview and profile a single member. People love it. What do you do?

Q3: How do disruptive members stifle engagement? Example: Hijack posts with nonsense? And what do you do about it?

Q4: Jon said his “Food Haiku” opened up lurkers when he was at Whole Foods. How else can we pull in the lurkers?

Q5: What about other communities. Do you connect with members of the community you manage on other platforms?

Q6: Do you operate as a member of your own community by commenting, posting images, blogging, chatting or participating in ways similar to the community?

Q7: What is the biggest misconception about what it takes to successfully engage and keep a community engaged over time?

For more on my personal thoughts and experience growing and engaging online communities, consider reading my book, 18 Rules of Community Engagement. If you’d like a review a copy, feel free to contact me directly.

Community managers have to stay on top of current events. If you know what’s going on in the world around you, you will always have fodder to successfully engage the masses.

From national news to local news to quirky and even strange news, take some time each day to brush up on the latest happenings and conversation pieces and bring the conversation to your community.

One of the things we did in every morning meeting at every TV station I’ve worked is answer the question: “What are people talking about?” Answering that question almost always yields a ton of great story ideas and makes newscasts relevant to the communities they serve.

As a community manager, you serve a community so figure out how to deliver relevant information to that community and you will see a new notice a new level of engagement. Start with current events and you can’t go wrong.

Now, it wouldn’t be my style to leave you without examples, so here are a few select links to blogs I posted in the community I manage over the last few months, based on current events

Do you see where I’m going with this? Tap into the treasure trove of news out there and make it your own. Give the community something to talk about. It’s the first step toward building a highly engaged community.

Keep me posted on your success.

-Angela

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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