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It is so easy to read through your favorite blog posts and chime in with a cursory comment such as: “Spot on,” “great post,” “I agree with you 100%” and “Me too.”

The same goes for online communities and forums.  While I enjoy reading the actual posts, sometimes the best content is in the comments. It’s the different perspectives and point-of-view that add value while also introducing you to people you may not have otherwise come in contact with.

I can recall a time when I was a very active commenter on my favorite blogs. It comes in waves now based on my workload but I always strive to post something of value. So whenever you see one of my comments, you better believe that I thought about my words before posting them and felt like I had something worth adding.

As a community manager, you come to value comments in a way that is indescribable. I’m sure that bloggers feel that way too. But when you are charged with growing a community, you truly associate the comment with the person’s time. You see the direct correlation because you are painfully aware of the fact that there  are so many choices online and you’re grateful that for that moment, you were one of their choices.

Comments yield opportunities  

Another reason to be smart about your comments is that you never know who is reading. I’ve gotten great opportunities from comments. It’s nice to get an email from someone indicating that they read your comment on  a post and they’d like to interview you for a story or connect with you in some other way. It happens all the time, so you’re actually helping yourself when you do this.

Posting thoughtful comments isn’t hard to do, but it’s much easier when you care about the topic or feel some sort of emotion as a result of what you just read. But even if that emotion is lacking, you can still add quality to the conversation beyond “Spot on” and the others mentioned above.

If you want to get started on improving the quality of your comments, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Post a different perspective with no intention of starting a fight
  • Explain why you agree with the author
  • Always post more than one sentence
  • Quote exactly what you liked and add a bit about why it struck you
  • Encourage the author to write more and tell them what you’d like to see discussed next
  • Offer new ideas

I recognize that some of these tips may be painfully obvious, but if they really were, I think we’d see many more thoughtful comments. And if you’re on the receiving end of those comments, be sure to express some gratitude and thank people for their time.

Remember, they could be anywhere else on the web, and the fact that they are with you is something you have to learn to appreciate.

You probably know by now that in every online community, there will be highly popular, influential members. Sometimes their star rises quickly and they can become a very important part of your strategy. They morph into a high-profile, go-to member who seems quite vested in the community and displays a great deal of ownership. This type of member can be a community manager’s dream.

When this type of member take on too much ownership, there can be trouble.

If you start to depend on them too much or place them on a pedestal believing that their intentions are always pure, there could be even more trouble.
This may or may not happen because there are many factors to consider and so much depends on their specific personality traits. But it might happen, and you need to be ready.

If an influential community member starts creating havoc, they must be dealt with and you cannot be swayed by their status. If they become a dominant, larger-than-life force throwing their weight around at others expense, you have to do something.

This person could be your very first member. They could be the ultimate creator of content and have hundreds or even thousands of friends. People might get upset if they believe he or she is being ousted. And, this person and/or their die-hard followers may even turn against you in a very public manner.

Remember those essential skills for community managers I wrote about a few months back? This is when they come into play. This is when you need to have a thick skin, make a decision and move on.
Sure, you can try to reason with them. And most community managers will give you several ideas on how you should go about doing this.  I agree that you should do what you can to salvage the relationship and keep the member without compromising your integrity.

If it doesn’t work, let them go. You will live to see another day. Trust me. I did.

This is just one of the lessons I’ve learned while doing this job called community management. Many think it’s glamorous and all fun, games and kumbaya. It isn’t.
When you’re in the trenches of this work, you learn quickly that there may not be a right answer and you learn as you go.

That is why I write this blog. It is documentation of the fact that I learn as I go. That is why I appreciate everyone who sends me emails saying how much they appreciate what I share and how my strategies are working for them for them.

I will continue to share my lessons learned and even more so as part of a new project series specifically for community managers. If you want to know more about it, sign up on my book website and you’ll be one of the first to learn about this new endeavor.

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Connie Bensen posted a great presentation on SlideShare a few weeks ago that I must share here. Five steps for establishing metrics for a successful online community. I like that she stresses the importance of identifying business objectives and priorities first, because without a clear idea of what you’d like to gain, what good is measurement? This is often the missing link in many cases when it should really be the first step. Enjoy.

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I think the work that goes into fostering community and building relationships online is grossly underestimated.

It takes  an enormous amount of work. You have to have personality, tact, an amazingly thick skin and a work ethic that will not quit. You also have to genuinely like communicating with people.

Let me repeat that: You have to genuinely like communicating with people. All types of people.  Even people you would likely detest if you were to meet them in person.

You must learn to trust your gut and make tough decisions even when you know they will cause an uprising. And when that uprising happens, you have to know how to deal with it, manage tempers and steer the ship back on track.

What’s most important in all of this, is you have to do it every day. Yesterday’s work means nothing tomorrow. If you can’t communicate on a micro-level, then you can’t grow a successful online community.

I learned all of this by being in the trenches and growing a community from zero members. It was trial and error. And 21 months later, it still is. Some days are very frustrating.  I certainly know a lot more than I did at the beginning and I’m pretty good at engaging the masses, but I am not as good as I will be in another year, or even another month.

I wanted to make this known. Everyone is talking about the importance of building community. If you want to do it right, it has to be more than lip service.  I wanted that to be known.

That’s why I wrote a book about growing online communities.

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Online Community Strategist

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It is with much pomp and circumstance that I announce the launch of my new website, GrowingSuccessfulOnlineCommunities.com.

It will serve as home base for my book, 18 Rules of Community Engagement: A guide to building relationships and connecting with customers online set to publish in late May or early June.

I have to give major kudos to Phyllis Zimbler Miller and Yael Miller, the dynamic duo behind Miller Mosaic. They conceptualized and designed the website and treated my like an A-list client.

If you have a book to market, you need them in your life. Period.

So please visit the site and sign up for a free chapter of the book. I plan to incorporate new features including weekly two-minute podcasts called “Angela’s Answers” where I will offer quick tips on managing online communities as well as answer any questions submitted by readers. (That idea came from Phyllis, as did many others.)

And if you haven’t ordered your copy today, please consider it.

Thanks to every reader of this blog for your support and I look forward to our continued relationship.

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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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