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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.

It is important to have community guidelines. They are imperative for any online community. Members need to know what is expected of them and what types of behaviors are frowned upon or prohibited within the community.

I remember creating the guidelines for the community I manage. It was laborious but imperative.  I scoured the internet for guidelines from other communities and then thought a lot about what kind of community I’d like to see take shape.

Writing such guidelines can make you feel as though you’re building an environment where all will be well. You think that people will refer to these guidelines and perhaps even follow them.

But having those guidelines in place does not make every call I make as a community manager, an easy one.  In fact, I rarely go back to them when making tough decisions. Guidelines are a starting point. Interpreting those guidelines is how you become an effective community manager. The way you do that interpreting can make or break you.

This job is not about being a robot. It’s emotional and we are human.You can stare at the guidelines all day long and never get the answers you need when things get complicated. I know that many of my peers will argue the point and say that guidelines are guidelines. You follow them or you go.  But it’s not that easy with me.

Let me illustrate why I feel this way:  A few months ago a long-time member had posted several comments and even a blog or two that were directed at another member. The comments were mean and degrading. It was really out of character for her. Were those comments abusive according to the guidelines? Yes. I could have stopped right there, marked her comments and blogs as abuse and she would have lost her posting privileges, community profile, the works. In most cases, that should probably be the outcome.

BUT…I knew that her dog had just been hit by a car and died because she’d been blogging about it since the day it happened  and it looked like she was responding to someone who had been taunting her about that.  His comments, however,  had NOT been reported as abuse so it all looked very one-sided.

I sent her an email letting her know that I was not going to dock her for the comments because I knew she was in an emotional state. But I also warned her that she must take control of her emotions because I would not do it again.

She responded with great gratitude and apologized profusely for allowing herself to get sucked in by someone else and for resorting to such antics. She said that she just couldn’t take it because she was feeling guilty about letting her dog run out into the street and his comments about her negligence pushed her over the cyber-edge. She did not want to lose her privileges.

For me, that was time well spent. I know it doesn’t scale, and that’s a real issue for me as the community grows, but that’s the kind of community manager I like to be. One who can empathize and know enough about the members to make a difference.

Guidelines don’t empathize.

You can.

This post was inspired by #CmtyChat, (created by Sonny Gill and Bryan Person) a weekly meeting of the minds where community enthusiasts chat via Twitter about all that ails us and then some.

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Last Friday brought another interesting hour of #Cmtychat, created by Bryan Person and Sonny Gill. We had a robust discussion about community management, growing communities, the 90-9-1 Principle and the importance, or lack thereof, of community lurkers.

I stressed the importance of providing content that makes it easy for lurkers to participate: A quick poll, or blog post with a fun question that most people would find irresistible and want to chime in.

While lurkers may not seem important, they are. I can’t tell you how many new members have told me that they’d been lurking for anywhere from 4-8 months before finally deciding to join the community.

One community manager on the chat mentioned that her community had so many new people joining that they don’t really focus on lurkers. I can understand that philosophy but that has not been my experience. I am always trying to impress non-members with our content to encourage them to take the leap from lurker to participant, and then from participant to active participant.
In my opinion, it’s a member drive that never ends.

After all, if you don’t encourage lurkers, how can you grow?

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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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