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If you’re a community manager and had less than ten interactions with community members today, you are slacking on the job.
If you surpassed ten interactions but none were compliments, you’re really slacking on the job.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about managing online communities is that it takes much more work than you could ever imagine, and your members are your assets. It’s a must that you treat them accordingly.

Here are a few compliments I doled out today:

  1. LOVE your holiday decorations! Beautiful. –Angela
  2. Got the figgy pudding recipe. I placed it on the Holiday page. Thanks for keeping me posted! –Angela
  3. What an excellent idea! –Angela
  4. Our first mascot! How fabulous!! –Angela
  5. I am so happy to read this tonight! The goal is to spread some holiday cheer and when I see all of the hard work that members put into their decorations, it makes me want to do better.

Yes, I do this daily, and I mean every word I type. As long as you’re sincere your efforts will be greatly appreciated. Try it. It works.

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It’s no secret that I believe strongly in taking time to engage your users in numerous ways.

From initiating small talk, to offering simple suggestions or a quick “kudos” and the occasional: “Have a great weekend,” the community looks for your feedback and values it a great deal.

So, in my quest to engage engage engage, I believe I found my personal limit.

It happened last night during the Vice-Presidential debate.

After hosting a successful live blog during the Presidential debate last Friday, I promised another one for the VP debate and promoted it much of the day.

What I didn’t realize is how much other interactivity I would be pulled into and how it would affect me overall.

It turns out that live blogging, text messaging, instant messaging and watching the debate while rubbing my young daughter’s back is a wicked combination, and one that I won’t likely repeat. (Sounds a bit crazy when you read it all doesn’t it?)

At any rate, everything turned out fine and people really enjoyed the blog, but I was a tad bit frazzled by the end and probably missed a great deal of the debate. Even the most skilled multi-taskers can’t catch everything.

So the point here is that we have to realize that we are not super-human and that it doesn’t take three simultaneous messaging platforms to be a good community manager.

What makes us good is the ability to be there for our community and provide experiences they will enjoy and want to experience over and over again.

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If there’s one thing members of your online community want from you, it’s feedback. Positive feedback, or not-so positive feedback, they want to hear from you.

As in most group settings, the squeaky wheels tend to get most of the attention, but if this is where you are focusing your efforts, it’s time to stop. Yes, you have to deal with troublemakers to keep the community in tip-top shape, but you can’t neglect your top posters, continuous content creators and keepers of the community.

If it sounds like a huge task, that’s because it is. It’s an important one too and should be done on a daily basis. It isn’t something you have to spend hours doing, but it’s wise to carve out at least 30 minutes of your day to recognize the members who keep the community afloat, and spend a good portion of their time on your site.

So how can you do this effectively and efficiently? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Comment on blogs or forums and be sure to compliment the author publicly. (“This is a great conversation piece. Good topic.”)
  2. Make a helpful suggestion. This indicates that you value their content. (“Great post. You might want to add a link to your last blog since it’s related.”)
  3. Make a direct request. (Loved the pictures from your garden. When can we expect to see more?”)
  4. Ask a question about their content. (That recipe looks awesome, was it passed down to you?”)
  5. Suggest a blog topic. (I see you’re passionate about drunk driving, you should consider writing a blog.”)
  6. Ask for their opinion based on what you know about them. ( “I’m heading out your way this weekend, any good barbecue spots in Sanford?”)
  7. Encourage communication with other community members. (“Johnny23 is looking for tax advice, aren’t you an accountant? Maybe you can help”)
  8. Make a promise, and keep it. (If you do decide to take more pictures let me know and I’ll highlight them on the home page.”)
  9. Tell them you miss them. (“Haven’t seen you in a while, I hope everything is okay. We miss your humor.”)
  10. Send a personal e-mail.. (Hey, you were one of our top posters last week. Just want you to know how much I appreciate your time. Keep it up!”)

Easy enough? Why not get started today? Pick a number between 10 and 20 and decide to issue that many or more compliments to your users on a daily basis. It will show them you care and that you value their time. It will pay off as they become more loyal and you’ll ultimately see the fruits of your labor.
Do you have any helpful hints on connecting with users? Feel free to share.

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Let’s face it, everyone likes a good trinket. I’ve made a habit of waiting for the final day of the numerous journalism conventions I attend, to swoop in like a vulture and confiscate every little rubber ball, musical dice, crooked pen and furry pencil I can find. Heck, I sometimes start sooner, depending on the quality of the trinket and the chances that they’ll be gone before the last day.
I’m looking at three purple Yahoo! notepads sitting on my desk right now. Those were high-quality trinkets, so I needed more than one. I picked those up on the first day of an NABJ convention.

Yes, most times they’re donned with TV station call letters or the names of newspapers, but who cares? I’ve always needed a handy-dandy triangle-shaped multi-color highlighter thing, and I wasn’t going to pass it up just because of that. You never know when you might need quality highlighters, and thanks to the Times-Union, I’ll always be prepared.

So what’s this all about? I’m suggesting that you spread some trinket-love to your community members? Just think of a reason. Any reason will do. Identify the top posters of the month or the people with the most pictures in their image galleries and tell them they’ve won a prize.
Just make something up.
It’s easy to get caught up in development or managing and growing the community and then suddenly realize that you haven’t been very engaging, or that your core audience hasn’t heard from you in a while.
This happened to me just yesterday. So, I delved into some stats, identified twenty people who met a certain criteria and sent them e-mails requesting their addresses.
This morning, I sent out 20 GOLO mousepads.
A small chore, but the result will be a grateful group of people who feel valued and know that their participation isn’t taken for granted.

So, if you don’t have any trinkets lying around, get some.

It’s only Tuesday but I am off to a seriously productive week.
My to-do list was cut in half yesterday, and I’ve posted some pretty intriguing blogs, stroked a few egos and offered up some cool ideas to members of my online community hoping they’ll run with it. I’ve also gotten the green light to make a few changes that I feel will improve the user-experience a great deal. All good news.
So why am I feeling such a void?

I think it’s because I’ve been somewhat MIA from Twitter for the last two days. And I’m realizing that I don’t like it.
I’ve come to depend on those I follow to give me a cool snippet of information or point me in the direction of a compelling story or must-read blog, or to simply post something that I can say to someone else and seem pretty profound for saying it.
So, while I typically use this blog to dole out advice about engaging online communities and to go on and on about how I manage to do it on a daily basis, I’ve come to a realization.
The one doing all of the “engaging” is actually being “engaged.”

Twitter is engaging and I miss it when I can’t be there. But it’s not because of any ONE person. It’s what I get from everyone there as a whole that means so much. Twitter is the sum of it’s parts apparently and it just may take a twitter village to engage a fellow twitterer.
Well, my village is doing one heck of a job and that is why it has been missed.

I have to say though, that I have somehow culled a lesson from this and maybe you can too. It seems that as I continue to grow my own community and seek to engage others, I need to focus more on what my members collectively bring to the table. If I want my users to miss this community, the way I’ve missed twitter, I need to tap into the village and organize.

If we, as community managers can somehow highlight content in such a way that there’s something valuable there for everyone on any given day, they’ll want to come back, and they will.
Agree?

When is the last time you made a suggestion to a member in your community? I hope it’s been within in the last day or so. If not, you’re missing out on opportunities that could grow beyond your wildest dreams.

Suggestions come in many forms. They can be direct or indirect. But most importantly, they must be targeted and somewhat flattering.

I read a comment left on a blog by one of my users that was hilarious. I immediately left a comment for him telling him how funny it was and suggesting that he write a blog about it and include the whole story.

That blog was posted in less than 10 minutes.

I told another member that I would love to see pictures of the garden she’s always talking about in the blogs, and voila…an image gallery soon followed. This member is now one of the most active posters, uploading bi-weekly image galleries of her garden. I’ve rewarded her by placing the galleries on the home page, increasing her exposure in the community.

As community managers we often get so caught up in our tasks that we forget we have a very influential position. And from time-to-time, it should be exploited for what it is.

Ask a cyclist to blog about safety while biking. If you see someone discussing books, ask them to create a group for book lovers if your site offers that feature. The clues are all around you, just open your eyes and see them for what they are.

If you’re looking for an easy way to get your community members talking, write a quick blog complaining about an issue in your life and they will quickly commiserate. It’s human nature. Throw out a topic and let them run with it. Keep in mind though, that it It has to be something they can relate to, so don’t go on and on about something that matters only to you and expect people to care enough to jump on board.

Were you stuck in traffic this morning? If so, you weren’t the only one. Complain about that, and stories of individual traffic woes will follow. Trust me. l did it just today in my editor’s blog.

My complaint of choice? Gas prices. Who doesn’t want to complain about that?

Try it. Everyone can stand a little free commiseration. And do come back and share your success story.

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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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