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I am always happy to discuss the difficulty of managing an online community. I’ve written about the misconceptions, provided tips on what it takes to find success, and explained the differences between a community manager and a social media manager.

Because I don’t actively manage an online community any more, I don’t share as many examples of what it’s like to be in the trenches. So when I came across this blog I posted back in 2008, when I was DEEP in the trenches, I thought it would be appropriate to share, for those of you who did not read my blog back then. What follows are actual messages that I received from members, and comments like these were very common.

Here’s the post from October 2008:

Read the rest of this entry »

If you’re looking for your first job as a community manager, the best piece of advice I can give you is not to get too caught up in the shiny job description.

The second best piece of advice I can offer is that you embark on your journey with a clear understanding of the fact that it can be a very lonely gig and quite the emotional rollercoaster.

To be fair, I will acknowledge that job descriptions by their very nature are meant to be exciting, and persuasive with all of those imaginative  action verbs that make you feel like it will be the most fulfilling job of your career if you were so lucky to land it.

But there are a few things to consider about this role, particularly if it is a new position at the company.

  • There’s a good chance that no one within the organization has ever held this job – even the hiring manager – so they have no idea of what you will encounter.
  • The term “ambassador” is widely overused and rarely means what you think it does.
  • There are widespread misconceptions about the qualifications needed to be successful.
  • Members can and do, go rogue.
  • You may face  very hurtful name-calling.
  • You could quite possibly end up being the only person internally, who cares.

You will never find any of this in a job description, and I’m sure you can understand why. I get asked all the time about how to break into this field  and what qualifications and skills one needs to succeed.  My best answer to-date was used in this article on Mashable:

…“I’m talking about razor-sharp interpersonal communication skills, the ability to exhibit an enormous amount of tact, an extremely thick skin and a boatload of compassion for people you would rather not give an ounce. Did I mention grace under pressure, courage under fire, openness to criticism and tolerance beyond belief?”

If you don’t possess those skills, think twice before hitting apply, because trust me…you will need them  all.

My main point here is this isn’t a glamorous job and I am increasingly seeing it depicted that way, which I find a bit troubling.

So before you dive in head first, reach out to some community managers or former community managers and get their perspective. Talk to people who have managed a variety of online communities.

That way, when you read your next irresistible job description, you’ll be able to read between the lines.


I received this note from a member of my community today and it came at a great time for me because I have been feeling the weight of community management on my shoulders for a while now.  I am sharing it because these are the types of comments we have to relish. We need them to get us through the tough times. So when you get one, hold on to it and read it on the days when you feel as though you’ve reached the end of your rope. Here it is:

Hey Angela, Just wanted to let you know that through the efforts of GOLO I was able to send my son, 82nd Airborne, Afghanistan, 100 packs of beef jerky. He said it was hard to find over there. I mentioned it in a blog and it snowballed into a ground swell of donations, thanks to Sandra, Lolly, and Gingerleigh, as well as other GOLOers that donated. Gingerleigh used her military credentials to buy the jerky at Fort Bragg. She’s so awesome. Zack said he would hide his stash and hand it out at church this Sunday. But anyhow I just wanted you to know that GOLO is doing good things, so don’t get discouraged by the trolls. We love you!

It’s nice to know that the members of your community care about one another and their actions underscore that sentiment. I can’t tell you how much I needed that today.

The next time you get one of these, please share it with me.



I was one of three guests on WRAL’s new talk show, “On the Record” which aired on the CBS affiliate in Raleigh this week.

The topic: The Decline of Civility. I was asked about some of the comments posted on news stories and talked a bit about the dynamics of anonymous posting.
It’s a 30-minute show, longer than what most of us like to watch online, but it’s an interesting conversation and I wanted to share it with you here on my blog.

Oh, and don’t think for one minute that the members of the community I manage didn’t see it.  So far there have been two blogs posted about it.  One was all about how nervous I looked, and a comment in the second blog post indicated that I am living in a fantasy believing that things will get better without me putting forth any effort.  I’m going to have to let that one go for now….

At any rate, here’s the link to the video:

On the Record: The Decline of Civility

Let me know what you think, okay?

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It is with great excitement that I share this Q&A with Venessa Paech of Lonely Planet. Venessa is a community professional with great experience, amazing insight and a true understanding of what it takes to succeed in this growing space. I was lucky enough to include some of Venessa’s words of wisdom in my new book and she reveals even more here. So sit back and take in every word of this must-read interview.

What would you say is the toughest part of community management?

Ooh, it’s all pretty challenging. Responsible governance that retains a genuine human face (and keeping it together when everybody wants a piece of you) is tricky business.

Personally, I think the hardest part is articulating the work, evangelising and defending its significance. Organisations are embracing community as currency, but a lot of people don’t understand what this truly means in application. Businesses want to ‘add community’, but forget that ‘community’ consist of real, complex people with quirks, desires and behaviours both inspiring and damaging. Would you [could you] create a town or city overnight without robust infrastructure and resources? That’s a difficult thing to convey to people who haven’t had exposure to online community themselves.

What’s the nicest compliment you’ve ever received from a member of the community?

I’ve received some lovely messages (both public and private) from members who acknowledge and appreciate the work that my team and I do in sweet, funny and creative ways.

If I’m doing my job well, people shouldn’t see how difficult it is. So, in a way, that’s the nicest compliment… when the community motors along, in it’s element, problem free.

Tell me about the first time you received a shocking email, or what I call a nasty-gram? What was it about and how did you respond?

Days after I took this particular job, I received a series of emails and even a fax or two from forum members who believed another member had been asked to leave the community unfairly. Mercifully, there was very little venom in their campaign to bring him back, but there was a wee, impassioned deluge and it certainly took this new kid on the block aback. I gathered my bearings, did the homework to get the full background and context, and in this instance, did end up reinstating that users membership. I’ve had some doozy nasty-grams too. You just need to step back, take a breath, remember it’s not personal and assess the situation with an almost forensic level of arms-lengthedness.

Have you ever been threatened? What are some of the more colorful names you’ve been called?

Yes, my team and I have been threatened by a couple of especially toxic former users who don’t appreciate the fact they were asked to leave the community.

I’m interested in promoting civil digital discourse, rather than rewarding idiots with undue attention, so details don’t bear repeating. However, the charge of censorship crops up a lot, usually with the same old, lazy pejoratives attached. In my experience (as both community leader and participant), this is a common knee jerk reaction from someone who doesn’t understand (or like) that anonymity doesn’t equal anarchy.

There’s definitely the perception in some that the web is not governed by the same basic mores (or laws) as the physical world. These same individuals tend to confuse the definition of free speech and have a hard time visualising a community space on an organisation’s website as territory that has an owner. They can publish what they like on their own blog and accept the personal consequences. But they cannot publish whatever they like on a website they don’t own or have responsibility for. If you remove something from you site that breaches terms of service or community guidelines, that isn’t censorship – and those who don’t agree may give you a rough time.

When are you most proud of your work?

At the risk of sounding terribly sappy, all the time. When I see the wonderful work my team does, I’m thrilled. When colleagues at Lonely Planet are surprised and impressed by our community and its members, I’m positively doting. I’m very happy when our traveller community is singled out in the media for its personality and savvy, or its success as a news gathering hub around events that impact travellers, such as missing persons, natural disasters or health crises. And those nice messages we mentioned previously are pretty warm fuzzy inducing too. These moments preserve your equilibrium when things are hard going.

Do you work at home? How often do you check in on the community on your days off?

Do bears bear? Do bees bee? 🙂 Yes, I work at home and check in with my community regularly.

I’ve worked hard over the last year to build a strong, talented team and to simultaneously develop new functionality that allows you to step back and be less hands on around the clock. It’s difficult to let go (you’re invested in these people and your space), but it’s also imperative. First of all, if you have a team you’re responsible for, you don’t want to be teaching them this kind of behaviour.

Secondly, if there’s a real problem hitting coverage 24/7 (many communities have one), figure out how to fix that and do your darndest to make it happen. Map out solutions (more staff, tools, whatever), and lobby your organisation for them (a clear business case helps!)

Making moderation and oversight scalable is part of the gig – and unless you clone yourself, you working non-stop won’t be part of that model. I’ve been there, having to work relentlessly due to inadequate support. You put the needs of your community first. However, if you can’t function due to lack of sleep, you’re not really serving the community, are you? This is such a common challenge with online community, and I suspect some organisations are a little too comfortable knowing that their passionate, reliable community manager will pick up the slack. Not cool. Do what you have to do, but make the solution a priority!

Have you ever met any of your members in real life? If so, under what circumstances?

Thorn Tree regulars have been having offline get-togethers almost as long as the forum has been around (that’s over a decade). I’ve been to a couple of these and met some of our fabulous traveller members. In our case, I have to balance this interaction very carefully. These events are member initiated, organised and executed, and I don’t want to intrude in any way (not everyone wants the company rep showing up). I always check with the member or members organising the event to make sure they’re ok with my tagging along, and that they think other attendees are likely to be comfortable also.

Because of the global spread of our membership (and the fact it’s a passion for travel that connects them) gatherings happen all over the world, so it also makes it difficult to do regularly (though I wouldn’t mind jet setting to them all if my bosses would send me).

If you’ll permit me to diverge from the question slightly, I think you touch another interesting consideration – that is, the way our confessional web complicates our online and offline relationships with community managers and their members. It’s something many of us face, not just community managers. Everyone is hyper aware of their online reputation, and cottage industries have emerged to help us ‘manage’ the confluence of personal and professional across these spaces. But for community managers there’s another dimension to these concerns. What if toxic members learn details about you they believe empower their attacks?

Some of my community will likely read this interview. Should I let that mediate what I say (even though I’m not ‘officially’ on the clock while I’m answering these questions)? Should they pay attention to the ‘man behind the curtain’, and if they do, how does that impact our relationship orbit? Though most operating in this work will advocate for transparency and authenticity as primary values and best practice philosophy (myself included), they are not always possible for everyone working as a community manager (even less so, a moderator). Some communities are intimate, personable and naturally fluid between on and offline. Others are vast, disparate and volatile (none of which means they’re necessarily an unsuccessful community.)

I find a helpful analogue is that of a city and its leader/s. Would the mayor or police chief want every single citizen to know what he did on his vacation? His home address and phone number? If my members consider me a friend, does this compromise my capacity to implement governance or discipline problem behaviours?

You see what I mean about it being an interesting field! 😉

Do you think everyone is cut out to be a community manager?

No. It’s a specialised role and not everyone will have the skills and temperament, let alone the inclination to take it on.

That said, I think there are core aspects of community management that a diverse range of other roles and professional arenas are looking to adopt. For example, journalists and media-makers are increasingly expected to wrangle and manage leads [chatter] from a network of sources. They need to manage these relationships, assess reliability, crowd-source problems and questions, and so on. Likewise teachers and educators are being asked to adopt this approach.

This is community management 101. In the future we won’t just see community managers looking to sharpen these skills.

And of course, anyone whose work involves the management of a delicate suite of stakeholders is in effect, a community manager. Many of us are community managers within our organisations. And many organisations that may not have an online community are bringing community management professionals in-house to consult on how their tenets and practices can benefit the organisation in other ways (and they can, plentifully!)

And finally, what is your advice to people hoping to get into this type of position, and what should they do to prepare themselves.

Enroll in the most intense boot camp you can find, and make sure it involves hearty doses of self-humiliation 🙂

I find this an incredibly fascinating, rewarding career path. It has a bright, shiny future as communities firm as an integral part of many organisations. Recent research suggested that, despite the financial crisis, Community Manager was a role on the rise, and I believe that’s indicative of the growing force of this sector. Many industries and jobs are in irreversible decline (coal and conventional cars for example). All signs seem to suggest this field is positioned for strong upward growth, which makes it a very smart time to get involved and give it a go.

My personal litmus test for community managers is pretty simple. Could you cut it in the public service? How would you feel about being a councillor? A mediator? Will you still champion a cause if people throw tomatoes at you everytime you mention it? If you’re a superb communicator (across mediums), a talented but sincere relationship wrangler, and if you’re invested in the power of community, then you might just have what it takes.

Importantly, these roles are fiendishly diverse from organisation to organisation. In some (including my own), there is a strong legalistic component to the work, so fluency with policy and governance is a must (understand copyright, IP law, safe harbour at least at cursory level). Proficiency with software, systems and the ability to speak fluent developer will make you a real asset (and help you agitate for what you need – or build it yourself). A background in psychology or anthropology can be very valuable. And based on this skills list, reflexivity matters! If you share a passion or interest with your members, that’s often helpful, but if you’re a sterling communicator, that’s usually sufficient.

I’d strongly recommend that people considering this work spend time with people who face similar demands. Have coffee with community managers (we all love to yak about our jobs, as you can tell by this interview). Ask them what community management resources they use.

Think outside the square. Chat to community organisers offline, to councillers, politicians (use to being pulled in every direction by constituents), a lawyer who works the web, change managers, social workers, teachers!

And the obvious one – if you’re not already involved in an online community (not a social network, though that will expose you to some of the challenges involved), spend time within one. Real time (not just a day or two – that will teach you nothing).

Over the coming years you’ll see more higher education and scholarship that addresses community management. Keep an eye on that too!

You’ll notice I haven’t really mentioned marketing. In these early days of community, marketer and marketing thinkers are everywhere in the space. There’s a universe of opining you’ll be exposed to in this work (including ideas you’re expected to execute). Some of it is useful, but the other stuff is harder to come by, and I would argue, more important to get right early on.

There’s plenty of time to understand metrics and social marketing (and no end of consultants and bloggers to keep you in the loop with the latest trends, favoured analytic measures and tools, conferences, etc.)

Hone your understanding of people and how they behave first, or you’ll struggle as a community manager. It’s a mistake I see a lot.

Thanks for the chat Angela! I look forward to seeing some of your wanderlusting readers on and our Lonely Planet forums. And anyone who wants to chat community management can always grab me for a virtual (or real) coffee 🙂 You can find me @, or at my rarely updated blog:


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In an effort to illustrate just how daunting the job of an online community manager can be, I’ve started sharing selected snippets of some of the e-mails I receive from members, with the members who send them via my editor’s blog.

There seems to be a real interest and it shows the community just how petty some of their peers can be. Many openly express in the comments areas of my posts that they would never want to do my job. Others have indicated that they would “pray for me and my inbox.”

If you’re up for a good laugh, or cry…read through some of these. Have a bottle of aspirin nearby.

  1. “Please tell me why when I made a decent comment concerning a very real thing …about putting a hex on something that it gets deleted? I see that this person I referanced this to also had his comment deleted? I did not call names, was not rude.”
  2. You accept constant trash, and *I* get a nasty gram. Please……..
  3. Angela – we need the ability to block people off group blogs.
  4. “The sports section is overrun by crazy people and everytime UNC is mentioned all the fools come out and no one can talk about nothing!!”
  5. Dang it Angela….. are you gonna get rid of this jerk or not??????
  6. Ok, Angela here we go again please remove the current cowboy blog this a violation.
  7. Their are currently 2 blogs with half naked men and lewd suggestive comments being made if there is truly NOT a double standard at ____ these must be flagged NOW and warnings issued. Please follow terms and conditions as set out by ____ or not at all. Allow all viewing of the human body or none at all, both genders.
  8. I put a comment on the story about the son killing the father in Lee County- there has been some more about this story in the Sanford Herald and the son is being futher investiaged by Sanford Police about another killing that took place a couple of years ago. Please take my comment off.
  9. I havent disobeyed ANY of the rules so why cant I post anymore?
  10. I live in Florida and come to the ____ website every day because I am from NC and have family–children, mother, etc. in NC. I used to post comments quite frequently. Since you changed to this ____ nightmare it is so cumbersome it is a huge waste of my time. I can’t figure out how to just plain leave a comment on a story. Please, not all of us want to BLOG or whatever. It is not our life work. Sometimes we just want to make a simple comment.
  11. “I think your word filter really sucks. I was trying to post a response to the story of the Eagle and I have a pet bird. She is a Cockatiel and as since I used that word twice, the filter would not let the post go through.
    Now please tell me what is so offensive about the word “Cockatiel” when it is describing a small Parrot from Australia. I ran a dictionary check on the word “cock” and it was listed 10 times and neither definition was in the least bit offensive.
    But I suppose I’ll just get the regular computer response back.”
  12. This morning I was trying to use the word cracker as in I ate crackers this morning and it was blocked. Why? Trying to block this for racial reason???
  13. I frequently go to your sites and look at feed back ref to your news stories. I am sick of this lady. Her abuse of language, non factual statements are discusting. Please take her completely down. I know that you have fixed it where she can’t do it from the story site but she is still on your link. Here is her link.I feel sorry for both familes and I feel that her ranting and raving is not helping the healing of the familes and the communities.
  14. I guess I will have to contact ABC 11 and ask them if they would like to investigate the discrimination of the ____ team in regards to allowing negative comments about gay people but not african american people.
  15. “I didnt realize my actual name was going to show up on a post I had made, it was certainly not a bad post but I’d rather not have my name shown up. I changed my screename however someone responded with my realhame and I was just wondering if you could please edit the thread and remove my full name. Really appreciated it.”

Does your inbox look anything like this? Do tell!

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With all of the kind words and support I received after this post, I thought it would only make sense to provide an update on the relentless community member who is intent on hurling racial slurs my way through various forms of communication.

It’s getting pretty old and pretty sad, and I think I feel sorry for her on some level.

As much as I promote the importance of engaging users online and reaching out to community members to provide them with the best experience, it’s clear that I cannot do that with her.

First it was an e-mail but today it was a complete blog post with paragraph after paragraph of insanity all related to the concept of “Training your n-word.”

Where do people get this stuff? I know that it’s directed at me the managing editor of the community, not me personally (although it IS based on my race) and it’s this persons attempt at ruffling my feathers. I know that.

But as I think about all of the comments I see online on a daily basis and the back and forth about race , particularly as it relates to the Presidential Election, I can’t help but wonder if the cloak of anonymity is providing an outlet for bigots of all races to share their truest, ugliest feelings. Are there some simply welcoming the opportunity to speak their mind without repercussions?

My question is this: Are online forums, communities and comments areas across news websites providing an accurate depiction of our society? Are the things being written representative of what people wish they could actually verbalize? Or is this a phenomenon only taking place online because it’s essentially a free-for-all? What do you think?

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I received an e-mail from someone who was quite disturbed about her husband’s participation in the online community that I manage. She was essentially accusing me of destroying her marriage. It was a bit disheartening, and I immediately felt for her, once I got over the sheer shock of the claim.

But, I spoke to a few people about it and I know that I cannot bear the blame for everything that takes place in this community. If you’re a community manager, neither can you. But instead of writing about it, I will share it with you, unedited.

Brace yourself:

I dont know who is over this sight but just to let you know that it has distoryed my marriage. Some of your people talk so dirty to each other and my husband got hooked and then met people at the get together and that lead to meeting this women out and having sex with I thought this was just A news talk chat room not where people are trying to hook up with married men or women it started out just talking until the started with the sex comments. Now my family are at risk of all kinds of things all due to this web sight. I have 2 children that has got to go threw this. My husband thought it would be safe cause it was a news chat not like my space I know if you go on and read all this you would have to see how wrong it is. your web sight is turning people family upside down. I hope with my contacting you will do something about this before it distroys other familys
like mine.

Now keep in mind that this is an online community and we do allow users to take their profiles private, so I am sure that some private conversations take place. But it certainly is not a chat room for people on the prowl.

What do you think about this? Am I tearing this woman’s family apart?


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As community managers, we really do want everyone to peacefully co-exist. However, this can’t always be the case. In fact, it is is rarely the case. As in life, not everyone in a community, real or virtual will get along. That’s just the way it is.

As the leader, charged with growing the community and helping to cultivate relationships, you also have to know how to step in and take action. Sometimes that action means banning members from the community. It’s not something you want to do often by any means, but you do need to know when there is simply no other choice.

Here are seven situations that could lend themselves to banning visitors:

  1. They continually push the limits and ignore your guidelines or Terms of Service
  2. They are being openly defiant as a means of getting attention.
  3. They are harassing other members on a continual basis with no end in sight.
  4. They live to post inappropriate links and not much else.
  5. They are recruiting others to join a destructive cause within your community.
  6. Everything they post is hostile and an effort to create chaos
  7. They are disrespecting or attacking you publicly and making the issue personal.

I am not indicating that each of these situations should result in a banning. I’ve had every single instance occur in my community and I was sometimes able to communicate with the person and reverse the situation, which ultimately is ideal for both sides.

But I’ve also been in situations that were utterly hopeless, and banning was the only way.

What unique situations have occurred in your community that made “baning” the only option?

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I’ve always known on-the-job stress.

As an assignment manager, I worried about missing a big story or crucial interview, sending the news crew to the wrong location and various other scenarios that involved me ending up in the news directors office for singlehandedly destroying the ratings and making us look like losers on the air. It rarely happened, but the stress existed just the same. When Governor Lawton Chiles died on my watch when I worked at WFLA in Tampa, I stressed about getting it on the air first. It was a constant state of wanting to be first, and best. The sense of urgency was constant. No stress there, right?

As a news and special projects producer, I worried that my words weren’t powerful enough, my intro was too weak or I lacked the great video needed to keep the viewers interest. It was stressful to know that the exclusive interview it took two months to land could bail at the last minute leaving little if any time recover.

While managing media partnerships In the newspaper industry, the worries were also constant. Different, but constant: Will our news partners air our content, will we collaborate successfully, and will I ever get these print reporters to understand that multimedia reporting is not an option but a requirement?

Well, now I’m dealing with user-generated content and the game has changed tremendously. I’m managing content from people I cannot control in any capacity. They are nothing more than a screen name and an e-mail address. Some are even less. I don’t know their intentions or whether or not they’re who they say they are. Quite honestly, I’m not certain about much of anything in this particular space.

New stresses consists of relentless trollers intent on wreaking havoc on the community and calling me out in public blogs and making crude references to my ability (or inability, in their anonymous eyes) to do my job by faceless names who really have no real idea what my job entails.

I recently found a kindred spirit in a post by blogger Jeremiah Owyang: Social Punishment: The Bozo Feature .

In the comments area, I found Marc Meyer who wrote that he’d actually received a death threat from a user. There is a level of insanity in that but it is real. Someone took his role as a community manager seriously enough to wish him dead. Sad, but true.

A member of my community indicated in an e-mail to my boss recently that my moderating policies have caused her “undue emotional stress.” Someone else warned that he would continue to bring a flurry of problems through his posts and purposely disrupt and even attempt to ruin the community if I did not completely remove another member from the community. And just yesterday someone commented that I must be “sexually repressed” because their blog posts riddled with sexual innuendo and inappropriate content had been removed.

I am not making this up.

Are these things worthy of stress? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s important to note that this kind of thing can really get to a person. So, if you’re a community manager dealing with any of these issues and wish to start a support group, I’m in!

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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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