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While everyone is seemingly on Facebook and Twitter, don’t think for a second that there is no room for smaller niche communities that cater to specific areas of interest. New online communities are launching all the time and those that don’t subscribe to the “if you build it they will come” fallacy can be quite successful despite the dominance of the big two.

I learned of two new online communities just this week: MultiUnitLiving.com and TeamRunSmart.com. Both cater to a very distinct audience. MultiUnitLiving.com is a community for owner operators and property managers of multi-family housing. It allows them to connect with their peers and discuss industry issues.

TeamRunSmart.com is a new community created by Freightliner Trucks, aimed at educating professional drivers on how to improve their profitability. Features include educational articles, blogs, operational tips and insight from professional drivers and “coaches” on how to be more successful.  Freightliner’s director of product marketing, TJ Reed says the Team Run Smart community is the “definitive guide to help business-minded drivers succeed,”

I think online communities are a fine choice and sometimes the best solution. Facebook and Twitter can be everything to everyone. Sometimes you need a closed, owned environment that doesn’t change every week, requiring you to adapt.

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Community managers are getting lazy. I think it’s because many who actually hold the title, aren’t really doing the job. On some level, it isn’t their fault. The people hiring them don’t know what they’re looking for and many are strictly numbers driven.

Success is measured in “likes” and ‘comments.” Job descriptions mention the growth of a Facebook or Twitter community, when there isn’t one in existence in the first place. Fans and followers do not constitute a community. But despite how I feel about that, which is all based on experience, the jobs are plenty and that is a good thing. But community management is an art and a craft that must be fostered and developed.

Real community managers know this. The others are simply  playing community managers on the internet.  And here’s how they operate. Here, I give you the five habits of highly ineffective community managers:

1. They are constantly asking users to help them reach specific milestones. You’ve seen it before: “Help us get to 5,000 fans,” “Like this post so we can beat our record of 90 likes on a single post,” Five more comments to reach 100, come on..post!”  Does this sound familiar? I know you’ve seen it. This is the absolute laziest way to grow a community. It’s all about numbers to the people who do this. I hate to even refer to them as community managers. They could care less about actual engagement. They’re just looking for bragging rights.

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I spoke at Internet Summit 2011 yesterday on the truth about community management. I have heard such great things about the content in person and online, particularly on Twitter and I am so happy that people found it helpful. I always strive to be honest and forthright about my experiences and never sugarcoat what it takes to grow an online community.

I figure since there are so many people out there telling lies and spreading myths about social media, I am not needed to perpetuate the trend.

I did post a link to the presentation on Slideshare, but I’m also posting it here for those who may be interested.

Angela Connor’s presentation at Internet Summit 2011

Enjoy. And let me know if you have any questions. as you probably know, I can talk about this all day.

 

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.

Read this out loud, print it, tape it to the cork board in the cafeteria, post it on the intranet, e-mail it or send it via direct mail:

“In 2011, we will decide if we really want an online community, which requires commitment and true engagement, or just a bunch of fans and likes. And we will stop acting as though they are one and the same. “

If you need help with this, I am more than willing to chat.


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The only excuse for having stale content in your online community is apathy. And that’s not even a real excuse. If you find yourself saying you don’t have time, then ask yourself this question: Why did I create the community in the first place?

When you can’t be bothered to post fresh content in your community, how will you possibly motivate others to do it?

A community requires ownership. Internal ownership. It needs someone whose job it is to care, cultivate and connect with the community. This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp, but most communities fail because they are abandoned shortly after launch.

I gave a presentation to a group of executives in Geneva, Switzerland two weeks ago (via Skype) about what it takes to grow a successful online community and I went on and on about the sheer time and commitment level it takes to keep it alive. They were convinced by the end of the hour and that pleased me to no end.They really seemed to get it, which is much more than I can say for many.

I can go on and on about this but I won’t. Simply put, stale content is embarrassing.

So do something about it. If you don’t, you deserve exactly what you get.

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If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands or even millions of people running an online community on Ning, it’s time to pull out your credit card or look for new digs.

The company announced earlier this week that the free model is going away. TechCrunch published the memo issued by Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal and I encourage you to read it. You may recall that I interviewed Mr. Rosenthal back in November when he was Chief Operating Officer of Ning and he had nothing but great things to say about the company’s growth.

At any rate, here is an excerpt from the memo announcing the changes:

…We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning. We will judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale. And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

So there you have it. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision but I can assure  you that many, many online communities are soon to bite the dust. The free model and low barrier to entry is what brought so many people to Ning.

The technologically challenged network owners probably have no idea where to look to even begin a transition. Their transition will likely be extinction, and as a community advocate I find that extremely sad.

Do you run a network on Ning? If so, what’s your plan? I’m sure that others will be happy to listen and learn.

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Its one thing to charge someone with growing your membership, but quite another to truly understand what it is you’re asking.

No one can effectively grow and maintain a community without the resources to make it happen.

What are those resources you might ask?

Well, the most important is time. They need time to nurture the community, seed it with content, create discussions, build relationships and interact with the masses.

But wait!

They can’t do any of that if they don’t know what the users want. And if you can’t tell them then you need to give them more time to figure it out so that the community can thrive and grow.

There is so much competition out there, so your community has to become a destination. It has to fill a need that isn’t being met elsewhere. In other words, people need a reason to come.

Sometimes your brand is enough to get them there. But oftentimes it isn’t enough to get them to stay.

It is frustrating to see people deem this as an afterthought. If you are building or maintaining a community for a client, you need to be paid for the time it takes to do it. And you need to make sure they understand that this does not happen overnight.

How many ghost towns have you seen lately? How many LinkedIn groups with no discussions, abandoned Twitter accounts and empty Facebook pages have you visited in the last month? (Remember this report released four months ago that found that over a third of all FB fan pages had fewer than 100 fans?)

The problem is everyone wants to be everywhere but they have no strategy for making any of it a success, and that, in my opinion is crazy.

The point here is this: If you have goals related to increasing membership and engagement levels of any online community regardless of the platform, you have a hard job.

So, you’d better make sure that you aren’t the only one aware of that fact.

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I have a rogue group of members in my community. They don’t think I know it. But I know it all too well. Their tactics are completely juvenile. They plot against other members, and pat each other on the back when their antics cause others grief.

They clearly have a lot of time on their hands.

I have struggled with handling this group. I just want to kick them all out. They all have alter egos. They present themselves to me in one way, and do a complete 180 when they think I’m not looking.

I haven’t mentioned this much until now but I am completely dissatisfied with our registration system and my hands have been tied for a long time.  You see,  my online community registration is tied to a news organization and IP banning isn’t the answer because I can’t ban people from the news. I kick them out and they’re back 15 minutes later. All it takes is a new email account. Sad, but true.  This is an area where the real troublemakers and trolls have the upper hand.

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Want to make a few changes in your online community in 2010? Consider adopting these resolutions. If you like them, don’t wait two days. Start today.

  1. Stop taking things personally.The members don’t know you. They know your work. If a few dislike you, it’s probably because you are doing your job. You cannot please everyone. Accept that this is impossible and focus on what really matters: Growing the community and bringing people together.
  2. Greet at least three newcomers daily. Do this with a personal greeting beyond “Welcome to ____.” Find something about them that you can comment on. Perhaps they have a cool avatar or mentioned that they like horseback riding in their profile.  Find a way to relate  from the very beginning.Your personal touch will go a long way.
  3. Reinvent your newsletter.Whether it’s weekly or monthly it’s time to fine-tune your newsletter and include content that people actually care about.If you have news to share about the organization, put it toward the end. Make members feel special by highlighting their work. Look for the most interesting, not necessarily the content with the most page views or comments. And whenever possible…make it short! (Here is a copy of one of mine.) Read the rest of this entry »

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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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