Easy Come, Easy Go: Why to Toss (Or Re-Evaluate) Your Community Programming

When should you end a Community program? I came across this question in Matt Laurenceau‘s fantastic article on Community Programming, and it’s been on my brain ever since. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for your programming, and naturally a host of reasons to consider that aren’t touched upon here, I decided to share a few common pitfalls I’ve seen Community Programming fall into.

1. It’s the Mayor of ghost town.

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There’s no shortage of resources written about Community Ghost-Towns. Places that once were vibrant, robust areas of discussions are now showing their age, and sometimes cobwebs, of inactivity.

Reason to toss it:

Members who come into these places are immediately aware of the digital dust that’s gathered in these areas. Leaving up programs that have clearly expired sends a message to your users that their engagement is not a requirement for entry, a death knell for engagement.

Reason to reconsider:

Some programs may have died off, and should be left up. Why? Perhaps it includes an incredibly valuable evergreen resource to share with others. I’ve seen Communities successfully amend older threads and site areas as well, giving them new life and purpose.

2. It cannot be sustained.

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It has happened to all of us. We come up with a project or idea with the best of intentions, but life gets in the way (not unlike my 4-day-a-week gym resolution of 2019). Perhaps the project needed too many man hours, or required an immense amount of hand holding to get it to stick.

Reason to toss it:

Community initiatives that need an extensive amount of attention can end up putting your Community engagement in the red. When you’re putting effort into one program, you are deciding against other Community needs that may require your attention. Being an effective Community Manager means knowing how to navigate around these programming rabbit holes.

Reason to reconsider:

A task that may require TLC may be the perfect fit for an intern, or summer project when the Community intensity may lessen. Who knows, the benefits may not be fully actualized yet and just needs another set of hands to help grow.

3. Right Idea, Wrong Time

Even the most veteran Community Managers can fall into the “Right Idea, Wrong Time” trap. Perhaps they had deployed a program in a Community previously that was ready for more advanced engagement strategy, or maybe the technology simply doesn’t support the full vision of your program.

Reason to toss it:

If a program isn’t matching where your Community Members are at, it makes more sense to re-evaluate the programming than to think your members interests and reason for frequenting your Community will change.

Reason to reconsider:

A bad apple doesn’t ruin the bunch, in this instance. Perhaps the Gamification idea you had isn’t able to be implemented with your technology, but there’s a clever way to integrate a point system on a profile page.

A few final words: At its best, your Community Programming should try to exist in flux, adapting and innovating over time. As your members and Community grow, so should the efforts to keep them engaged and interested.

What are your best Community Programming wins? Share your feedback below!

Community Manager: A Job Title that Says a Thousand Words

From a recent conversation with Georgina Cannie and the frustrations her students found in their post-college job hunts, I decided to take on the challenge (or variety show) that is typing “Community Manager Jobs” in Google. Some of the initial results include:

“Manage our newly built apartment complex!”

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“Volunteer to tweet about us! (We’ll eventually hire you. Probably.)”

“Answer customer calls for our Community health center (nothing else)!”

“Run Meet-and-Greets at our farm!” (personal favorite)

…and the list goes on.

No matter where you look, the job title of “Community Manager” is a title that can mean many things to many people. As someone curious to take the pulse of the Online Community Management industry job market, these variances can stray far from the path one sets out to explore.

As a note here- it is worth mentioning that Online Community Management industry doesn’t have dibs on the word “Community”; we represent our goals, skills and tactics with this term that is broad, colloquial and well-worn. It just so happens that the word Community is applied to many roles in many capacities.

Certainly other professions have just as much right to use the word but, assuming you are like me and don’t want to tweet at your local farmers market, I wanted to shout out a few best practices for those looking at jobs in the online Community field to pass through the “Community Manager” Turing test.

1. Don’t expect a Google search to help.

Google casts a wide net that runs the risk of finding you more pyrite than Community gold. While job sites like Glassdoor and Indeed can have more dials to tune into Community, they can only show you what the job posters give them. “Community” has become popular jargon lingo in many industries as of late – perhaps as a way of conveying the authenticity, collaboration and local vibe of whatever company is touting it. Google is going to show you all the postings where community is used as an adjective – rather than the noun you are looking for.  

What to do about it: From experience and reports from peers, I have found that LinkedIn is a reasonably reliable place to query jobs. Better still, swing by Online community industry groups and associations (TheCR, CMX, and Feverbee are all great options with targeted job boards).

2. Specificity is your best friend.

With all the options for variety out there, narrowing down is a must. Even within the Online Community industry there are deep discrepancies in the terminology. “Community Manager” for example is as likely to be a director level role as it is to indicate a platform support intern, so when you search this top line term, you are really rolling the dice.

What to do about it: Leverage tangential terminology that is more targeted to this work. While apartment complexes may be using the term “community”, generally they don’t include “Global Engagement” in their ads. “Online”, “Communications”, “Support”, “Employee”, “Customer”, “Digital”, “Moderator”, and “Engagement” are all good add-ons to your queries, depending on your preferred use case. I’ve also found that by augmenting the job title Community Manager along with specific vertically-related words (for example, “Healthcare”), you’re more likely to get a Community Manager role and not the general algorithm white noise.

3. Networking all the way down.

One thing that has never failed to delight and surprise me is the openness our Community peers are with their time and advice. And the action of reaching out for career guidance is multi-faceted; you’re connecting with someone in your field, who has been in your shoes, and can also possibly refer you to a job they may know about through the grapevine. Talk about a win-win-win solution.

What to do about it: Find and nurture your Community mentor flower-bed. Even if you aren’t on the market right now, these relationships can be the balm for the weeks that you’re feeling burnt out or need a reprieve.

Do you have advice, tips, or tricks for finding roles in the Online Community Management space? If so, please leave a comment!

The Quest for Community

It’s Saturday night and I’m watching five friends eagerly arrange their dice and characters. A blank grid is set in front of us, with endless possibilities to be found. We’re gearing up to play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a scene familiar to over 10 million players world wide. Our Dungeon Master (DM) dims the lights and begins our quest as we listen with rapt attention.

Yet, I have a confession to make.

I have never been a Dungeon Master in a D&D group. I sit comfortably as a player and adventurer, enjoying the puzzles, combat and loot awaiting us, but its never been my job to look behind the screen. The experience unfolds in front of me just for showing up at the door.

However the idea of the DM as akin to my experience as a Community Manager dawned on me a few weeks ago and I keep coming back to the cross-over. DM’s manage their players, enforce rules, and learn with the adventure. They support, gently challenge, and create new pathways of connections. The best of the best make lasting memories with just a blank grid. Community Managers do the very same within their Community. Below are three ways that Community Managers and DMs share their role.

  1. They set the stage.

“You walk into to a town square that is well lit, lively, and jovial”/”Hi, welcome to Widget Community! Here is how to get started…”. The role of DM is to paint a scene for your players. Should they be worried? Excited? On edge? Similarly- your role as Community Manager is to illustrate the experience for your members. What type of Community are they coming into? Is it full of artifacts and resources they can dig through? Or more about supporting and challenging the best ideas to rise to the top? If your adventurers are unaware if they’re walking into a friendly tavern or a rough-and-tumble part of town, they may step on a few toes. Community members, without guidance and a warm welcome, may shy away from engaging further in your Community.

 2 . They know the rules, the math, and the crystal ball of outcomes.

“You deal 4 damage to a monster ten feet away”/ “Here are our Community metrics for FY18” . As a DM preps for their games (a process that can take days) they get up close and personal with all the gritty bits of the system. How damage is taken, how it’s dealt, move speed, and the world norms. Community Managers have a pulse on the inner mechanisms of their data. Equally, both groups use a mix of exact science and fuzzy numbers (ever try calculating the monetary value of connection?) to get a picture of where they need to go.

3. They revisit/ rework/ revise/ revamp.

“The goblin you interrogated five months ago has come out of hiding with ten of his friends and now has some questions for you”/ “Hey team, let’s try a new landing page layout to see if we can drive more traffic to our forums.” The role of DM and Community Manager is ever-evolving. Maybe your group has collectively decided that finding a town lumber is more important than saving the king (spoken from actual campaign experience). In Community, perhaps your wonderful member onboarding is leading members to the platform but not helping them engage, or your account creation process is so long that people are giving up halfway through. Both scenarios require quick thinking to get the job done, and leave the encounter excited for the next challenge.

As a player, I have learned to respect and admire the myriad work our DM does (by the way, this month just so happens to be DM appreciation month). Hopefully in your role, your Community recognizes the same work and dedication you bring.

Community Management: The Game

Is running a community like playing a video game? I would bet at first glance your community doesn’t have much in common with the Mario franchise. However, online game communities were some of first to arrive on the scene, and their experience makes them perfectly suited to advise our work. Raphael Koster  gave a speech at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), titled “Still Logged In: What AR and VR Can Learn from MMOs.” (For those drowning in jargon short-hand, the terms in the title refer to Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Massively Multiplayer Online environments). Koster, a celebrated game designer, did not come to the GDC to talk games. Instead, he outlined the implications of digital society that goes unchecked. While I encourage you to watch the video, below are some highlights of his speech that connect to our role as community managers:

  • If you host an online community, you are on the hook. Koster believes that there is no room for error in this message. No matter your team size or the scope of your project, it is your sole responsibility to manage users in your community. Designing a community is like making pasta; if you let the water boil and put the pasta in, it will cook; Left unchecked the water will boil off and the stove will catch on fire.
  • People repeat negative behavior. This is a trend that holds true to many virtual communities. People who troll rarely do it in a singular instance. Consider banning a user by blocking a credit card from being used in the instance of an online game – with the average American household owning more than 8 credit cards on average, banning a card is simply an annoyance – it agitates rather than resolves the issue.
  • Corruption happens. If you elevate admins to “god” status and allow them to interact directly with members, an imbalance can emerge. While this may not pose a problem in your community (and may even be an intended effect), it is important to consider the social hierarchy your community possesses, and how it might be leveraged in unintended ways.
  • We import real world biases into virtual worlds. Koster draws attention to the fact that, in real life, men who are of shorter-than-average height are less likely to get promotions and earn a lower salary. In virtual reality worlds, characters with a shorter stature earn less experience points and level up slower. This example invites us to think about additional preconceived notions we bring to the worlds that we are creating.
  • People use virtual spaces as a form of self-therapy. This observation has implications that are both positive and negative. Giving people a form of community, especially where they may not have had one before, can be an empowering tool to foster a sense of connection. However, many communities are shocked to find manifestations of mental illness – and are unprepared to handle them. Understanding and being prepared for these occurrences can be of utmost importance, to your users and to the health of your community.

Koster pulls together ideas of what it means to be a walking video game client, an argument for solidarity in community management, and the future of complete virtual realities. Whether we apply these ideas to an intranet or World of Warcraft, we are ultimately working with individuals in a way that will shape the future of online citizenship, for good or bad.