4
31
Guest

Three Lessons On Staying Sane As a Community Manager

By: Guest | August 18, 2011 | 
53

Today’s guest post is written by Jelena Woehr.

Part cat-herder, part social butterfly, part psychotherapist, and part janitor, the online community manager has a unique and rapidly evolving job.

How can a person navigate the choppy, uncharted waters of online community management without losing her cool?

Moderator Maria Niles, along with panelists Eden Kennedy, Elisa Batista, Julia Roberts, and Marie “Riese” Lyn Bernard, explored this question at BlogHer 2011, as part of a panel on “Sustaining an Online Community Without Losing Your Own Sanity.”

The panel’s open forum format invited attendees to expound upon the panelists’ conversation.

That’s what I’d like to do here, by sharing three of the most important lessons the panelists made, along with my own additions and questions for discussion.

1.  Rituals Create Community Culture

All communities depend upon rituals to instill and sustain group culture. The panelists proudly shared their own online communities’ rituals with the room, including “comment awards” for eloquent comments in one community, and “no peeking” threads planning surprises for new parents in another. For communities, these rituals and routines create consistency; for community managers, watching positive rituals take place generates a sense of purpose.

I’d add… Rituals and routines don’t have to go hand in hand with insularity. If you’re struggling with a community that intimidates new members, ask a few trusted leaders of the “old guard” to establish a welcoming ritual.

2.  You Can’t Do It Alone.

The panel agreed that a social support system is essential to “talk you down from the ledge” when online community management threatens your sanity. Panelists related stories of confiding in colleagues and even their online communities, pointing out that even a cantankerous community often rallies around a leader strong enough to admit challenges and ask for help.

I’d add… There’s a fine line between “strength in vulnerability” and “helplessness.” Do: Ask for help from your community when the going gets tough. Don’t: Play that card too soon and risk unnecessary drama. Start with colleagues, and move to confiding in the community at large if you won’t be able to continue without their help.

3.  “We Hear You”

Complaints can be frustrating, but often the loudest voices have the simplest needs: They just want to be heard. According to the panel, taking community suggestions builds the trust you’ll need to call on when a problem can’t be immediately addressed. Even small suggestions should be taken seriously. A grateful user is a vocal ally when the going gets tough. Show with actions, not only words, that you hear what your community is telling you.

I’d add… Look for “low hanging fruit.” One of my favorite sites once customized a site feature just for me. It probably took a programmer five minutes, but I’ll never forget it! Pick out some of the easiest community requests and address them when you find a pocket of spare time in your schedule.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any lessons to share or add?

Jelena Woehr is community and social communications manager for Yahoo! Contributor Network, where more than half a million writers share their knowledge on some of the world’s most visited websites, including Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Shine, and more. In her spare time, she herds cats, feeds carrots to ponies, reads management theory textbooks, and works toward her goal of becoming a professional CEO/Senator/Cowgirl/Eccentric Novelist hybrid.

In our next webinar, Marcus Sheridan and Gini Dietrich are seriously going to help you produce content that fills up your sales funnel. Marcus did it for the swimming pool industry. You can do it for yours. It is next week, Thursday August 25 at 11:00 a.m. CT. This webinar is $50 and you can buy it by clicking here.
42 comments
theTsaritsa
theTsaritsa

Great tips. Wish I could have gone to BlogHer, but at least I can read articles like this and live vicariously :)

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

Love suggestion #3. I think more orgs need to learn not to be afraid to do this!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

When I read your blog post this morning, before it was published, I made a mental note to come back here and say something really brilliant about something you'd said. Hell if I can remember what it was now.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

I am going to play really dumb here and ask the stupidest question on earth -- what is a community manager? Who hires that person? How do they get that title and by whom? Is it for a big company? Is it to maintain a blog by a corporation? Is it to manage comments?

As a blogger, aren't we all community managers? Sorry to be so confused.

JayDolan
JayDolan

I once blogged that all community managers are psychopaths. Reading this post, I know that to be more true than ever, but at least we have some methods for trying to keep those poor souls sane.

paigeworthy
paigeworthy

MY question is how to manage a community that's just getting off the ground. I know content is king and all, but how do you go about spreading the word about an initiative that's just starting? I'm community manager of @fromthejunto and struggle sometimes with how to engage people — sometimes to the point where I don't know what to say. (Which I get is not effective.) Thanks for a great post and looking forward to reading everyone's comments.

SamiAri
SamiAri

Great post! I think one of the most important lessons that I learned is setting boundaries for myself. I realize responding to issues is important and a CM job is usually a 24/7 kind of lifestyle but once a week (usually Sat) I just try to stay away from anything related to my CM duties.

Also, that you can't control people's action. You can extinguish a fire but you can't stop it from starting. I understand that, as CMs, we're proactively trying to prevent negative interactions on a Facebook or a Twitter conversation but we'll never be able to stop them from arising 100% of the time.

LaurenVargas
LaurenVargas

Great post! This role has such a high burn out rate. Being on the front lines means you have a lot of battle scars. I would add that setting expectations is key to maintaining sanity. These expectations create a pact between you/your org and the community you serve.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Yes! That's not dumb--that's great insight. Every blogger IS a community manager! The community management becomes the primary job, rather than the blogging part, when you are spending most of your time maintaining relationships, helping your audience function as a cohesive group, and receiving community feedback. For bloggers, I have seen this tend to happen when they transition to a format that involves content creation by audience members; for instance, when Spin Sucks began to incorporate far more guest posting. Just my opinion, of course!

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@JayDolan As an abnormal psych nerd, I have to disagree with you there! Actually, I think if we were going to armchair-diagnose community managers, narcissism or histrionic personality disorder would fit a little more closely. Psychopath is a common term for what diagnostically is referred to as antisocial personality disorder, which in my opinion does not fit most community managers at all. But we agree on the basic fact that it may be too late for the sanity of some in this field...

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

@paigeworthy This MIGHT not be 100% relevant to your question, but here goes: I just soft-launched a social network and I created a Facebook Page to handle all questions, comments and suggestions. Since the network is a bit rough around the edges, there has been a good deal of feedback already - all of it on FB and all of it can be found by the FB friends and colleagues of my target market.

As far as getting them from my site to the FB page, I simply embed an FB Box into my Help page. Looks like a forum and it creates a direct pipeline to potential users. And it opens in a different window, so they never actually leave my site.

So that's how I'm getting my community off the ground and spreading the word...

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@paigeworthy@fromthejunto If you don't know what to say, ask questions! Facebook's new Questions feature is great for the times when you don't have any profound declarative statements cooking, but want to engage your audience. Or, post a daily question on the site that gets people fired up and generates some excited debate. Your most important resources at this stage are the people who are dedicated to the site and helping you grow.

Consider offering some sort of non-monetary reward for people who recruit others to your community.If you have user profiles, a "Recruiter" badge might be a good motivator. Don't underestimate the power of social currency. Visible things that can be "redeemed" for a leadership position in a community are valuable to people who frequent online communities. I mean, don't we all know someone (cough -- not it -- cough) who spends way too much time collecting Foursquare badges?

SamiAri
SamiAri

I tend to look at how bigger brands do it and try to see if any of it fits with a small business background. I also think #1 will help you cultivate die-hard fans that will go out of their way to help you grow. These are not "hard" examples, I know but might be a good start. :)I hope this helps @paigeworthy @fromthejunto

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@SamiAri Thank you! I agree with both of your points here. One of my mottos is: "You are the only person whose behavior you can control." I can't stop anyone from saying what's on their mind, but I can do my best to respond in ways I'm proud of. I'm not as good at setting boundaries... is there a 12 step program for waking up at 2 AM to work?

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@SamiAri that's a really good point. I tend to take negative comments personally, too. It's going to happen. you can't please everyone.

From an outsider standpoint, if you come in and it's all happy smiley faces and hearts, well, you're going to gag, for one, but secondly, you don't trust it. It makes me wonder if there is some censorship going on.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@LaurenVargas Great addition! I think it's also important to have community members who are allies in enforcing those expectations. If the community considers your expectations unfair you end up playing "bad cop" all the time; ideally, in that situation, community leaders will help you rework and negotiate expectations.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Interesting. I don't think bloggers know they're supposed to community manage let alone put a moniker on it. They blog and publish content and comment in kind to peeps, but actual formal "management" of the community is likely not a role anyone thinks they're supposed to adopt.

What I may suggest is a preceding post, @Lisa Gerber , to Define a Community Manager -- the Missing Blog Link, or some such? Perhaps that could be why blogs fail -- no orientation to this aspect or hidden responsibility?

@jelenawoehr

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Hmm, if you notice, you and Jelena are neck and neck for points; the leader board is the Gini/Danny show; we can't catch them b/c they own LifeFyre comment system on their blog. I operate Disqus. That's the secret, and the other thing is I used to just ilke you wanting all those points; you'll get there! Just stay tuned right here! (Oh, yeah, you can visit me, too.) @SamiAri

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Oh my goodness. Is my rep preceding me as a point buster, competitor and rabble rouser for blog jacking and stealing commenters to other Spin Sucks posts? Well, I'm here to tell you it's all true; every darn accusation. @SamiAri

JayDolan
JayDolan

@jelenawoehr There you go, ruining my humor-filled blog posts with logic and facts. Ugh! ;-)

SamiAri
SamiAri

@Lisa Gerber absolutely agree! Your audience can read through the fake optimism and will call you out on it and/or abandon your brand.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@Soulati@jelenawoehr | PR I love this idea! Jelena? Ya wanna chat? (was going to say offline but how about on a different line?)

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing@Lisa Gerber Awesome post idea! Interestingly I was elected as "front page editor" for one of my favorite blogs but even though now I determine (with one other editor) what's on the front page I have NOT had to manage the community at all -- the admins do all of that. It's a many faceted question. Maybe "Where Blogging and Community Management Meet... and Where They Don't?"

Trackbacks

  1. […] Soulati , in suggesting this topic, wondered if ignorance regarding community management might explain some blog […]

  2. […] many of the same steps and processes that helped me create educational modules can be applied to a community manager […]

  3. […] been a social media community manager for just about two years and I love […]