Good lessons to learn about managing communities

by Carl Natale on April 22, 2010

I was a community organizer before President Obama made it cool. While he did it to make poor people’s lives better, I was doing it to build page views for online newspapers.

Now we know why I never will be president.

I must admit that I made a lot of mistakes and had some successes. So I recognized a lot of truth in Rich Brooks’ interview with Melonie Gallegos, the Social Media Specialist at Geary Interactive. They talked about how to manage communities for brands. It’s worth reading but there are a few points that jibed with my experience.

Not every community is within your walls

This is especially true if it exists already. A lot of the community management expends energy drawing members to a site instead of interacting where it already exists. Effective community management and brand promotion can take place on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

I fell into this trap. At, we built sites that were designed to attract communities. The goal was to get members to interact on our pages where we had ads. It was hard to accept outside communities when our revenue came from ad revenue based upon page views. That meant we had strong incentives to keeping community members within our realm.

What if we had a community and no one came?

There was nothing worse than creating forums or comment systems or chats, and getting nothing but crickets. Again, our revenue came from ads – which depended on page views. Basically didn’t make any money off of crickets. So this was even bigger pressure to perform.

To ensure success, we researched audiences and made educated bets. But most of our community decisions were based upon observation and gut feelings.

Then there are the trolls

In our heart of hearts, we were a newspaper company. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t shake that DNA. That meant we liked control. The entire editorial process was designed to control what was published. So opening up that process so anyone could contribute and publish whatever they wanted was a big deal.

Well, not anything they wanted. We had some community standards and enforced them. To be fair, many times community members expected us to be referees. And they complained when they had a problem with other community members.

Melonie is an advocate of setting standards, communicating them and banishing the worst offenders. But usually the communities would do a decent job of policing itself. It’s possible to let the members set the standards, shout down the trolls and occasionally go off topic. A community belongs to the members not the builders.

If you’re going to go this route, you need to read Mashable’s 10 tips for community managers. It’s very Tao. The tips encourage managers to allow the members do what they want to do. Accept their standards and let them enforce them. This takes a special kind of courage. Especially if you have your brand all over the community.

Which leads us to another point: Do less marketing. Don’t treat members as advertising targets. They are in the community for their reasons.

You need to read the interview with Melonie and the Mashable tips. Taken together, they will help you create a community that serves their needs and promotes your brand.

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