Online Community Management is a profession that has seen a huge boom and evolved over these last couple of years. For Community Managers, this has happened fast; we’re still trying to develop key concepts that will help current and future Community Managers do the job. I believe one of the most fundamental concepts is that Community Management is made up of two parts, the community and the organization (your brand/business/the thing that has the community). The Community Manager is the voice of the organization.
The next concept I’d like to assert is that: the Community Manager/Community relationship is about managing conflict between the community and the organization.
How do these concepts relate to the job though? Here are a couple of questions you should ask yourself which will help determine your plans of action.
Do I Have Healthy Respect for My Community?
I don’t mean ‘respect’ in the “Yes-sir-no-ma’am” sense, but rather: am I really aware that my community is a living, breathing entity? Have I kept in mind that my community is a semi-connected and autonomous group of humans at their screen with wants and needs? It’s easy to forget when you start thinking of your community as numbers on an Excel document.
You can attempt to predict their behavior all you want, and maybe even succeed for a while. However, you cannot rely on your community to have ‘regularity’. Your community is always changing; change is constant and varied. Respect that your community has the absolute power to make or break your efforts. This respect allows you to develop not only an appreciation for trends and whims that are unique to your community (this week, they’re pumped about a new product – and next week they’ll want a Ryan Gosling meme) but also a healthy amount of caution you have to consider when interacting and managing that community.
Of course, on the other hand, brands/businesses can see success when they remember they are dealing with an entity that wields significant power, and they harness it for good and bring joy to their communities (see: The Muppets, Taco Bell, and of course Old Spice)
If the Community Manager/Community relationship is about conflict, what’s the conflict?
Conflict sounds rather harsh, but I’ll explain. The Organization and the Community each have certain goals. What are those goals? It’s up to you to figure that out – what motivates your community to act? What are their wants and needs? What motivates them to be part of your community? What are they doing in order to progress their interests?
And, of course, what are you, as the Community Manager, trying to accomplish? What wants and needs do you have? Does your plan align with your community’s goals? Are your goals at odds with the community’s?
As a Community Manager, it is your responsibility to be the flexible party on behalf of your brand/company. Simply put: you have more dexterity than your community. You are the one who has to provide solutions to this constant conflict, and you also have to be able to satisfy your goals. Here’s the thing, your community’s goals may not be the same as yours.
For example: let’s say you’re a comic book publisher: your community may come to your page for day-to-day entertainment (look at this new cover art!) but you are interested in moving product – you’re a business after all. They want entertainment. You want sales. Ostensibly, they can get their entertainment just by visiting your page, but you want to convert them into paying customers.
It is your task as a Community Manager to know how to turn that want for entertainment into something more than just visiting the Facebook page, or website. You have to figure out how to make their goals align with yours. How do you get them from wanting to see entertainment so bad they want to own it? This is the conflict.
Us and Them
What you have to do is be able to shape their goals and align them with yours. You cannot force the community, while you are more dexterous, they are more powerful. You have to guide them, and you have to be able to harness their power.
I’m not advocating or promoting an Us vs. Them relationship. It’s Us and Them, and ultimately an ‘Us’; people trying to do their best to get what they want.