18 Rules of Community Engagement: Book Review

by Martin Reed on 6 August 2009 in Articles

18 rules of community engagement

Disclosure: I have been quoted in this book and received a free copy. However, this is an unsolicited and unsponsored book review that is completely of my own opinion.

There still aren’t enough books about online community management – Patrick O’Keefe gave us hope with Managing Online Forums, and now it’s Angela Connor’s turn with 18 Rules of Community Engagement.

Angela Connor is the managing editor of user generated content at WRAL.com. In early 2007 she launched WRAL.com’s first online community, GOLO. Today, that community (which Angela continues to manage) now boasts over 13,000 members.

Although quite different from Patrick O’Keefe’s book, I still recommend 18 Rules of Community Engagement to all community managers. The book will be more valuable to those new to the role, or still deciding whether a community is right for them – but I believe it still offers value to the more experienced community manager, too. I certainly came away with a couple of new ideas after reading the book.

The book is organised into the following chapters:

  • If you build it will they come?
  • User participation and the 90-9-1 principle
  • The road to engagement
  • The Rules

No illusions

Angela doesn’t promise you overnight success if you follow her advice. This proves her credibility. Indeed, she actually states that success will not happen overnight and that anything short of a long term commitment will yield mediocre results. I really like the opening chapter of the book – Angela doesn’t assume her readers will know what a community manager is (there is no exact definition) but she gives some pretty solid guidelines as to what they should be doing!

No brainwashing

This book could easily have been a piece of propaganda arguing that all brands need an online community and that they offer nothing but huge benefits. Angela convinces you of the realities in this book, though. Besides repeatedly stating that communities take time to develop, she also covers some of the nastier sides of community building – abusive users. She’ll tell you over and over again just how much hard work community building is, and how you need to have personality, tact, an amazingly thick skin and a strong work ethic. I couldn’t agree more.

Full of examples

Here’s what I love about Angela’s book. It’s not just her advice and experience you are getting. During the writing process, Angela openly canvassed the opinions of others involved in community management. For example, in the chapter about how to accept and respond to criticism, Angela tells you what she does and then tells you what others do. The result is a book that is richer and more valuable.

Specific advice

Angela’s book isn’t full of theories, facts and figures. It’s not an academic work. It’s just full of advice, backed up with examples. Her experience shines through. For example, in one section Angela recommends asking questions to encourage activity. She doesn’t stop there, though – she then gives a list of questions she has used (and that you could use, too) that got her results. She recommends sharing stories to engage members – and then gives a list of stories that have worked at GOLO.


There were a few points in Angela’s book that I disagreed with. For example, Angela states that ego stroking is largely for longtime members or regular contributors. Personally, I would focus on complimenting the less active members in a bid to get them more engaged with the community – after all, the power members are already hooked. Angela also extols the concept of encouraging complaints to boost activity and engagement. Yes, this can work – but you need to be very careful that you aren’t helping your community descend into nothing but negativity.


18 Rules of Community Engagement is an easy book to read. You could read it from cover to cover in a few hours – at less than 100 pages, it is certainly less comprehensive that Patrick’s book which runs to over 300. However, this book is far more specific – it focuses on how to engage your members. Patrick’s book focuses on how to manage forums and their members. Both books should be seen as complementary to one another.

I’m just nitpicking when I comment about weaknesses with the book. It’s easy to read and is full of great information. Angela repeatedly tells readers about the importance of being human – of coming across as a real person. Of meaning what you say. Of being personable. She practices what she preaches in this book – the prose is conversational and genuine.

Angela knows that community managers work differently – they have their own opinions as to what works and their communities are unique. Angela doesn’t pretend that her book will make you an expert. She is honest – she simply tells you what has worked for her (and others) and offers you encouragement to go out and find what will work for your community.

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Angela Connor August 6, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Martin, thank you so much for reading and taking the time to digest, reflect and review my book. You have always been a source of inspiration for me so I really cannot express what it means to me to have my work introduced to your readers. Weaknesses mentioned are valid, and you are right about monitoring how much you complain. You and I have long learned the benefit of dissenting opinions and your honesty is greatly appreciated. thanks for the reminder about focusing more on the newbies as well. I am actively working to get better at that and will focus my efforts in that area more. See, you inspire me still. Thanks again for reading the book and encouraging others to do so as well.

Michelle August 6, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Wow, how did I manage to miss that Angela had a book? I’ll definitely have to check that out. Amazon says there’s only 5 left, so hopefully they won’t all be gone by the time I get home. :)

I do wish it came in an ebook, though. Seems a shame to use up all that paper for something that will end up sitting on my shelf after I’m done reading it. (I’m currently cleaning out my house in preparation for a rummage sale, so my stacks of large, outdated tech books are weighing heavily on my mind)


Angela Connor August 7, 2009 at 8:55 am

Hi Michelle: It DOES come in an ebook. Itís available and for a bit less, of course, on the Publisherís site. And I believe thereís even a 20% discount. Hereís a link. Thanks for your support. http://www.happyabout.info/community-engagement.php

Michelle August 7, 2009 at 9:18 am

@Angela: Oh, perfect! I was just looking at the Amazon link and didn’t see one there. Luckily I never had a chance to place the order last night. Just bought the eBook and it’s downloading now. The publisher’s ordering page doesn’t work in Opera, by the way. I had to switch to Firefox to get it to work. It claimed I didn’t have cookies enabled. Wierd.


Nicole Price August 7, 2009 at 9:49 am

This is a rare instance of a review and a response from the author and I compliment both of you for being so sincere about the whole exercise.

Angela Connor August 7, 2009 at 10:57 am

@Michelle: I can’t wait to hear what you think about it. Be sure to find me and share your thoughts, okay? Sorry about the browser issues but I’m happy you didn’t let it deter you. :-) @Nicole..You can’t get any more sincere than Martin! Thanks for the kind words.

Michelle August 8, 2009 at 11:27 pm

It’s been a good read so far. I’ve been very busy away from the computer so am only up to chapter 13. Learning quite a bit and also some good links there to other folks I need to subscribe to. :)


Patrick August 9, 2009 at 10:39 am

Thanks for the mentions, Martin. Much appreciated.


Mr Woc August 10, 2009 at 11:34 am

Hi there

I will defo check it out, shame theres not a spoken version for download onto the old ipod lol !


Angela Connor August 10, 2009 at 1:33 pm

@Mr. Woc:
Are you saying I can borrow your pipes and you’d like to record an audio book for me? LOL! Please send any feedback my way once you read it. The ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon might give you a good glimpse with enough info to decide whether or not you’d like to purchase. .


Nicole Price August 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

I did precisely that, “look Inside” at amazon and have sent for it. Thanks.

Karl Webb August 22, 2009 at 3:13 am

Thanks for the review. I will certainly have a look at the book. Community engagement is such an important thing on the net.

Angela Connor August 28, 2009 at 7:27 pm

@Nicole and @Karl Webb…thanks for your interest and please let me know your thoughts when you’re done…if it resonates with you as a community manager or one who strives to engage online. I want to hear the good and bad!

Mick September 2, 2009 at 7:05 am

Nice review, thanks for posting that. It sounds like a good well written and interesting book, and I’m sure it would open a few more doors, and help improve online community sites.

I agree about encouring the less frequent users. It can sometimes be off putting getting involved with online communities as a new member when everyone knows each other and have multiple posts under their belts.

I’m not totally sure what you mean about encouraging complaints.. but sites I’ve been on, I’ve seen topics really grow, when members are arguing constructively with each other.

Paul November 18, 2009 at 12:02 am

Wow this seems like the best ebook out there.

I may have to pick it up. Do you give it away free for RSS subcriber’s? :)

Christina March 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm

The line “Itís just full of advice, backed up with examples.” is the greatest selling point you could have used for the book. So many books are filled with advice without examples, which are so important.

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