20 questions for managers of online communities

by Martin Reed on 18 November 2008 in Articles

Questions for online community managers

If you want to be a good online community manager and develop successful online communities, you need to be knowledgeable. You need to know about your members and you need to know the entire community inside out. Here are some questions you should be able to answer. If you don’t, then pursue the answers with urgency.

1. Can you sum up the purpose of your community in one sentence?

If you can’t do this, then you have no focus. You’ll struggle to develop a successful online community if you don’t know what you want out of it.

2. Who are your competitors?

Always keep an eye on the competition. That way you can keep more than one step ahead. What areas of your competitors’ sites are popular? What are their members requesting? What needs are your competitors not satisfying?

3. How is your online community unique?

If you can’t offer anything unique, you might as well give up now. You can have a community based around the same niche as existing sites, but make it unique. Make it your own. Make registering irresistible to visitors.

4. What are the aims and goals for your community in the next week/month/year?

Without plans you have no direction. How can you determine what needs to be done on a daily basis if you have no clue where you want to be in the future?

5. How do you deal with abusive posts/members?

You need to cope with the fine line of encouraging activity and interaction without stifling debate through excessive moderation. You need to be fair, neutral and professional. Have a plan.

6. How do you recruit valuable moderators and how will you retain them?

Don’t choose a staff member just because they have made the most posts. Choose your staff carefully. They represent you and the community as a whole.

7. Is your online community fun?

If your community isn’t fun, people won’t stick around. If people want work, they’ll go out and get paid for it.

8. What proportion of your members are active and why?

Why do you have so many inactive members? Are your inactive members coming primarily from one or two sources? Have you asked inactive members if they need help?

9. What are the most popular topics in your online community?

Learn what subjects get your community buzzing and get posting.

10. What subjects raise the most passion in your online community?

Are there subjects that perhaps should be avoided? A little controversy is fine as long as it doesn’t result in bickering, abuse and a bad atmosphere. Keep a close eye on topics that you know stir passion within your members.

11. Who are your most important members?

Yes, you should treat all members equally but some should be seen as extra valuable. These members are the ones that create engaging, thought-provoking posts, welcome new members and act with maturity and professionalism. They are the ones that could be doing your job!

12. Who are your most influential members?

Who are the opinion formers in your online community? You’ll need to listen a little closer to their opinions because if they get upset, they’ll stir up bad feeling. Keep them happy, and you’ll make everyone within their sphere of influence happy, too.

13. Do your members feel welcome when they join?

Do you welcome new members? Do existing members make new members feel welcome? Members that truly feel welcome will tell you.

14. Do your members feel valued?

Are you listening to your members? You don’t have to act on every suggestion, however you should always listen. Weigh up the options, then act. Ask your members for their opinions. Thank them for being a member. Tell them that you value them.

15. Do your members know your name?

If they don’t then tell them. It is far easier to build a relationship with ‘Martin Reed’ than ‘Admin’.

16. Do your members know how to contact you?

You are there to support your community. You should be encouraging questions, comments and suggestions. Visitors and members need to be able to contact you and they need to know how to contact you.

17. Do your members trust you?

Your members need to trust you. You have access to a lot of information and you hold a position of authority. Earn the trust of your members and don’t abuse it.

18. Are you turning your members into cheerleaders?

As your community becomes established, you shouldn’t need to do much advertising. Your members should be your best promotional tool.

19. Are you developing relationships away from your site to benefit your community?

People will mention your community on other websites. Track these comments and respond to them. Not all relationships will be formed on your online community. Communicate with potential new members before they even visit your site and see your conversion rate rocket.

20. What external links to your community bring you the most active members?

Not all links are created equal. Find out which links are the most valuable and develop a positive relationship with whoever put the link there.

What did I miss?

What questions did I miss from this list? Are there any there that you disagree with? How many of these questions can you answer? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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{ 21 comments }

Amish November 19, 2008 at 3:02 pm

As you know, I have not launched a forum yet and am still learning everything that I possibly can about it. I cannot therefore comment on what I have done. I find this list very useful in getting my thoughts clear and prepared.

Tertius November 19, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Great list of things to think about. Building on one slowly, lots of great things to take into consideration and to not miss anything.

Mr Woc November 20, 2008 at 7:43 pm

Hi there

Some good questions there, I had a good think about it and couldnt think of any questions to add, so good work !

Woc

Smiley November 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm

I must be doing something right, I can answer every single one of those questions, bar 19 though .. I don’t chat anywhere else anymore. Never really thought of joining up somewhere just to plug FC.

Our mission is simple; to create and maintain a friendly chat community for adults.

That’s my mission statement, I know it, my users know it, my staff know it. It helps us all keep on track. I’m impressed with how uncliquey the site is, it’s bloody hard work preventing the usual “we hate newbies because we hate change” cliques at bay, as I’m sure you know !!

As for unique, well admittedly it’s really hard to be unique, but really hard doesn’t mean impossible. I reckon I have a unique atmosphere, I have a good relationship with my users, my staff are professional, the chat client its self is pretty unique.

One thing my users particularly like about FC is my room ratings system.

A few months ago I had a few regs complain that they “feel like children” and they made comments such as “I thought this was an adult site?” because I wouldn’t allow swearing or sexual content in the rooms. It’s a new site, so there’s a lot of new people, I didn’t want them to enter and see a sentence with swearing in it out of context which would damage their first impression of the site.

So I pondered for a few hours and came up with this..

[A] Adult chat. Swearing & sexual content permitted.
[C] Casual chat. Swearing permitted, but no sexual content.
[G] General chat. Our personal favourite, meaning no sexual content or swearing will be tolerated.

The Welcome Lobby for example, which is the meeting & greeting room for newbies:
http://img246.imageshack.us/img246/5266/50130811al7.jpg

Catering for everyone basically. General chatters who want clean, friendly chat use G rooms, people who want a little more freedom with their language, C, and those who want more ‘risq˙e’ chat, A.

In A rooms I do put this notice, though:
This is an [A] rated room, sexual content & swearing is permitted, but please keep it respectful. Remember that sexual harassment is a criminal offence and will NOT be tolerated – we report all cases of unwanted harassment to the police.

And every 20 minutes this rotates:
Although we allow CONVERSATIONS of a sexual nature in our [A] rated chat rooms, this is still not and never will be a sex site. If you want a sex site please click the following link:

Everyone’s happy, and the system works well. It keeps the pervs in check, too. So I reckon that’s quite unique and does the site a lot of good. Because even regs sometimes are in a mood for a different kind of chat now and again. Instead of finding another site completely.. they can just go into a different rated room on their usual favourite web based client.

Really good blog post, a lot of things to think about there. I’m going to go off and think about #19, as it’s the only one I honestly can’t give a confident answer to.

I’m always weary about signing up to other sites to plug my own, I hate spammers with a passion, it’d horrify me to be accused of being one myself! So will think #19 through and think of other ways to build up relationships with users on other sites to benefit my own.

Smiley November 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Whoops another long one, sorry. I never realize how much I go on typing lol.

Roger November 21, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Good post Martin! I’m happy to say, even though my community isn’t out of pre-launch-mode yet, that so far I can say YES to almost all of the questions you asked :)

Smiley: I think that’s the best way of showing all your visitors that you value them. You don’t say NO to anybody, everyone is welcome, and they can choose what chatroom they’d feel most comfortable joining!

Also, Smiley.. I saw from your picture.. You need to update your AVG ;)

Nicole Price November 22, 2008 at 2:50 am

I think you covered everything there; really comprehensive list of questions to ask and to answer.

Smiley November 22, 2008 at 11:40 am

Exactly, Roger. I first started out as an 18+ site that doesn’t allow sexual content or swearing. But I realized I was missing out on a lot of potential regulars. I want to keep perverts out, but I also want regulars that wish to talk about more ‘adult’ stuff rather than the weather.

So came up with the site ratings, now they can choose which rated room to choose as their favourite.

As for AVG it’s annoying the hell out of me. It says I need to reboot to update it, so I reboot, and it stays updated for a few seconds then tells me to reboot again to update it again. So I just bloody leave it.

Stephie November 25, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Great list of tips for community owners. I like it very much. It is very useful and everyone should have as a reminder of what has to be done in order to have successful community. It is not easy to be community manager and many activities and responsibilities are needed.

r°yeblink November 26, 2008 at 2:09 am

That list is superb. I think i can actually answer all 20 questions now, but i will have to take a look at it later when i have better time.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 12:51 am

Amish – Thanks for your kind comment :)

Tertius – Thanks, I am glad you found the article useful.

Mr Woc – Would I be right in assuming you could answer all of the questions then?!? :)

Smiley – It’s fantastic that you can answer 19 of the questions. Don’t overlook the benefits of networking away from your site though – it can bring great benefits; not only new members, but new relationships with people in the field of online community development.

Please don’t apologise for making long comments – they are very interesting, valuable and beneficial to all readers.

Roger – That’s great; you can answer all the questions before your site has even officially launched! That is a fantastic start!

Nicole – Thanks; glad you enjoyed the article.

Stephie – Thanks for your kind comment!

R°yeblink – Good stuff! Make sure you report back :)

Guy Martin January 9, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Martin,

Great post (I’m just catching up on your blog after following you on Twitter) – I’d only add that in the trust department, part of the job of a community manager is to engender trust among the community members. I actually just wrote on this specific topic recently (more from a commercial/project standpoint, but I think has value here too):

http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet/2009/01/trust-in-commun.html

Keep up the good work!

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 12, 2009 at 11:22 am

Guy – Yes, that’s a good point. Your members need to trust you as the community manager, but they also need to trust other members; you won’t have much of a community otherwise! Thanks for posting the link to your article.

kpay January 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm

I’m saving this and printing it out, we’re in the development stages of an online community and I’m using this as a starting point to make sure we’re asking the right questions. Thanks for this! I’m learning as we build…

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 2:59 pm

kpay – Yup, I’m still learning too!

Mark February 10, 2009 at 10:51 am

Fantastic post Martin.

Although I am not very experienced, I could imagine that some of these cna be more important than others at different times. For example when a community is still forming, it is important to make new members feel valued and to encourage their confidence. I have seen some cases where this has not had enough emphasis and you never get to see what people really feel as a consequence. Until a certain level of support or belonging has passed, you will probably not see what makes people passionate. or what really gets them contributing.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 9:33 am

Awesome article; I will be sharing this with my moderators to see how much of the same vision we have.

Barny August 10, 2009 at 9:33 am

Very interesting set of questions, they’ve provided a lot of inspiration of how to change how i manage my community, thanks.

Clayton Shumway November 5, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Great list…I’m going to go through some of our latest marketing objectives and run them through the questions. Thanks!

Sean March 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I like the idea of cheerleaders/members. It took me abut five months before I recruited five great cheerleaders for this one site I worked for. Once I had gotten the cheerleaders I let them take over the social media and just monitored their work. It was the best thing that I ever did.

Andy March 8, 2010 at 3:24 am

Does your communtiy retain Existing Visitors and Encourage Repeat Visits

Visitors can stop by for a while to check things out and then move on to sites with fresh and different content. The way for an online community to retain visitors is to offer new, fresh material on an ongoing basis, such as new content to discuss and new guest contributors to interview. Posting a calendar of events to keep visitors coming back for scheduled events can work great.

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