Are you honest enough to manage an online community?

by Martin Reed on 22 April 2009 in Articles

community building with trust and honesty

If you want people in your community to develop strong relationships with one another and your brand, you need to ensure you have a foundation of trust and honesty. Without these attributes, your community will struggle to succeed.

People not technology

Remember, when you build an online community you are (or at least, should be) involved primarily with people – not technology. Just because the community environment is online it doesn’t change the fact that you are bringing people together. People build relationships with other people – not technology. They need to see and trust the human element of your community. Don’t hide this, and make sure you are always honest.

Friendships and relationships

Think of the relationships you have in your life. Your best friends are the people you can trust. There is no reason why this cannot be replicated online. It’s a major accomplishment when people come to see members of your online community as friends. People stay with their friends – they want to be with them, and they want to continue getting to know them by sharing stories, ideas and opinions.

Unless your community is primarily linking existing friends (think Facebook, MySpace), every new member is a stranger. You need to turn these strangers into friends. One of the primary responsibilites of a community manager is to act as a matchmaker. To do this, you need to be trusted and respected. You’ll achieve this by being honest.

Lead with honesty

You can’t introduce members or encourage discussion if your members don’t trust you. Indeed, if they don’t trust you they probably won’t stick around. What’s more, if your members don’t trust you they may stop trusting the brand your community represents (if applicable).

The more your members talk, the more they are taking a risk – especially if they are new. You need to get them out of their shells – you want them to introduce themselves and to get to know existing members. You need your older members to welcome the new addition to the community and make them feel welcome. You need your members to share information about themselves.

Lead by example. Ensure you are trusted by:

  • Sharing information about yourself
  • Sticking to your promises
  • Enforcing your community guidelines professionally and impartially

Bad memories

Your members are unlikely to remember every time you stick to your promises or prove you can be trusted. However, they will remember the one time you let them down. All it takes is one error on your part, and your community could end up irreparably damaged.

If you make a mistake – admit to it, and say sorry. Don’t attempt any cover ups – you’ll just be making things worse.

Community foundations

Communities are built on human relationships. Relationships based on lies, suspicion and deception are not healthy. You want to ensure your community is associated with trust and honesty if you want it to succeed. Give your members confidence that they can share information about themselves without being mocked or belittled. The more personal the information your members share, the more they are demonstrating their trust in your community’s members (and by association, you). It’s absolutely critical you don’t let them down.

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{ 17 comments }

Randy Brown April 22, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Honesty is very important, especially when dealing with paid/subscription members. Forging relationships, sharing info about yourself, etc is also important – however you risk that information being used against you (in childish ways) if a relationship goes bad, like when you have to ban a member from your site.. i always find it difficult to find the perfect balance..

Nicole Price April 23, 2009 at 9:38 am

It is a measure of the times that we live in that this aspect of any activity has to be written about. I can, and I am sure that so can you, list a number of communities where such advise is desperately necessary. When the community’s primary purpose is lost at the altar of ‘other’ considerations, it simply withers away. This is timely advise for those who have lost sight of their primary purpose.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 23, 2009 at 10:13 am

Randy – Good point. I have written about this balance a couple of times before:

How much information should community managers share?

How anonymous should a forum admin be?

Some great points were also raised by readers in the comments section of those articles.

jack April 24, 2009 at 5:22 am

I think I am honest enough. I don’t know if I’m reliable enough though. I’d be affraid of letting people down if I were to manage a community.

Cindy April 30, 2009 at 11:08 am

You bring up some valid points. In order to create a community I believe trust needs to be part of the base that you build up from.

Cindy

Scott Kinsel April 30, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I think I am honest enough. I donít know if Iím reliable enough though. Iíd be affraid of letting people down if I were to manage a community.

Jeremy May 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Good topic Martin. Many people start up forums without realizing the involvement required. You have to be there for your members and you should be an active presence. You can’t assume that everyone will behave. You have to be willing to step in and moderate bad behavior to help people develop trust. Of course you can’t moderate everything or else there is no free speech.

Chris May 1, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I think people sometimes fail to realized that you don’t truly have absolute power of an online community. There are so many options these days that you have to prove an open honest environment or your users will take note and leave.

An example of this is the current change in facebook. They just changed the friends page so you no longer get the status updates on one page. I noticed that they had over 3,000 comments posted to the announced change! All negative. Knowing facebook they will fix this and make it right for everyone. If not….. Twitter and myspace will benefit.

Jamie Favreau May 4, 2009 at 9:00 pm

You are right. I am working on building a community for local bloggers and would like this to be a hub for local events in Detroit. We need some positive vibes and this is a great way to spread the word. I am new to starting communities from scratch. I am new to building them from scratch but this is an exciting opportunity which I am looking forward too! I am already active in the blogging community so this should help!!

Darrin May 6, 2009 at 9:36 pm

I agree with Jack – honesty isn’t the issue. Consistency is.

Steve May 12, 2009 at 12:16 am

Honesty and integrity is vital for any online community and for that matter any business to succeed. If you aren’t trusted in your online community that you are doomed.

Joseph Bennett May 26, 2009 at 11:43 pm

I agree with what Darrin had to say, if you don’t have consistency than your online community will fail.

gregory barr May 30, 2009 at 6:26 pm

I have read the comments and I agree totally with what has been posted.I myself am fairly new to nlogging,but not so with working in communities,as I was a drug care worker.The most important thing i found was being a person of my word,walk the walk,not talk the talk.I am now doing the same on the net and i feel the same principles apply,…..Greg

Jonalyn June 3, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Honestly and integrity is important in every kind of business, but even more so in building and maintaining online communities. Thanks for the great article Martin.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 9:57 am

This is very true; you will find it extremely difficult to maintain trust and following if you can’t hold your promises. Sometimes you do have to break promises (I swear this site will never have advertising!) from the days when you were new and everything was rainbows and ice cream sundaes, and if you do, you better be honest and upfront about it and really explain why you’re breaking the promise before you do.

Paul November 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Leading by example seems like the best way to go. Even if you have to open up and take some criticism, it will show your honesty and impress members.

Tim April 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Truth and honesty is the best policy when it comes to building an online community.
#1 you must know your topic or the subject of the community – no point make a community on rocket engineering if you dont know anything about it
#2 keep in touch with your community members. engage them, and respond to comments

All in all you will see that this will build happy, regular members.

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