Online communities get stronger when managers learn to delegate

by Martin Reed on 30 November 2010 in Articles

community building

A great way to get members passionate about your community is to empower them. You’re the community manager but that doesn’t mean you should be doing everything. The more responsibilities you give your members, the more dedicated and committed they’ll become.

Community manager tasks to delegate

Welcoming new members – As the community manager, it’s a good idea for you to personally welcome new members. Don’t copy and paste the same welcome you give everyone else – make it different for every member. Welcomes aren’t particularly encouraging when only one person responds, so make a few of your members ‘Welcome Reps’.

Creating fresh discussion topics – Fresh content is good, but not if you’re the only one creating it. Empower other members with the responsibility to post interesting (and perhaps provocative) discussion starters on a regular basis. Reward those that start the most vibrant discussions.

Ensuring new discussions don’t fail – Nobody wants to join a community that will ignore them. Starting a new discussion takes a lot of courage – most members simply don’t do it. When they do, they need to be rewarded – with praise, attention, and an ensuing discussion. It’s all well and good making sure you respond to new discussions, but it can be painful trying to develop a conversation between just yourself and one other member. Give members who frequently get involved in great discussions the responsibility of ensuring all new discussions receive at least one or two replies.

Diffusing arguments – The problem with acting as a mediator all the time is that your community will come to rely on you – they won’t take any responsibility for conflict resolution themselves. Encourage members to intervene when arguments turn nasty. Form a committee that’s responsible for ensuring the community stays positive.

Choosing content to highlight – If your community is still developing its personality and culture, it’s a good idea for you to pick the content you want to feature and draw attention to; it shows people what kind of content is important in the community and the type of discussions that are encouraged. As your community matures, your members should be able to take over this role – they know what they want to see in the community, they know what content is relevant and they know what will be appreciated by the community. Give them the job of selecting the best content to highlight.

Clearing up spam – A boring and tedious job. You can be far more productive and effective as a community manager if you don’t have to worry about spam. Empower some of your members to patrol the community for spam. You don’t have to give them the power to delete it, but make it easy for them to report it to you.

Encouraging inactive members to become active – Most of the time your member stats are wrong. You’ve got a member count but that doesn’t really reflect the true number of members you have. Members that don’t visit or contribute aren’t members. Most community managers will send out mass emails trying to get members back. This isn’t really an effective strategy. You need to make this personal. If members posted before disappearing, you should know some basic facts about them. Get members with similar interests to reach out and try to get them active. Even members who have never contributed are worth reaching out to. The message sent will be far more powerful and effective (and easier to scale) if it comes from other members.

Running the community’s Twitter account or Facebook page – This one is more of a brave move; you only want to hand over the keys to your Twitter or Facebook accounts to members you really trust. Consider this, though – how many communities do you know that trust and respect their members enough to run these accounts? You’d be sending a very strong message by giving this responsibility to your members and the accounts will be far more vibrant and reflective of the culture and personality of your community.

Reserved powers

Keep these to yourself for as long as possible:

  • The ability to delete content
  • The ability to delete members
  • The ability to access any ‘administrative’ area of your community

Only delegate these reserved powers if your community becomes swamped with offensive or illegal content. Most online communities don’t need more than one person to have access to these powers. Keep hold of them for as long as you can.

Your ultimate aim should always be to give most of your perceived powers and responsibilities back to the community. It’ll be happier and stronger as a result.

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{ 7 comments }

Sarah Harris December 10, 2010 at 11:43 am

Thanks for the great post. I think they are all great points, but I especially agree with what you said about ensuring new discussions don’t fail. I think it’s vitally important that you interact with your members and making sure that new members’ contributions are rightfully acknowledged and praised. People appreciate this attention and it makes them more keen to return. I know it does for me.

alex work January 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

Helpful post. Particularly what you mention about Twitter, and handing over the reigns of this task demonstrates a strong sense of trust and belief in the individual.

Lisa Udy January 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I just started a small forum and I have delegated 2 other admins to help me with all the spam. It’s disgusting how much we get, but my members are solid in helping me get rid of them. I agree 100%, people enjoy being part of something, and if you give them a little power, they will use it!

Cochrane February 2, 2011 at 11:37 am

That is a brave move, handing over the keys to the Facebook and Twitter accounts…. I don’t know if I could handle that- I’m too much of a control freak!!

Kyle February 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Delegating inactive member re-recruitment via personal email is an ingenious idea. I’m a member of several online communities, but I continually get mass emails from a hobbiest forum that I currently just don’t have time for, but used to post on regularly. They simply say “We want you back” and have some cute message about the posters on the board missing me..Cute for sure, but not at all convincing for me to reprioritize and begin posting again.

On the other hand, If I received a personal message from a member that cited a particular arguments or thought from my posting history it could easily re-ignite my interest and get me back into the forum.

Great recommendations!

Michael Anthony March 13, 2011 at 8:19 pm

It’s true, I know that on a few of the online forum communities that I’m part of, when I first joined I thought it was crazy that seemingly every day people that were part of the community were moderators, etc. It kind of made me jealous and made me want to be a forum moderator, you know.

Guy Farmer April 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Great tips Martin. It’s really helpful to give community members the ability to actually do things for the community. I like the idea of encouraging people to participate actively and reaching out to them personally. From a leadership perspective I suppose an ideal community would be one that runs itself and allow the administrator to focus on the bigger picture.

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