Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five Things I Learned About Communicating as a Community Manager

Not long ago I worked as a Community Manager on a difficult Web product. Each day was a new crisis. The product was a gaming platform and the users were very comfortable with communicating on-line. They had no qualms about pointing out faults, highlighting company shortcomings, and telling it like it was.

And I loved every one of them.

The community kept me aware of things happening with the product to which I'd otherwise be oblivious. And its members presented many (remarkably well thought-out) ideas on how to improve the product and our business. I was also responsible for site retention activities and they made my job significantly easier.

The goal of any community manager should be to facilitate two-way communication between a company and its customers, in order to improve the business and its products. In the process of doing so, I learned a lot about communicating with them.

In order to make communicating with me easier I ran a discussion forum, posted my email address, allowed users to chat with me directly using instant messaging tools and I made sure I was available for on-site communication at scheduled times.

Twitter wasn't popular when I started the job, and my superiors elected to have the social networking sites handled by someone else through an office in another country - a major mistake - as a unified voice and response mechanism is absolutely vital for successful community management.

Here are the top five things I learned about communicating while doing the job:

5) Be Patient Everyone who contacts you is taking precious time from their lives to do so. Respect them by making time to understand whatever point they're trying to make. If that means writing back to clarify, DO IT. Respect builds respect - and that pays off for the company in the long run.

4) Be Fair Always try to put yourself in your community's shoes. Try to understand how they see your company and your messages. This will help immensely when trying to understand why they are saying what they are saying, and how.

3) Be Funny Humor is tough but very useful. Never use it at someone's expense (except, perhaps, your own). Our product at the time was an entertainment product, and people were using it for a good time. Occasionally using humor helped keep the mood light. As Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," especially when rolling back a release or those rare times when you have to infringe on your user's behavior when changing a company policy.

2) Be Fast Speedy response times are important because as an official voice, you can kill rumors, correct incorrect assumptions and address problems as soon as they surface. A situation that festers is significantly harder to control. It makes community management a 24/7/365 job, but it comes with the territory. Yay for Blackberrys and laptops!

And finally, the most important thing I learned about communication:

1) Be Honest Like in any personal relationship, lying begets more lies. And unlike any personal relationship, as community manager you have thousands of eyes watching what you write and listening to what you say. Lying about something is an invitation to disaster because YOU WILL GET CAUGHT. Quickly become an expert in making the best of the worst situation, but never lie about what's happening.

Finally, remember that what you write and what you say in your role as community manager will live on the Web long after you've left the role. To this day, Google searches for my name list forum posts I made as Community Manager. I am comforted by the fact that I took the above lessons to heart and communicated responsibly, because what I wrote became my digital legacy.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

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