Speaking With Online Community Managers

Last night, in our online communities Intro class, Karen and Clinton brought in four online community management whizes, and they gave us many great insights from their respective industries’ standpoint. I truly appreciated their advice, and here’s some of what they shared:

Heath Row, research manager at Google, who has had years of experience managing online communities and networks even before the rise of today’s popular social network sites, pointed out the importance of “thought leaders” in an online community and how to best utilize the community members in co-building valuable content for the community.

Micki Krimmel, founder of Neighborgoods.net, a very neat social network website that serves a simple and useful purpose of helping people share resource with their neighbors, mentioned a very good point that part of an online community manager’s responsibility is advocating for the community members’ interest to the company. Thus, the community manager needs to have some say within the company.

Alex Asselin, an APOC alumna and founder of several unique niche websites like echoparkonline , leimertparkbeat.com, and meamommy.com, defined the community manager’s role as the “human connection” for the people in these communities, and gave us a comprehensive list of the skill sets needed by a community manager.

Erika Shen, Lead producer for Disney Online, gave us many eye-popping scoops on managing social networks at Disney, but behind these surprising facts, she really taught us the important lesson of choosing different rules and styles for different communities according to the demographics of their respective target audience.

In the past couple of days I have also tried to start conversations with community managers in several online communities that I joined. Depending on the situation of each community, my outreach got different responses.

Totalbeauty.com: a very popular beauty product site, which thrives on user-generated product reviews; besides that, it also encourage its members to build a profile on the site and provides many useful beauty information blogs that users can add to their profile (works similar to an RSS feed). There is also a message board (sadly this feature is not emphasized on latest version of their homepage), and since I am a message board fanatic, I couldn’t resist jumping into it immediately. Even though the message board (forum) is fairly active, all the forum posts are up-to-date and most categories have about 100 to 2000 posts. I did not notice any obvious “community manager” role, and there was only a “website content editor” role in the website but I did not see its participation in the forum. I also did not find any message board rules at the top of the forum, nor any featured posts that got highlighted in the forum. The posts are all simply listed by the time order. There is a button under each post that lets you report the post as inappropriate, so I guess this serves as a moderator function. In this forum, basically members answer each other’s posts and take care of each other. (according to last night’s discussion, this organic maintenance is a good thing).

Like other users, my initial self-introduction posts did not get any response from any community manager-like role, if there even is one. I tried to post certain topic in the wrong thread to see if anyone came to solve the issue, but so far two days have passed and nothing has happened yet. I also entered a post asking for rules of the community, intending to call attention from the community manager, but so far, no response either. I will update my experience at this site later. So far it looks like it is a very organic, self-governed site, and usually if people post a specific question about products, there are other members jumping out to answer it. But I was wondering, without specified rules or even an accessible community manager role, how was this organic structure formed at the very beginning.

Consumer Made Dell-Hate Site: ihatedell.net. Since participating in a consumer community research project at Annenberg since last fall, I have taken a special interest in consumer-made “hate” sites, and many times I have been amazed by how strong a bond cane be formed when consumers share the same object of hate; and compared with positive brand sites, these negative hate sites usually engage users on a much deeper level by stimulating more storytelling, action-advocating, and member supporting. On this very active Dell complaint site, there are 35,277 registered members, including unsatisfied Dell users and employees. The forums feature several community moderators, as well as FAQs and community rules. The hierarchy of the community is clearly defined in the FAQs, and the powers of administrators and moderators are clarified.

I tried to initiate interaction with community managers with a standard self-introduction post. In the post, I put out a challenging but sincere question: what is the purpose of this community’s existence for people like me, a former Dell user who was hugely frustrated by the Dell experience, but have moved on to another computer brand, have tried to forget about Dell, and do not feel the urge to vent my anger. I posted in the relevant thread and also sent a direct message to one of the moderators of that thread. Within 12 hours, I received answers to my question, both from the moderator I DM-ed, and from another moderator replying to my post. I really liked the message sent by the moderator through DM. The reply from the other moderator was a more emotional version of it, but the basic meaning was the same. The reply from “rustyboots” through DM:

“To be honest I would say the best reason to stay here and review all these complaints and problems others have is to HELP your friends and family when they decide to buy a new computer. You will have access to the most recent problems; i.e., system problems, support problems and financial problems people encounter with Dell. You will have evidence to counter whatever Dell BS they have read or heard. That alone is worth the effort to stay here and stay up to date with Dell and its many problems and actions.

rustyboots

This reply sounded very sincere, reasonable and patient to me. It really made me want to stay and participate in this community.

That said, I think I have grasped what a good community manager means, and I want to close this post with the four principles for community managers written by social media expert Jeremiah Owyang: be a community advocate, be a brand evangelist, demonstrate good communication skills, and be able to collect input from real-time focus groups in the community for the company’s future usage.




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