How to Guide Members of Online Communities

An online community is not a set-it-and-forget-it website. Members, whether they agree or not, need guidance and direction. They can’t just show up and think, “Now what?” It’s up to community management to keep a positive conversation flowing and to ensure that the members are interacting and enjoying each other’s company. Here are a few good practices to put into place so everyone feels welcome:

  • Make new members feel at home. Many new members, or newbies, enjoy introducing themselves and saying a little about who they are and what they do. Community members do what they can to welcome newbies and invite them to participate in discussion topics. Many community managers like to remember certain details about participants’ expertise and knowledge, inviting them to share their points of view in conversations.

  • Choose topics for discussion. Community managers engage. They ask questions and respond to comments, making sure that members have a reason to return each day.

  • Ensure that discussions stay on topic. Most online communities focus on a specific subject, practice, or brand. For example, a forum for knitters may feature discussions regarding stitches, materials, and patterns, so talking about monster truck races wouldn’t be appropriate. Some forums do have folders for off-topic discussions, but most visit to learn about and talk about their passion.

  • Discourage negativity. If a discussion turns into an argument or inappropriate language comes into play, the community manager steps in to get things back on track. This responsibility may mean soothing hurt feelings or reminding members of the community’s comment policy.

It’s up to you as community manager to make sure that everyone is happy, entertained, and achieving their purpose for being on your community. You don’t have to nag, lecture, and force your way into every community interaction. Instead, sit back and observe. Watch how members interact and step in when necessary.

Your community should be able to function while you’re away, but its members should know enough about the policies that they’re respectful and positive even when you’re not watching.

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