Cheat Sheet

Online Community Management For Dummies

An important part of running a business is engaging your customers (and potential customers) to turn them into a community of people who share common interests. Having a community focused on your business doesn’t mean every conversation has to be about your brand. However, to get your community talking with you and with each other, you’re going to have to engage.

Engaging Your Community: The Do’s

What does it mean to be engaging? Here are some tips for engaging your community in order for them to interact with each other and attract new members:

  • Ask questions. Many times, community members, especially those who are new to the Internet or social networking, don’t know that they can comment on blogs or social networking pages. It’s up to you to invite them. However, saying “Comment, please” can sometimes look like you’re begging for interaction. Instead, ask questions of your community. Find some common ground and invite them to share thoughts and ideas. For example, if your brand is made up primarily of moms of elementary school-aged children, ask questions about kids’ habits or commiserate over something all parents go through.

  • Use humor. Everyone responds to humor. Don’t be afraid of being witty and making jokes and creating fun interactions, without being too slapstick or insulting. If you have a good sense of humor and a reputation for make people laugh, yours will be a very popular community. If you talk only about serious things or topics half your community finds boring, you’re going to lose people.

  • Avoid negativity. Community managers have to deal with many different types of negativity, and pinpointing them all here is impossible. Suffice it to say, negativity has no place in an online community. Allowing members to snipe at each other, swear, troll, and insult will split apart your community. Soon, the only people who show up are those who thrive upon negativity. Set clear guidelines and let it be known that certain behavior won’t be tolerated.

  • Spotlight members of your community. Your best content should come from the people who make up your community. While you’re there to help the conversation flow and make sure that no one is crossing the line into negativity, the members of your community are the ones who should be doing the bulk of the talking. Indeed, the best communities are the ones where a community manager’s presence is noted, but not “in your face.” When you allow your members to create discussion topics, you’re inviting them to bring their personalities into play and interact with each other. Get the ball rolling by introducing members of the community who have cool achievements. If a member of your community was in the paper recently, post the mention. If another member won an award, offer a congratulatory comment. When you shine the spotlight on them, it encourages them to take it a step farther and come out in to the open.

  • Use different social networking tools. Many tools and networks are available to community managers nowadays. Your content should cover a variety of ground, including (but not limited to) newsletters, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blog posts, forums, and Google+. Each platform allows for a different type of content and different types of discussions. Take advantage of each and every one to grow a lively community. They’ll all prefer to follow your brand on their platform of choice, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Create open ended content. Post the type of content folks respond to. If you’re making a statement but not inviting conversation, it won’t happen. Content should relate to everyone and invite discussion. Avoid questions requiring a yes or no response and create the kind of content where folks want to read and respond, instead of simply reading.

Engaging Your Community: The Don’ts

Being engaging doesn’t mean sending out a tweet or blog post and leaving it at that. You want to invite conversation. Find out your community member’s common interest and create the types of discussions you know they’ll want to dive into. Be careful about bringing too much of yourself into it, though. That’s not what community is about at all.

Here are a few other common mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t sell. If your community is representative of a brand with a product or service, your community members know why they’re there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the purpose of your online community is to drive sales. However, being pushy with the sales tactics will clear out your community lightning fast. It’s fine to mention products or drop discount codes once in a while, but don’t spam your community every day, or you won’t have a community anymore.

  • Don’t force the conversation. If you drop a topic and no one responds, move on to the next topic. Constantly asking your community to comment on the same thing only draws attention to the fact that no one is interested in that particular conversation. Move on.

  • Don’t complain. When you complain to your community, you’re not only spouting negativity, but you’re also inviting them to complain as well. Don’t talk ill of your job, your neighbors, another brand, or, really, anything else. Even in a discussion about current events, avoid complaining as it only serves to set the wrong tone.

  • Don’t overshare. Your community has no business knowing certain things. While it’s fun to commiserate about housework, car parts, or child rearing, do be careful about giving out too many personal details about you and your family. It’s inappropriate because you’re representing your business, and also because too many details may make the members of your community feel uncomfortable. You can find plenty of topics to discuss without getting intimate.

  • Don’t be mundane. If you post “I had a cup of coffee” on Facebook each morning, you’re not being engaging. You’re making a statement that isn’t inviting conversation, and worse, you’re being boring. People don’t care if you had a cup of coffee. Also, when you center your community discussions around things that you do, you’re not making it about your community anymore.

  • Don’t make it about you. Online communities aren’t about the community manager; they’re about the members. Being engaging means to find topics of interest to your community members. Having “I” in every conversation gets old, tired, and boring and doesn’t give your community anything to relate to. Make it about them, and it’ll happen.

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