This post is cross-published from NTEN. Read the post and join the conversation on the NTEN blog.
Normally, I stay away from assumptions: We all know the saying about what assuming does to you and me! When it comes to managing or building communities, online or on the ground, the work can seem overwhelming and sometimes even never-ending.
Wherever you are, and whatever the kind of community you are wrangling, there are some general lessons that I recommend. These five assumptions always help me remember the role and responsibilities a successful community manager needs to best serve and engage a community. I hope you’ll share your lessons, too!
1. You don’t [really] know your community members.
I don’t say this to offend you, but just as a good reminder. When you are drafting messages, calls to action, or even just conducting day-to-day customer service type communications, assuming that you don’t know the community at large or the individual you are speaking to directly will help prevent you from overstepping boundaries or making statements that can instiguate that, “you don’t know me!” feeling on the other end. I won’t say that we’ve all experienced this – see what I did there? – but I know that I have and have heard direct feedback from people when I’ve made this mistake.
All that you can really assume are the things that aren’t assumptions; give your community the chance to tell you their preferences and interests, and track what you can (from email opens and clicks, to actions taken) to be sure you are responding to the facts whenever possible.
2. You know more about the tools.
There are mind-boggling reports and stats our there that show just how much time many of us are spending [wasting?] on social media platforms like Facebook each day. That said, it is best to assume that your community isn’t hip to every trick you’ve found for Facebook, Twitter, and any other site you may use. This is especially true if you have a separate community platform connected to your website or operated specifically for your community online.
Assuming you know the most about these tools means you have the opportunity and responsibility to share your knowledge and help the community be as savvy as you! When you post a call to action for people to share a message, be sure to include reference to how they can do so; or if you are asking people to create content themselves, be sure to provide instructions and examples to help them respond to your call.
3. You know more about the cause.
Just like the assumption about the tools, it is incredibly valuable to maintain the position that you (read: your organization, if not you personally, smartypants) know more, have more access to information about, and are more closely following news related to your cause and work than the community. When you are sharing news or calls to action, be sure to provide relevant context and history or links to where people can learn more.
Many of your community members may be following things closely with you, but, per assumption #1, you will be able to speak to them directly in the action alerts they’ve signed up for instead of only the general messages you may post elsewhere. If you create a microsite or special landing pages for campaigns, topics in the news, or specific programs, be sure to make links prominent for people to learn more and understand the why and how behind the actions.
4. You have more time than your community.
This is a big one. It may seem like so much fun to round up friends and record a video about why you are all so passionate about a cause, then edit it with catchy backgound music and effects, and post it on YouTube. Assume you are the only person in the community with the time and energy to do it, though. If creating content is an essential part of your campaign, make sure you provide options for someone that wants to give you, for example, 30 seconds, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 30 minutes. That may mean it is a quick text-based response, a photo, a very short video, or a good sized video, respectively.
Creating options and recognizing that community members have varying amounts of time to spend on your cause will help people self-select the option that they prefer – back to #1, track it so you can suggest similar options in the future! – and they can feel that you appreciate their participation even if they don’t have the time to make a video for you.
5. People are coming from a good place.
Trolls are real, it’s true. But operating and communicating as if every commenter is a troll will shut down conversation very quickly. Even if someone posts something negative or critical, assume they are coming from a good place, agree with and support your mission and view of a better world, and are voicing a concern that may be felt by others; take a breath and then reread their comment without taking it personally.
These kinds of comments are an opportunity to show your amazing, and patient, customer service abilities! Thank her for speaking up and sharing her comment/question/concern, point them in the right direction for more information and resources, and offer to speak with her directly offline (or at least off the comment thread) about the topic.
Doing this in public, whether on your Facebook page or on your own blog, will show to others that you are open to engaging with people who may disagree, that you have resources and information on the topic of contention, and that you are even willing to be available personally. That’s a much better tone to set.
Well, those are my five; but I have no doubt there are many more lessons and assumptions out there. Would love to hear what more you’d add to the list!
[Photo credit: aflier Flickr]