For many organizations looking to navigate the uncharted waters of building a community as part of their digital strategy, a Community Manager, and their responsibilities, is often a foreign concept. As a result, the role of Community Manager can be ambiguous and have responsibilities that are, at best, loosely defined by the organization.
Further, as more organizations look to make the plunge into the world of community, ethical dilemmas can find themselves at the forefront of considerations when designing a system of community. Ultimately, the key question becomes “how can I build a community in a more involved and ethical way?”
Stemming from this emerges a variety of different concerns, ranging from questions as simple as what a Community Manager actually is, to more complex questions such as how to leverage insights to improve community engagement.
We had the opportunity to sit down with two experts in the field of community management to provide some direction on how to tackle some of these issues.
Our first expert is the Co-Founder & CEO of Sharehold, Sarah Judd Welch. Sharehold is a multidisciplinary innovation agency that works with visionary organizations to undertake self-sustaining transformation with, for and by their people. As the CEO, Sarah works to build on a foundation of community strategy and community design based on research and insights.
Our second expert is the Founder of Gather Community Consulting, Carrie Melissa Jones. Gather Community Consulting specializes in community building for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and enterprise firms. Carrie has been involved in online community leadership since the early 2000s and consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.
Together, our experts provide us with excellent insight on the industry of community and community management and set the record straight on ethical responsibility in the community space.
Community Manager Defined
For those new to the idea of community management, it is not uncommon to confuse the role and responsibilities of a Community Manager with the ones executed by a Social Media Manager. The key in distinguishing the roles of each, as our experts say, is taking a look at what the goals are for each role; they couldn’t be more different.
As Sarah puts it, “the goals of a Social Media Manager are very different than that of a Community Manager. Community management is more focused on engaging people and building something with them, whereas social media is about managing the performance of content online. It might include engaging people as well, though it's often more analytically driven.”
The goals of a Community Manager are to bring together a group of people with a common identity or a mutual bond and encourage and facilitate conversation through shared experiences.
You could take it a step further and take a look at what differentiates a good Community Manager from a great one; as Carrie adds, “one of the key pieces that I see missing in many community strategies is that [community members] have to also care about one another.” A great Community Manager will make this happen - but how?
You need to create engagement. This engagement isn’t necessarily channel or content specific, but rather an overarching duty to ensure that members of the community are encouraged to connect, share and bond with each other through relevant content. The goal here isn’t to simply get them to engage with each other once or twice; it’s about bringing them together multiple times and forming a bond over the brand.
How can you, as a Community Manager, know how to build your community so that you can achieve these goals and create these experiences? Well, first and foremost you need to consider the ethical responsibilities involved in building a community, so that you can build a set of guidelines to solidify the tone for community conduct and expectations.
When looking to design your community, there are a ton of ethical considerations at play, not only in how you build and design your community, but also in how you regulate and set the bar for acceptable conduct.
Our experts reveal a number of different ethical considerations surrounding building and designing a community. These considerations can be broadly categorized into two main groups: tech ethics and social ethics. Often times however, these groups are not mutually exclusive and both work to influence and impact each other in several ways.
Firstly, tech ethics in relation to community building refers to the set of ethics that govern regulations and policies surrounding access to information in the community. This includes things such as privacy and use of member data.
“There are so many ethical considerations when designing systems of community - how you collect people's data, how you let members leave or not, but also the way in which you create space for others and hold space for marginalized people within your community,” Sarah says. She continues, “those small little things that you do to set expectations really go a long way; so it really has become the [Community Manager’s] job to hold that line.”
Of course, privacy and data issues are contingent on the platform on which the community is built. If the community is built on a social media platform, there is little that you, as a Community Manager, can do to protect the privacy and data of your members.
To that, our experts argue that policy and legal changes need to take place to ensure that data is collected and used ethically on these platforms. As Carrie puts it, “we need regulation, we need policy changes, we need companies to be held accountable for what's on their platforms; currently, law does not hold social media platforms accountable for their content.”
Ethical concerns for Community Managers surrounding their members’ data and privacy are much more prevalent in communities built on social media. To learn more about the inability to control data and privacy concerns in communities built on social media platforms, check out our previous blog, Control Your Platform & Your Community Destiny.
Nonetheless, protecting your members’ privacy and data is something that needs to be ingrained as a priority for Community Managers. As a segway to the social ethics involved in building a community, Carrie points out that, “the things that we build shouldn't make the world worse to live in for anyone, and they shouldn't cause any social harm.”
Social ethics essentially refers to the ethical concerns regarding the governance of the community space by the brand and Community Manager.
It’s not only the role of the Community Manager to create a space that is safe and free from harassment, but it’s also their role to lead by example. As a Community Manager, you need to determine the expected behaviours for those in the community and model that behaviour. As Sarah puts it, you need to determine “what are the expected behaviours and...create a reinforcing system that normalizes that behaviour and rewards it.”
Through leading by example, the Community Manager is better able to create an inclusive space, free of harassment. Carrie recommends that all organizations adopt a code of ethics for Community Managers, much like the one adopted by the Australian Community Managers, which can be found here.
With these ethical concerns in mind, let’s dive into some of the things that Community Managers can do to help ensure their community is successful.
Go Beyond Engagement
Moving beyond engagement in your community is about creating more than just experiences; it’s about strengthening the mutual bond that the community shares through a series of continual and connecting experiences.
As Sarah puts it, “rather than just experiences, it's like a system of factors and people and ways that people interact with each other. That system sort of enables specific types of experiences, and ultimately the role of community is designing and enabling that system.”
When designing this system, it is imperative to put the people first; you ultimately want to end with a human centered model of community. What this means is that, when building your roadmap for community design and development, you start with the people you are building it for and end with a solution that fits their needs.
Carrie adds, you need to “look at the human first and look at the people that you're looking to gather. Look at the needs of your business [and then] bring those two together and create a strategy around that. Then, and only then, do you look at the tools you should be investing in.”
Gathering Community Insights
Sometimes, what your community needs, specifically in features, is not always apparent during the community planning phase or when developing the strategic roadmap. As a Community Manager, it is therefore important to constantly compile learnings from you community to improve experience and engagement.
You can do research in a more organic way, such as simply noticing common themes or posts in your community, or through proactive research. Given that community insights are qualitative in nature, it can be challenging to apply metric values to this data.
To address this issue, Sarah recommends doing frequency coding. This allows you to quantify qualitative insights through counting how many times something was mentioned, and then further gather all the relevant information about that feature set.
Through an analysis of community insights, you may learn that a number of different features are desired by your community. In her experience, Sarah has found that “the effort of prioritizing different community features over others can be really challenging.” Asking yourself these four questions will provide you with some clarity when faced with this issue:
What is the volume of people who are looking for this?
How many people will be impacted by this feature?
What are the consequences of not taking action on this?
Does this align with company priorities?
In most cases, the feature set that takes priority is both high in volume and fits with company priorities and goals. Ensuring that your company has a strong product roadmap and defined priorities before you look to design your community will set you up for success in the future when faced with these types of challenges.
Tools to get Started
Our experts provide a number of resources that they themselves used to boost their knowledge and equip them with the skills that have helped them get where they are today. The list below includes all the sources mentioned by our experts:
“Just Enough Research,” by Erika Hall
“The Art of Gathering,” by Priya Parker
“User Story Mapping,” by Jeff Patton
“The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” by Jane Jacobs
“Happy City” by Charles Montgomery
“The Indispensable Community” by Richard Millington
You can also boost your knowledge through checking out the the full webinar for free.