I was recently fortunate enough to take part in the #cmgrhangout operated by mycmgr.com. The topic under discussion was the recent release of The Community Manager's Survival Guide. It was a great opportunity to talk with with a variety of experienced community managers about the issues presented. Here are a few of the things that I learned from the experience:
Community is Too Varied for “One Size Fits All” Solutions
It’s always easy to imagine that our own experiences are universal, but speaking to different CMs is a great opportunity to drive home how varied community challenges can be. A Twitter user asked the panel how they would handle a moderator who simply went AWOL and stopped performing any duties on the forums. I thought my own answer was pretty good: after a couple of attempts to reach out I’d simply remove them from the list. When Jenn Lebowitz and Kelly McNamara began talking about their own community however, it became apparent how different situations can affect situations like this. They’re the community experts at Health Union, a fantastic project that provides resources and help for people dealing with chronic pain conditions.
In the context of their work, a volunteer moderator may have to take frequent, lengthy absences due to health concerns and other issues. In the context of my work, a moderator is more likely to take a lengthy absence because a new Fallout game has been released. Commensurately, they’re much more sympathetic to these fluctuations in attendance. Their advice helped to remind me that context is everything when it comes to community, and all advice needs to be tailored to the specifics of a given situation.
2. Dealing With Suicide Threats is an Increasing Concern for Community Managers
It’s always a depressing and harrowing discussion to have, but as communities become more and more popular the chances of having to deal with this serious issue increases. Many community managers are having to deal with members who have serious problems and even express suicidal ideation and threats. There are no perfect answers, and no easy way to deal with these situations.
There was agreement on the panel that it’s crucial to focus your efforts on providing resources that the afflicted person can use rather than trying to solve their problems yourself. As community managers, we’re simply not qualified to provide the kind of help that truly vulnerable people need. It’s important to realise that and not try to be a hero. Give people the ability to reach out to the people that can help instead.
3. Variety Can be a Huge Bonus for Community Interactions
Communities are generally built for a specific purpose: whether it’s support, advocacy, internal collaboration or any number of other uses. It’s tempting to focus only on that primary use case to the exclusion of other possible benefits. One might even worry that too much diversity of mission could be a real detractor. I’ve often recommended a reduction of scope to clients myself.
David DeWald (@Historian) told a great anecdote that lends some insight to this: a Home Depot closed down and the land was bought and used to build six bars. A piano bar was next to a hip hop bar, which was next to a line dancing bar etc. Depending on what mood you were in, you had plenty of options. It would be reasonable to expect a culture clash in a case like this, but it never materialised. If you meant someone in a rave bar and wanted to talk to them better, you just go across the hallway to the piano bar.
To me, there’s a lesson about giving your community a variety of ways to interact. This can manifest in a lot of different ways:
- Putting aside room for “chat” categories even in relatively serious communities
- Giving your customers an option of ways to communicate with you, rather than pushing them to what’s easiest for you
- Using success in one area of community to build success in others. Following up a successful live event with an invite to your forum community is a great example