There’s a difference between simply being a Community Manager, and being a present Community Manager. Being present means being hyper involved. It means paying attention to new community members as well as old ones and pushing out new content to keep the community fresh and engaged. It’s also a crucial step in the development of a new online community (and less so for those that are more mature).
I like to compare it to being an awesome small town sheriff—everyone knows them and people feel comfortable approaching them about anything. They’re active, and are always monitoring and helping out the townsfolk before they even ask for it. That being said, not being present is more like the sheriff sitting in their cop car eating doughnuts until they’re needed.
Now, that isn’t to say that you have to be a present Community Manager at all times; in fact, this post mostly applies to new communities. Let’s just say that the sheriff can rest easy in their office once they’ve gained a positive reputation around town, but getting that reputation means that they have to be present, at least in the beginning.
That’s because when a community is in the early stages of its life, you, as a Community Manager, are still trying to figure out what makes your community tick. It's just as new to you as it is to your members, and this is the crucial state in building your community culture.
Your Community Culture is Still Developing
Essentially, every community starts with a blank slate. This means that if the behaviors and attitudes within the community aren’t being guided, they have the potential to grow and develop in ways that deviate from the community purpose. Poor attitudes, trolling and unacceptable behaviour could quickly get out of hand and become the norm within your community, which is certainly not what you want.
That’s why it’s important to not only write solid community guidelines and great welcome emails to introduce new members to the community culture, but also to actually be there to ensure that the culture and norms are enforced, encouraged and even rewarded. People need to know what is acceptable and what isn’t, and as the sheriff, it’s your job to make that happen. Once your community has adopted the culture that you want, it will be easy to take a few steps back and allow the community to run itself from time to time.
I’ll give you an example from my own personal experience from one of the communities I run. A few years back, I started a community for those who love collecting stamps (my personal passion). The community was created as a space for enthusiasts to interact, share the love of their hobby, discuss techniques and ask questions. The community was not, however, to be used as a space for trading or selling. In the early days of the community, it wasn’t uncommon to see posts or discussions regarding trading or selling. As the Community Manager, I had to be present at all times to catch these posts and remove them in order to ensure that the community culture developed in the way that I envisioned it.
But being a present Community Manager paid off. Once the community culture was solidified, and the community grew to a size where I could not do it alone, existing members themselves, without my prodding, would warn new members if they saw any offending posts. These new members would, in turn, inevitably remove their posts, apologize and become part of keeping the community a clean space.
In other words, by shaping and enforcing community norms from the very beginning, I was able to create a community culture where the rules were understood and valued; a goal we should all aim for in our communities.
What Is Involved in Being Present?
So now that you have a good understanding of why it’s so important to be a present Community Manager in the early stages of a community, you might be wondering what exactly this looks like.
It’s really just about being hyper involved and doing more than just responding to discussions. As a present Community Manager, you should always be doing things like:
Paying close attention to new users (and encouraging them)
Creating new content (showing the kinds of content you expect)
Identifying members who should be promoted
Identifying members who need to be nurtured
Enforcing community rules and guidelines
Initiating and provoking thoughtful discussions
Identifying the personality types/ segments in your community
Learning what engages your community the most
Cultivating potential moderators as you grow
It’s a comforting feeling for new members to know that someone is ‘minding the store,’ if you know what I mean. This is true with any community, whether it be a support community, a product community, or anything in between. A community is, after all, a community, and as with any new community, there needs to be someone running the show until it can function without you being there every minute.