Whether it’s a Facebook Group, LinkedIn Group, Twitter Chat, blog or a patient support community on a private platform, building and maintaining a vibrant online community requires vigilance and dedicated management. This has become so clear to me as I’ve looked at the data from two online communities we developed for clients – one which we actively manage and one which the client has chosen to operate on its own without the involvement of a community manager.
These communities were built seven months apart from one another. They were built in exactly the same manner. They feature the same type of content. Interesting, the community that is floundering was the first to be launched and experienced early success while my firm managed its growth in the first 12 months. Once there was no longer a dedicated community manager, the group’s growth leveled off and eventually began to decline.
Community #1 – Only Intermittent Management
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You’ll notice that in Community #1 traffic leveled off between 2011 and 2012 despite a very strong start in 2010/2011 (while being actively managed). Then traffic dropped precipitously in 2013 and continues to drop in 2014.
Community #2 – Ongoing Community Management
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In Community #2 traffic has increased steadily every year and the overall numbers are significantly higher than the traffic for Community #1. Now in its fourth year, it has achieved 176,698 visits, while Community #1 has achieved only 62,904 visits over four and half years.
Although, there is a huge discrepancy in the number of visits between the two communities, there is a more significant difference in the number of subscribers for each. Community #1 has only 68 subscribers while Community #2 has attracted 2,660 subscribers. This is so important because these are people who have registered and opted-in to receive updates whenever new content is posted on the community. In the example of Community #2, subscribers are the life-blood of the community.
You’re Hosting a Dinner Party
The example I’ve given above is very simple – but also very real. The point is that communities, to be successful, require nurturing and support. These groups require daily attention and moderation. In a recent presentation I compared it to hosting a dinner party. As the sponsor of the community (Facebook Group, Linkedin Group, Twitter Chat, blog, etc.) you are the host. As the host, it is your job to create and maintain a hospitable and safe environment. Your job includes welcoming people, making introductions, introducing people who may have common interests, prompting conversation, suggesting topics, and filling those awkward silences. If you think about it in this way, it will help you to understand your role as the community manager. You should make yourself available to answer questions and to uncover resources. And you need to be a good conversationalist. You should show an interest in your guests; ask questions and get people to talk about themselves. As the host, you should always be gracious and generous – always being attentive to the top contributors and new members.
In short, if people make an effort to visit your community, you need to reward them by being attentive and supportive. It is not enough to provide the platform or just throw the dinner party. You have to actively play the role of host. If you’ve ever had a dinner party of your own, you know that the host is busy all night long making sure that everyone else is having a good time. That’s what it takes to be successful in the world of online communities.