Two unrelated conversations collided in my head yesterday.
I was listening to sports talk radio in the morning and there was a discussion of quarterbacks. The commentator was grading various quarterbacks and every team that is a perennial post season contender had a B+ to A+ quarterback. The conclusion is that teams with mediocre quarterbacks do not make it to the playoffs.
Then I saw a link on Twitter to Dion Hinchcliffe’s blog post on ZDNet post on 12 community best practices. Dion’s best practice #3, Active Community Management is Essential, was my other ah-ha moment.
That got me thinking that quarterbacks and community managers are very similar – a great quarterback can take a team deep into the playoffs and even to the Super Bowl. Likewise, a great community manager can make a community thrive, flourish and grow.
So what separates very good to great (B+ to A+) community managers from the mediocre ones? I would say that the best community managers subscribe religiously to the tenets of “Active Community Management”.
Here are some of the things I did to build and grow the B2B niche Catalyze community (for professionals who design and define software) from 0 to over 4,000 members in 13 months – and things that define “Active Community Management”:
Member communication – I sent out an email update to all members roughly every other week. This communication was critical for making sure that people kept the Catalyze community in the forefront of their mind and made sure that they didn’t miss any key content. These emails consistently achieved 35-40% open rate and 30-40% click-thru rates – and boosted site traffic significantly each time. If I had to mention two things that made Catalyze successful, I would say that it was the bi-weekly emails along supplemented with robust content.
Content generation – Fresh content in a community is key whether it is in the form of discussions, uploaded articles and links or blog posts. I spent 20% of my time each week searching and posting relevant content for the Catalyze community. Community managers need to ensure that their community always has fresh content.
Day-to-day management – On a daily basis, there are a multitude of tiny tasks that are critical to maintaining a community. For me, these tasks ranged from reviewing every new member’s profile, updating permissions, answering questions, listeng to what the members are saying, reviewing and moderating posts where necessary, contacting bloggers, lining up webcast speakers, moderating monthly webcasts, validating community uptime and response time, and keeping an eye on competitor sites. I always had a browser window or tab open to our community site, and checked frequently from home at night and on weekends. As far as competitor sites, I actually posted comments and blogs in one of our competitor’s sites using my corporate identity instead of my community manager identity. This allowed me to re-purpose content from Catalyze while getting airtime for my real employer (and driving the competitor community manager crazy).
Analysis – Statistics were very important to understanding and tracking our success. I updated and analyzed stats on a weekly basis by combining information from our vendor and from Google Analytics (note that weekly trending was important to understand the health of a community over time). On a monthly basis, I did a more thorough analysis of member registration information to identify different trends. I always wanted to do more analyzing data of our community and member behavior, but was limited by our platform’s capabilities.
Marketing, guerilla marketing and brand evangelism – To keep the flow of new members at an even clip, I was constantly looking for opportunities to boost or promote our community. I posted comments in Yahoo Groups, added my 2 cents to blog posts while searching for new content, followed and made friends with people on Twitter, and participated in other social media sites. Catalyze was able to consistently add 50-75 new members per week through a variety of these efforts.
Vendor/platform coordination - No platform is bug-free and there are always little (or big) features that need to be tweaked, tested and updated. I was in constant contact (near daily) with Isaac Hazard, Maureen Condon and others from the Mzinga team who provided the platform for Catalyze. Whether you outsource your community platform to a third party (my recommendation) or use internal IT resources, my tip is to have your vendor or IT staff on your IM, so you can get in contact with them whenever you need them.
Community strategy – This is one area where I wished that I had could spend more time, but it usually fell to the bottom of the to-do list – or I thought about it, but didn’t have the bandwidth to act. Since many Catalyze members were usability and customer experience people, it was important for me to continue to push the envelope on improving how our community looked and felt. Great community managers find a way to delegate some of their tasks to make time for strategic thinking.
So are you willing to accept mediocrity for your community manager? The good news is that the salary price differential between mediocre community managers and very good to great community managers is probably not as great as in the quarterback market – but you should expect to pay up for someone who has actively practiced ‘Active Community Management’.