When it comes to managing online communities, it's no different than understanding the simplicity or complexities of beer.
Beer has played various roles throughout history, with records of fermented drinks going back to 3,500 BC when a recipe was found in a poem for Ninkasi (the Mesopotamian god of beer). Though a majority of people who consume the fermented drink may only see it at face value (gettin slizzard), there is an extensive history, and we can easily relate the experience of brewing beer to creating a first community management strategy. Is it a stretch? Perhaps, but I'm sure if you've had a beer, you will quickly find a correlation between the two.
There are of course some caveats and prerequisites prior to even getting to the online community management strategy, such as ensuring you have a content strategy or a product to bring people back to your community. Just know that without a proper strategy and planning, you will end up with a skunky flavor and time wasted. This goes for both beer and online communities.
While some of the more common American beers may be unsophisticated, best remain used for long nights in college, and sloshed around in red solo cups on a beer pong table; for this example we will be using the kind that tells a story, has a history (or perhaps part of it), creates conversation, and of course enhances the flavor food. As you may note, 'gettin slizzard' is not part of that story.
The ingredients here show what it takes to make an extract based Belgian IPA. Each item plays a vital role for the flavor, aroma, color, acidic nature, and strength of the beer.
The following are four attributes you will need to include in your strategy.
If you are building an online community for a company, more likely to be for a product or service, note what kind of conversations these individuals will need. Since we are talking about beer, let's examine what a customer would want from an online community attached to a store that sells homebrew ingredients. Do they need a place to share images initially? Probably not. What about a section for personal recipes and advice for getting started? Absolutely.
Before shaking things up, creating a sense of belonging will be one of the most important aspects as a community manager. While you want to enforce community guidelines, you also want others to help do that for you. The more a member feels integrated with the community, the more likely they will contribute to the ecosystem. You will want to nurture these types of relationships to build power users, and eventually work with them to identify how to continue to improve the platform you are using. The term belonging and beer have a strong history together. Though many today may correlate this sense of intimacy through the bonding of fraternities, more recently regular citizens have been pictured drinking brews with the president. Further, throughout US history our founders and leaders have met at bars and pubs to discuss the future of this country.
Retention will be one of your challenging aspects of your strategy. When you first launch (depending on how you launch), people are expected to be buzzing about the new space. Some times the buzz doesn't happen until a key event occurs and a wave of members begin to adopt your community (example - Digg was redesigned , users hated, majority went to reddit); however, in your strategy you must find ways to build relationships with all member types in your ecosystem. Even if you have lurkers just consuming content, use analytics to find what they read the most and continue to build upon that. For the vocal minority that is your ecosystem, get to know them by being personable. Not all members like to communicate the same way, so find what channel of communication they prefer and pursue it. Keep in mind though, this may be your job, but don't be fake about building these relationships. It should go without saying that a community manager who does not already love their community will have a difficult time in this aspect. For beer, retention is important when it comes to the head or foam. This is often a sign of a well crafted beer with a strong body.
Experiment, experiment, and experiment some more. Some online communities do well with absolutely no changes and minimal design tweaks; however, the majority of them will require constant change to ensure user expectations are met. If you are managing a community for a product or service, your primary focus will be to relay what members want out of those; however, you still need to be sure members are able to participate with a great ease of use. This is usually tested prior to launching a community, but as more members enter, you will have a greater amount of feedback to work with. If a chat system doesn't work well, replace it; no method or private messaging? Try adding one; Users requesting a way for real-time communication? Help organize it. When brewing beer, experimentation is equally important. With new flavors come new interest and more mouths in just the same way experimenting with an online community or product would result in.
Working on an online community takes a great deal of time. Remember when marketers said having a branded social media presence was free? This is the same situation, as the cost associated with online communities comes from the amount of time and effort put into it. Even if you are just preparing to launch your community, you would be wise to incorporate crisis plans into your strategy. Whether it be for the day your products server goes down and need to communicate where to get the latest information, or even when an influx of users join and with it a wave of trolls. Hard work pays off, and community managers need to always be attentive to the ecosystem. Work and beer may not sound like they belong, but crafting a well bodied brew requires patience and preparation. If you do not have a plan (recipe) prior to mixing your ingredients, you are just asking for a disastrous concoction (wort). Put in the work up front, and you will see how it pays off with the completed product.
Depending on the situation, you may or may not recall specifically your first experience with beer. Mine was the result of mistaken identity, and thinking my dad's Old Style beer at the Cubs game was apple juice. Needless to say I was young, and promptly never had an interest touching it again until college. This of course brings me to an important caveat.
Many of us who are wanting to create a strategy might be seeing apple juice rather than beer. They may look the same, but they are completely different in all aspects besides the color. Similar, just because you can participate in an online community as a power user, it doesn't mean you can create or even assist with its growth in the same manner.
Participating may have a sweet flavor, where as building or managing a community can be quite bitter. However, like beer, a bitter flavor is all part of what makes the final product something sophisticated. You must look at the big picture, rather than the needs of yourself or one user type. In fact there is an entire online community ecosystem.
Though many today may correlate this sense of intimacy through the bonding of fraternities, more recently regular citizens have been pictured drinking brews with the president.