In a previous post, I explained that your Community Manager is not a glorified marketeer, and that you should value building trust in your online communities. Without trust, your community cannot achieve its potential as either a source of information or revenue, or more generally as a vibrant extension of your brand.
There are many ways in which to nurture trust within an online community, regardless of whether it is located in forums on your website or around a Facebook or Twitter presence.
1. Lead by example
As the Community Manager, you are in the prime position to set the tone of your community, and your community will often reflect your own behaviour. Also, you are the single authority figure so members will naturally look to your for guidance on what your community is all about. Leading by example is simply what you must do to ensure a healthy virtual space and promote strong relationships between you and your participants, and participants between themselves.
Your community members will start to mimic what you do, so make sure you're welcoming new users, supporting them through hard times and offering advice and information when possible. Abide by your own rules at all times, and promote your values through your behaviour. Eventually members will take up the mantle naturally and do this for you.
2. Get personal
If your community members feel anonymous and unrecognised, they won't develop a bond with your brand and won't remain attached with your community for long. By personalising your approach and communication you can make your participants feel valued and develop trust in the worth of contributing to your community.
If you send out automated emails, ensure you are using their first name entered at the beginning. When responding to people, at the very least call them by their username rather than a generic welcome. Have a visual leaderboard on your sidebar or promote a comment or photo of the week in a features slot. If your community is still small to medium, try to keep track of a few people a week and ask them about events in their lives. If you have a larger community, this doesn't scale well so get your volunteer hosts to select a few people each week to develop a relationship with, or set up a welcoming committee.
3. Be honest
Authenticity is always mentioned as one of the keys to being trusted, but isn't often defined clearly. If you try to be someone or something you are not, your community will eventually see through your act and lose respect, and by extension trust, in you.
Don't lie to your members. If you think an improvement will take 3 weeks instead of 2 to be released, tell them the truth. If you genuinely believe in a stance you have taken, say so and explain why. Don't try to please everyone all of the time; it's impossible and your efforts will unravel eventually.
4. Accept you're human
Sometimes, us humans mess things up. As a Community Manager, as much as you will strive to follow all your processes and aim to be infallible, you will make mistakes. Beyond minimising regularity, the trick to overcome these moments is in the recovery. Always try to correct your mistake, whether that's following up the the community member affected or publicly announcing a change to your procedures to ensure it doesn't happen again. Mistakes are often made through tiredness - avoid them by reading 7 tips on achieving work/life balance as a Community Manager.
Should the situation escalate, here are some tips on how to deal with the fallout from putting your foot in it. Dealing with negative feedback or your community turning on you.
5. Be knowledgeable & share
Whether your community is about golfing or poker, try and learn as much as you can about the topic. People are more willing to trust those they perceive to help them make better decisions. This is why your most active and influential members are so important to your community, as participants will congregate around them. In line with the point on leading by example, act as a Maven and dish out as much advice as you can that adds value to your community.
Take the time to understand what your community's personal challenges and issues are, and attempt to address them yourself or encourage others to provide solutions. Investigate every intricacy of the product you might be promoting and share tips and guides about how best to use it.
6. Maintain consistency
If you think of how a parent raises a child, one of the important behavioural traits they display is consistency, whether in reward, tone of voice or punishment. Your community will not trust you if you do not remain consistent in your actions. Try to treat everyone the same, and stay true to your public behavioural policies, or you will quickly be accused of favouritism and flakiness.
As a Community Manager, you want people to feel comfortable with your presence. If you are erratic, your participants will not feel safe and secure in your hands. They won't know what behaviour they need to display and the more problematic elements will start prodding the grey areas to get a reaction and test your boundaries.
7. Let it go
Sometimes, people just don't want to be part of your community anymore. It could be that they don't like you rules, other participants, or the overall tone of your community. Maybe their life has just moved on and they don't visit as often and want to clean up after them. It could be that you send out too many emails or they are looking for attention.
Whatever the reason, begging them to stay or ignoring their request to be removed from your database will not endear you to them. At the least, action their request. If you can, ask them why they want to be removed or wish to leave your community; this will provide you with some insight into any potential issues you can address.
8. Don't give up
As I concluded in a previous post, every time you forget to attend to one of the fundamentals, you will lose a tiny fraction of your trust. As the occasional one-off this isn't harmful, but let it happen too often and your community's distrust will creep up on you.
You can spend weeks and months building up a trusting environment, nurturing a positive and open atmosphere. Don't destroy it by failing to keep up with the list above; trust is fragile and vital to the health of your community.
Can you suggest any other tips on how to build up trust in online communities? Have you seen any examples of trust being easily damaged?
[photo by Andres B]
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