My professional life and daily operations are permeated by people who want or need something, as I am sure is an experience shared by all. "Do you have? Could we meet? Can you do?" These are the work-a-day request that fill our voice mail and email to the brim. Now, these are not all bad things, as they mean job security and demand. But once in a while, wouldn't it be nice to receive a give instead of take request? And then it happened a few days ago.
The community manager of a professional online community I belong to (and am really not that active in) reached out to me with an unsolicited gift - it was a personal email acknowledging my membership and a link to an article about online communities. Boy was I delighted by this rare experience!
Having run B2B professional online communities for decades, I always advise practicing the art of community giving religiously. "Keep the balance," I frequently advise my community managers and always endeavor to give three gifts to every single take request. Despite the way I run my online communities, this wonderful happening of receiving a gift from a community organizer is still an uncommon occurrence. Perhaps the recent attention companies are paying to measuring ROI has clouded the true intention of community - to serve and delight a membership group. Perhaps even the time it takes for a community manager to prepare their monthly metrics is so laborious that they now suffer from lack of time to tend to their flock of members. But member care is an essential part of running a successful online community.
What giving over taking means in practice is that for every single time a community manager would request a member do something for the benefit of the community, it is essential that they keep a mental (and spreadsheet) score to ensure that the offers were more frequent than the requests. If a community manager asks a member to respond to another member's post or upload a document, or fill out a profile or...or...or... (as the Community Manager's list of needs from members usually are lengthy!) they need to tally those time demands and conceive of future ways to add time to a member's day or enhance their professional life in some way. In some cases, that means offering to make an introduction between the giving member and another member in a way that could be mutually beneficial, or maybe it means responding to an unanswered question with a researched response without being asked. Or simply send a thank you note for assistance provided with a link to an article that may be of interest to them. These "knowledge gifts" are priceless in today's streamlined economy as professionals have less and less time to even get their every day jobs done. And they often work to inspire a less involved member to take a more active role.
Now one could argue that this type of personalization is only feasible in smaller or private online communities. And, I do acknowledge that the community manager's role in making human connection is much easier in some ways in online communities under 10,000 members and especially in gated communities where details of membership are well known (role, title, company etc.) However, even in larger or mega communities, such personal efforts are still possible; they just require a bit more innovation and a lot more attention to process such as a well defined outreach database where ad hock outreaches to members are dutifully cataloged so that overlaps and redundancy doesn't occur. And the outreach gives (and takes) take a bit more creativity as these is less known about the members, but it is entirely possible to accomplish even in communities with larger membership numbers such as tech support forums.
In the community world, each member is a wonderful thing! There is a reason that every single community tracks new membership numbers-it is because every member counts! So it is the community managers' job and duty to give to their members with features that matter, content that is relevant and human connections. It is the connection aspect that differentiates an online community from a web site. After all, without active members, there is no community. So, I raise the question what have you given to your members today?