When going about your role as a Social Media or Online Community Manager, there are a number of key principles which are at the centre of any community building initiatives.
Here are ten listed below. Can you think of any more?
1. A true community appreciates that some people are more knowledgeable than others about what works and what doesn't, but that everyone has something to offer.
By ensuring the community's vision is explained clearly, visitors can naturally place themselves into various social groups defined at an organisational level, whether that's as resident experts, emotional supporters, or those requiring guidance. The community can then grow together and respond to new situations positively. There are unrecognised talents in all communities; as Community Manager you just need to unearth them.
2. A true community is founded on the basis that relationships are what sustain it.
A continuous effort to build and feed relationships between members and the organisation, as well as between each other, is necessary. If you see them form, encourage and strengthen them. If you don't, connect people and try to ignite them. If they are thriving in one area, harness them to work towards a common goal.
3. A true community has an over-riding motivation to act as action is deemed more important than endless discussion.
With your paid staff (if you're lucky to be able to call on them!) you don't have to hope for action, you can expect it. However who are not paid to participate will generally only act when they feel it is either very important to do so, or necessary for their survival within the community. Watch and listen for motivations for action, whether these are dreams to realise, talents to grow or feel valued for, or concerns to resolve.
4. A true community looks to align common goals rather than exchange and barter time or services.
Key words are collaboration and communication in order to see through common projects. Hierarchies and silos are to be avoided, and replaced with shared ownership of ideas and processes that lead to success, group problem solving, and above all a desire to commit and work towards the vision of the community.
5. A true community offers professional, emotional, financial, philosophical, physical or political growth for members.
As each member of the community invests their time and effort in supporting or guiding others, the community as a whole becomes more successful at reaching the stated goals, whether earning money, authority, visibility, or growth. This contributes to the deeper meaning and higher purpose of the community in the minds of its members.
6. A true community places its members at the centre of its governance, reinforcing the value of contributions rather than encouraging passivity.
Creating key roles for some of your community leaders in positions of governance for community initiatives will encourage a feeling of belonging and transparency, as well as empowerment. By doing so you shift the relationship your members have with your organisation from being recipients or clients (when your community leaders help you) to actors or citizens (when they are masters of the direction the initiatives take and how they are accomplished).
7. A true community realises that turning the organisation inside-out is the way to create a sustainable and successful partnership.
When you allow your community members into the organisation and give them a voice in the direction it takes and how it achieves goals, you are ensuring they feel a sense of control over the source they rely upon to meet their needs. As Community Manager your role is to assist relationship building as an organiser to ensure the members' (or their leaders) agenda is given due and transparent consideration.
8. A true community has a structure that encourages leaders to involve others.
You should always strive to involve others rather than horde initiatives, whether yourself as Community Manager or your appointed or self-appointed community leaders. Whether active members or other communities or organisations, a group needs to be mobilised and encouraged to take the reins. This encourages the development of influence, trust and strong relationships, and will grow your community with people willing and capable of taking action.
9. A true community listens carefully during one to one or group discussions so as to discover each other's motivations and invite participation in community initiatives.
Encouraging your members to be civil and listen to each other, rather than promoting their own agenda, will help on this point. As the Community Manager, you can deploy forms, surveys, and listening or sentiment tools to guide your relationship building efforts.
10. A true community asks questions rather than gives answers, in order to invite increasing levels of participation.
The lazy option is for us to provide an expert on a podium and have them answer our community's questions, solving their issues and providing clear paths to follow in resolving problems. The most powerful way of engaging your community is to invite its members to address and answer their questions by working towards and finding their own answers and courses of action. The organisation and the Community Manager can then step in to support and help in seeing these solutions through.
BONUS: A true community will be open and not prone to arbitrary selection when offering opportunities to participate in initiatives and discussions.
It's all very well listening, but at some point you must act on what you've learnt. When you have identified a member's talents or knowledge and their motivations to act, you must give them the opportunity to use these by openly offering it. Key actions in community building are asking and inviting via reaching out. This can also be achieved by drafting a mission statement yourself or with the help of your community. Look at successful communities - can you hear that whispered refrain? "Join in. We need you."
Can you think of any other key guiding principles for successful social media and community building and engagement?
[photo by John Spooner]