Hurray! We are reaching a point in the evolution of social media where clear definitions are starting to emerge in support of our practice. I have often blogged about the differences within online community building - how there are different types of communities and each unique flavor deserves its own strategy and operational plan in order to succeed. In other words, not all online communities are alike and shouldn't be treated as such.
Recently, my friends over at eModeration in the UK wrote an in-depth research report that addressed the details of creating and supporting Communities of Purpose. I think this is one of the best explanations of the topic out there and I was fortunate to have been a part of the research. This paper focuses on what communities of purpose really are and who is using them (and how); questions brands should answer before setting up a specialist community; the issues facing community managers; and how to overcome those issues, and manage a community of purpose effectively.
I was curious as to why they chose to focus specifically on communities of purpose - or what I call collaboration communities. So I reached out to them to learn a bit more...
Question: What was the reason you chose to focus on this specialized kind of community - are you seeing more of these kinds of communities cropping up at eModeration?
eModeration Answer: Certainly we are. We currently work on quite a few such communities: for example, one focusing on diet and weight loss, another couple for people taking control of their medical conditions, a large community for new parents. And we are seeing short-term, goal-focused communities springing up all the time - the recent UK election was a good example where a single event gave rise to a host of campaigning communities. It's so easy to set up a website - or even just a Facebook group - that communities of purpose are springing up en masse from the grass roots level, and brands can make intelligent use of that need for communication and empowerment.
Question: Do you find that they are more difficult to manage from a moderation point of view than the more consumer focused communities?
eModeration Answer: I'm not sure that 'difficult' is the right word: it's just that they have their own special challenges. In one sense, such communities are a gift to run, because it's likely that you will attract people who really care and rely upon the information, support and contact which it will give them. But you are dealing with a potentially higher degree of churn, often a very high level of sensitivity (for example, Breast Cancer Care, whose community manager Leah Williams also contributed to the white paper), and with goal-focussed communities, the problem of managing its natural lifespan. Add that to the normal challenges of community management and brand participation within a community, and yes, I suppose it does take some specialist care.
Question: What do you think is the best staffing ratio for communities of purpose and how does this differ from consumer communities or what I would call Information Dissemination communities?
eModeration Answer: One of the great things about communities of purpose is that the members are usually very motivated and engaged and as a result there is a propensity to self-govern. The moderation and community management of these types of communities is usually less hands-on and less worrying about low level issues such as swearing, spamming and illegal activity. Having said that if the particular subject matter is very emotive or perhaps there are very different viewpoints (the different styles of parenthood springs to mind here) then flame wars can happen. This is where a consistent and open approach to community management comes in to help de-ruffle feathers.
Question: What are some of the key performance metrics for measuring the success of a community of purpose from your point of view?
eModeration Answer: I don't believe this differs too greatly from other online communities. The main KPIs for any community performance are member registrations, member engagement (how many are actually participating in the community beyond merely reading the community), member rate of return; loyalty (how often are they returning to your community), and number of active users with a certain time period (within the last week, month, year). It's always also worth looking at your moderation statistics such as the total number of flagged incidents (flagged up by members), total number of violations, and the types of violations. This will help to inform your community management strategy in order to help better educate members about the House Rules that are most often being violated.
Question: I know that moderating communities of purpose require a specialized skill set - what do you think are some of the key behaviors or best practice for moderation?
eModeration Answer: At eModeration, we always try to 'match' our moderators to the projects they work on: we assign moderators to projects using our large database of their experience, interests, likes and dislikes because we find (not surprisingly) that people will always perform better when working within an area that interests them and they have experience. This is even more important with Communities of Purpose, where often there is a need for a high level of involvement with the users, sympathy for their situation, and knowledge about the subject. For example, on our site for new parents, we have a resident pregnancy and childbirth expert working, and therefore we can be sure that if any advice is given on the site it will be correct. As for other skills, all people involved in online communities need to develop a very thick skin. They also need to be able to apply guidelines fairly and consistently, have exceptional communication skills, good judgment, empathy, passion and the ability to nurture the community whilst also 'letting go'.
Leader Networks Summary: Thanks to the smart people at eModeration for taking the time to share their expertise (they have lots of great resources in addition to this one on their site)! Skilled moderation is the lifeblood of any successful online community. While business needs to drive the formation of an online community - the business goals and outcomes driven performance - the execution of online communities is best managed by the guiding hands of a moderator or, in the case of larger online communities, a moderation team. The art of knowing how to cultivate and nurture community members' ideas is a critical differentiation of most b2b online communities - from welcoming new members to cultivating a leadership team. In some cases, community moderation is best managed by the organization especially when there is deep subject matter expertise required and in other cases, a moderation partner helps companies support the community with hard to find skills and programmatic process. But in all cases, online community moderation is quickly being recognized as a specialized role best conducted by an experienced professional! Here is a recent blog post where I have described the role of community manager in detail. And here are some top tips for moderating online communities from my book "Fostering Reflective Practice" on moderation (download required). And, of course, be sure to check out the eModeration research report "Moderating Communities Of Purpose" for more nuggets on best practice.