In the latest in my series of interviews with the people who deal with online communities as part of their job, I speak to Ning‘s Laura Gluhanich. Laura started at Ning in 2007 as a Community Advocate. Prior to that, she spent 4 years in restaurant management in her native Michigan. As acting Manager of Support at Ning, she manages the front line of community feedback regarding the platform. She spends her time at http://help.ning.com, http://blog.ning.com, and http://twitter.com/lauragatning.
Here are the 3 things she’s learned about community management:
1. Know and treat your community as individuals
Each person on our platform has created a network or belongs to one. Each member of my team is familiar with hundreds of networks and their Network Creators. This familiarity leads to better support because we know a fan network for a band is different from one that is used to collaborate in the classroom, and can respond to their needs better with that knowledge.
2. Be flexible
Community guidelines are there for a reason, and consistency is key to providing a great environment for people to engage. That said, there will always be unique cases where you will need to be creative with a solution that benefits all involved.
3. Show your humanity
The larger your community gets, the less you are looked at and treated as a real person. It is important to provide context and explanation for changes and decisions, and to admit mistakes to your community. Your communications and online presence should reflect your personality.
1) …and realize that some members will take loads of your time. They will e-mail you several times a day and call you up. 2) …and realize that your members won't be flexible. If it says 'no advertising' then *every* link to a company or product, no matter how on-topic, will be regarded as advertising and results in private e-mails and bashing on the site. 3) … and realize that it takes a lot of self control by times to keep showing humanity. Some members will try and fry you, some will drain all energy. That said, these guidelines are proven and good. Kind Regards, M. (editor civic journalism site)
I think people would be surprised at home much the community managers matter to the members. I manage WRAL.com's online community, GOLO and there are hundreds of people who really feel as though they know me. You have to be a real person. I hosted a small gathering at a local starbucks on our 1-year-anniversary and people met for the first time. The hugs were non-stop and many have developed offline friendships. Despite that, I think that community managers have to be firm and cannot be afraid to be the authority figure they are menat to be. This can be hard when a top poster or community regular does something in violation of the guidelines, but this is where you have to stand firm.