Community Management – gardeners or managers?

I’ve recently been having a discussion with some friends at the RSA Digital Engagement team about how to moderate a community. The main thrust of the discussions have been around cultivating or managing.

Cultivating a community
Cultivating a community should be about building knowledge and experience within the community, so it builds as a knowledge community. The word ‘manager’ creates the sense that as an organisation you  are building the community on your terms, not the advocated and enthusiasts. It should formulaic, rigid, and flexible.

The reason online communities thrive is because they have a purpose or common goal / passion.  That community will have a preference which platform they use (blog / Ning / forum) and will grow into a self moderating group, where knowledge is shared amongst the many.

Cultivating vs Managing
Managing an online community is like gardening.  It’s about having a framework that you will grow and cultivate conversations within. You will nurture conversations similar to how you might nurture a plant – with a bit of focus, attention, input and patience (and a dabble of time).

I suppose it the difference between drift planting and letting plants grow in a more organic way compared to the more traditional formal planting in rows and boxes.

Moderators vs Strategists
There’s also the difference between what moderators and strategist do which has an impact on how communities run.  Having the hands on skills to cultivate conversations, engage people in conversations and generate content which keeps people reading are very much of the skill sets of a moderator / manager.

There’s then the community strategist who more looks after the IT, platform, plugins, apps and overarching strategy of the community.  Which is more about the analysis of who are the key lurkers and how can we get these people engaged or how do we ensure the platform has the capacity to handle a significant growth in users.

Getting stuck in vs strategic approach
Too often people launch a blog (which is a community in a very simple sense) without planning on what the aim or objective of the campaign / community is. As technology grows and the online world grows in importance, people will spend more time on communities where there’s a sense of place, purpose, vibe and engagement.

To ‘Joe Blogs’ they’ll just think they enjoy posting on a brands Facebook page or commenting on a blog. However the more they do that, the more engaged with a brand they become.  Community management will become a key USP in growing brand awareness and loyalty.

So the key aspects of how a community is managed will determine the overall impact and loyalty customers will have with their brands.  That level of engagement isn’t that far away, in fact you can see that this trend is already beginning to emerge with the early adopters.  So brands need to be savvy and pilot what their response is to community management so they are ahead of the curve.

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