Community Management: Be Subtle, Loosen Your Grip

The role of community manager requires tact, subtlety and patience. The staffer charged with this job must speak softly (or not at all), carry a small stick (and rarely use it) and be tuned in to the constant social media chatter. The community manager listens well, speaks little, and observes much. Andy Shaindlin at Alumni Futures likened community managers to the tarsier; read his entire post to get the full story and how it fits in to your social media strategy.

But some communications professionals still show fear when it comes to social media; they see giving up control as uncomfortable or just plain scary. Instead of taking on the role of community manager, they want to maintain a firm grip on their social media presence – translating their policies from previous forms of communications (print, for example).  Resisting adaptation can actually generate a negative effect on your social media presence. Here’s how:

Too much “guidance” can rot a group from within. There is a fine line between community management and all-out dictatorship. “You may join this group, but you must use it in the following ways…”  Telling people how they must use the group instead of letting them use it the way they want to is a good way to get people to leave your group and congregate elsewhere.

Trying to look like you belong means you probably don’t. Staff need to fly under the radar. Disingenuous posts will stick out immediately to members of the group: “Wasn’t ABC Event this year totally awesome?” and “That was the best XYZ ever!” won’t fly. They’ll actually repel users who feel like their space has been invaded by “the administration.”

Quick responses make you look defensive. Be patient. Speak softly, if you speak at all.  If someone posts something that’s inaccurate or just plain out of line, give the community the first shot at policing the situation. Odds are someone else will set things right, which leads to a more healthy and active group.

Obviously there are gray areas, and there is no cookie cutter approach to monitoring and maintaining social media. Sometimes the community manager needs to apply a firm hand to maintain the overall health of a group. That could mean kicking people out, deleting posts, and even shutting down a group entirely. I simply ask that you consider such measures with careful contemplation and strategic thinking instead of reactionary, short-term solutions.

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One Response to Community Management: Be Subtle, Loosen Your Grip

  1. Your recommendations are spot-on, Liz. I interviewed the executive director of the Yale Alumni Association in the late 1990s after some particularly inflammatory and factually incorrect material was distributed to Yale alumni via the YAA-sponsored listservs. He forbade the staff from responding; what they did was to send influential community members fact sheets and they responded to the untruths. Eventually, the conversations died down as people lost interest and the community self-corrected.

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