The Community Glue
Penny Power, Founder of Ecademy, looks at Community Managers and what they can do to help their Social network survive.
Incredible to have this new job title, a Community Manager, 10 years ago people would have thought you were Social Workers, managing issues in inner cities! Now in fact you have the most important role in a Social Network that makes it work or sadly can make it fail. In this article,
A Community Manager is the glue, the person who takes the strategy and intention of the Social Network and subtly creates a ‘feeling’ about how the members of the community should manage one another, manage their conversations and manage the expectations of one another. Some say you are there to keep the peace, others say, stay out, ‘freedom of speech rules’. Balancing this role and keeping everyone happy is an impressive achievement, I asked one Community Manager what he felt was the key attribute to being a Community Manager and he said “having a thick skin.” Never a truer word said in jest.
I could almost ask “Is a Community Manager born with this talent or can it be taught?”. To manage this role requires a great level of intuition, tremendous people skills and a love of people and of systems, a rare bread.
A Community Manager manages the brand within the community, they create the desire for others to take part and they do it all through stealth, no one really knows they are there, 24/7, caring, watching and listening.
To succeed or survive in this role, it is the right of the Community Manager to understand the strategy and direction of the company that they are representing. The ‘atmosphere’ or environment that they create will reflect the brand’s image. Ten Years of being in the firing line for all abuse, anger and prayers that lie within a network has taught me a thing or two, if I had not been involved in the creation of the Brand Ecademy, and had a firm understanding of the outcome that we wanted the member to achieve by their involvement, we would have found it tough to maintain the ‘controls’ that are needed within any community. This has not been without significant pain and without mistakes being made along the way, however, the learning has been that people need to know what to expect when they enter your world, how they should expect to be treated and how to treat others.
I once said that I felt like Bruce Almighty, do you remember the moment in the film that God gave him the job to be God? Jim Carey took full of advantage of this power, then at night the prayers came to him in a rush, unable to sleep for the sound of the whispers he converted them into emails, these jammed up the PC. At this point I knew it, there is a whisper within a Social Network and that whisper can be positive or it can be negative and we hold the responsibility as Community Managers to listen and find ways of making sure that the code that is written and the intention of the business we manage match those prayers.
Survival starts with knowing your role and what part you play in the experience of the member. Community Managers have a responsibility to ensure that their member’s expectations are met, whether for fun, for business, for dating, there is always an expectation. Expectation comes from sharing and ‘buying into’ the intention of the Community you manage. Ask your team “what are we really doing to enhance the lives of our members?”, once you know this, you can communicate and ‘sell-in’ the intention for all to take part in.
I realised early on that we needed to have a culture, an ethos. If I was running a Pub or a Wine Bar, the image I had around the furniture, dress code, food and drink would set the culture, people would know how to behave. Online is harder, how do you establish that you are a Wine Bar and therefore higher manners, polite quiet communication is expected, compared to a pub that allows darts and swearing and everyone who enters can see what to expect? Establishing a Code of Conduct and an Ethos will help all that enter your site to know how to treat one another and how to create their personal brand. Once this is established the community knows how to look for the exceptions to this behaviour and providing they know how to alert you to those people that concern them, you will maintain a happy community.
Finding the balance between acting as a Police Force and acting as Mentors is a tough line. A police force looks for bad behaviour and punishes, Mentors on the other hand, seek out good behaviour and encourages it. Mentors are a far more effective way of maintaining great ethics and unison in the values that you and your team have created; strong values further the cause of the social network toward the Brand’s intention and brand image. Mentors come from within the community, they are volunteers and they understand the management’s values, they also understand the sentiments of their peers within the network. Mentors bridge the gap between the owners of the network and the members and they are the greatest friends that a Community Manager could wish to have.
Being a Community Manager is highly rewarding, you provide access to information and sentiments that are essential for organisations to listen to and act upon, your voice within your company should be strong and you should support your company through hearing the drum beat of opportunities that exist within the network and support your members by listening to their advancing, evolving needs.
A Community is an ecosystem of people and systems, you are the nervous system that carries the information from the brain (the Brand) to the heart, (the members), if you do this well, with sensitivity, humbleness and strength then you will create a heartbeat within your community that grows stronger by the day, and with a strong heart, a person can live on and survive. Survival of the fittest is about adapting, and as a Community Manager you have the ears and eyes that ensure your company can adapt and you can survive.
Penny Power is a published author, a highly engaging speaker and one of the UK’s most inspirational and successful female entrepreneurs. Penny founded Ecademy, the UK’s first social network for business, in 1998 at the age of 33 with her husband Thomas Power. The next ten years have seen Penny successfully grow Ecademy into the global operation it is today, whilst also being a full time mum to her three children. For more information on Ecademy visit www.ecademy.com