This blog post was written by Susan Chavez. Susan is a nonprofit consultant and social media manager for The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.

Jeska Dzwigalski presenting at the OCTribe meetupMarch's TechSoup Online Community Meetup, featured Jeska Dzwigalski of Wikia addressing the topic of online community management. Jeska's presentation, "Engaging Community Collaboration: Three Things Community Managers Can Do to Help Communities be Heard," provided straightforward and practical advice on community management. The presentation addressed how to encourage and manage community collaboration by keeping the following three recommendations in mind:

1. Identify Smaller Groups

Communities are made of people and large communities are made up of smaller groups of people. Rather than try to directly manage the entire community it is easier to manage subsets of the larger group. Groups tend to self-organize and can be identified by finding those who share passions, values, and needs. Talking with a smaller group helps frame and focus conversations. Most importantly, reaching out to smaller groups or group leaders is more conducive to creating openness and cultivating a feedback loop necessary to gauge and respond to the attitudes and needs of the community.

2. Don't Second Guess Yourself

As a community manager it is important to stand by your decisions and actions. A community manager will not be able to make everyone in the group happy and, in fact, will face discord. It is valuable to listen to your community, consider their opinions when making decisions, and communicate the reasons for your decisions. However, it is important to keep in mind that as the community grows and evolves policies might be become outdated and will have to evolve accordingly. Community managers must allow themselves room to make adjustments and even to fail. When this happens it is critical to not give in to criticism and trolls and to determine next steps, keep moving, and apologize, if necessary.

3. Lead by Example

A community manager sets the tone and tenor for the community. Highlight good community citizenship by celebrating individual and group success. Identify your best contributors and mentor them, keeping in mind that your best contributors might not be your most vocal contributors so you will have to reach out to them. Do not be afraid to look as if you are playing favorites as recognizing and rewarding community stalwarts can only increase their loyalty and reinforce models of good citizenship among the larger group.

In Conclusion

At the conclusion of the presentation, Jeska got the conversation going by asking the audience what community management strategies have worked for them. She led the group by first offering one of her own tips, one that more community managers should consider taking up: to bring it offline. Jeska suggested that community managers organize meetups and attend fan gatherings with the intention of talking to as many community members as possible. Taking it offline allows for the opportunity to connect with the dedicated but shy community members who play a valuable but silent role in helping maintain community cohesion. Based on her experience, Jeska considers it important for community managers to try to take the lead to create opportunities for offline engagement and to connect members to one another.

In turn, members of the audience shared their own community management suggestions and challenges. Audience members spoke of the challenges of dealing with rapidly growing communities, making the difficult decision to take back privileges of group leaders and how to handle once-active members who have started to withdraw from the community.

Audience members responded to one another's challenges and questions by offering suggestions based on their own community management experience such as: engaging hardcore supporters with incentives, giving strong supporters some level of administrative or moderator access, taking it offline over the phone when traversing distances is problematic, and simply accepting that the community will evolve over time.

Although the members of the meetup audience, both in person and on Second Life, drew from their individual experiences with different communities it was valuable to ultimately find that the advice given during the presentation and discussion was equally applicable to all.

Photo: rikomatic

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