One of my “side” projects just turned 1 and the last 365 days have been insane.
I could probably write a book about it: 12 chapters, 1 for each month. Want to know something I find fascinating? I can actually remember what happened each month by just looking at the traffic and metrics. Neat, huh?
So here are some preliminary thoughts about off the top of my head as I look back into the murky pathway that lead me here (by accident or on purpose… yet to be determined): now over 3 Million Pageviews, nearly 10,000 members, conversations galore, visits from literally around the globe (every country that has internet), and traffic to die for.
Launched November 10th, 2007, the site got some critical acclaim by the likes of Mashable, TechCrunch, Kotaku, and others. Major spike it traffic that could really never again be duplicated. The floodgates opened. Servers fried, bandwidth was suck dry, and hours of sleepless nights were upon me.
It was great.
But it wasn’t without it’s issues. Managing a burgeoning community online is really nothing different than real communities offline. And that’s lesson learned #1.
1. Online Communities have the same issues and problems that real communities have.
As obvious (or not as obvious) as this may sound I learned it very quickly. All types of people join a community: The happy, the sad and depressed, the lonely, the trolls/flamers, the confused, the egotistical, the lamers, the genuinely awesome, the nice, the not-so-nice, the “controllers”, the pacifists… etc.
Every type of “person” you can think of is there. Diverse is the right word. And that’s a good thing, but what that means is that the problems of an every day human being are there too.
Managing expectations, arguments, vented frustrations, conflicts, haterisms… was daily (but thank goodness for advanced technology, reporting, and account banning/termination!).
And that brings us to #2.
2. If the technology you use doesn’t aid you in managing a community effectively, throw it away.
Again, this is probably a “no duh” type of lesson here but it’s one that’s not so obvious at first, and you don’t know it until you find yourself up in the early AM trying to manage a he-said-she-said type scenario and you’re asking yourself “why?”
Make sure you’re using the right technology for the right crowd. Do some really great planning (and I mean really really good planning) and chart out where and what and how your community may engage.
Stay ahead of their needs but also stay ahead of your own. Building a startup from scratch means that you can’t pay anyone to moderate and that you don’t have any of those “trusted” community members yet to help navigate the madness.
And that leads us to lesson learned #3.
3. Give away the community as soon as you possibly can.
What I mean by this is find the people who are passionately engaged with the content and the site and give them “rights” and “control”. This helps them understand that there’s a level of trust, and that you’re more interested in the community being theirs than your own.
This also aids the other fellow n00bs coming in as they recognize that there are actual flesh and blood people managing the site, not some corporate giant stuck in an office building doing. It’ll help engender a real sense of community, not a contrived or controlled one.
Finally, giving away the community into the community’s hands also has helped me do a lot of the management of the people. They combat spam, delete flame posts, and help be “arbiters of neutral justice” and keep things in line. They also evangelize like no other and free marketing is the best kind of marketing, and that’s lesson learned #4.
4. Managing a Community is also about managing a constantly evolving marketing initiative and brand.
This may not make complete sense, but it is so very important. Managing a growing community is also about making sure the right message is being conversated, discussed, and spoken outside the walls of the immediate community.
This can be a little nebulous but the impact is dramatic, and managing this brand image is all a part of messaging. Now, you have to give up some of the control (and this really isn’t a choice) but guiding your community to the right messages is possible.
As a result, the community grows in the right direction, even as things may change along the cultural and technological landscape… which leads me to my 2nd to last thought for the day.
5. Change is to be expected: Be ready to roll with the punches (and then get up).
We went through changes like no ones business. Every type of possible change, from the business side, to the design, to the technology, to the infrastructure, to the landscape of personalities… we went through it all.
But this wasn’t the surprise; I knew that that would happen. The surprise was at how rapid a pace these things occured and how quickly a community manager has to respond, or die.
An online community, for the most part, is fairly malleable, and I say that with caution; they can only take so much change, but with the right ingredients they’re willing to follow you. There’s so much about this in Seth Godin‘s “Tribes” that I could cry (I wish I had that when I first started) but I’m glad I learned it with the Godinizing.
The big lesson though was learning about how willing, ready and open the community was to change and how quick they rallied behind the changes and killed nonsense and negativity from those that were overly critical and didn’t really care much for the community anyways. And this leads us finally to my last closing thought on the previous 365 days:
6. The community will defend their caretakers and leaders.
Wow. This was a fantastic and eye-opening learning experience for me and one that I will continue to hold dear as I work in the online community space: If you nurture and care for your community, they will return the favor.
I could probably write much more on #6 alone, but I’ll leave it at that. There are much more learning opportunities out there and I’m still learning daily.
It’s an exciting time to be a “community manager,” in whatever community and/or tribe you’re leading.
Are you doing it well?