The Rules of Online Community Engagement: If You Build It, Will They Come?

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Beyond the ‘Role'

More important than the role, so to speak, are the attributes of the individuals filling it. The face or voice of any community should be a committed individual who will reach out to community members, encourage them, value them, and make sure they know their presence is appreciated on a daily basis. They will trouble-shoot, sympathize, empathize, and make things happen. If there is no one actively engaging with users and doing so with a purpose, the community will cease to exist.

That said, community managers have a tall task. So what's the most important role of a community manager? I threw that very question out to my Twitter network and received several interesting answers. Martin Reed, author of the blog Community Spark and creator of the online community Female Forum, said the role of a community manager is to facilitate, encourage, and develop relationships. Blogger and veteran copywriter Scott Hepburn said the most important role is that of host: making introductions, announcements, and fulfilling needs. Community manager Holly Seddon stressed the importance of respect. She says you must respect members but at the same time maintain an ability to keep coherent boundaries in place. Deb Ng agrees. As community manager of Blog Talk Radio and co-creator of Kommein, a website focused on community building, she feels the most important jobs for a community manager are to keep the lines of communication open and to foster relationships.

You Can't Force an Online Community

In a post on the blog Branding David, author David Peralty mentions very matter-of-factly four words that anyone who has attempted to bring people together online and form communities is quite familiar with and knows to be gospel: You can't force community. You can build it, foster it, cultivate it, and shape it. You can nurture it, believe in it, and support the members who make it what it is on a daily basis. But you can't force it. Keep in mind that shared interests bring people in a community together, and online communities can only thrive if people visit regularly and spend a good amount of time when they do visit. And given the fact that no one willingly wastes this precious commodity, it should be a major priority to create experiences that are worthy of their time and make them want to return and give even more of it.

In a nine-page document called "Richard Millington's Online Community Manifesto," author Millington writes about some of the things we need to know about communities: "We need to know what motivates people. We need to know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We need to know how to create communities founded on these motivations."9 A good community manager will strive to learn those things about the community. Once learned, it's easy to take what you know and keep the community engaged. When you're running a voluntary ship where time is donated and can't be bought, you're left with only one option and that's to earn it. I want to help you do just that. In my book, I will share what I know and some of the things I've learned from others while managing the online community GOLO.com, from its infancy to its current status of more than 11,000 members with dozens joining every day.

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