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What’s the State of Your Online Community?

Lori Halley 10 July 2013 0 comments

What does your online community look like? Are you successful in engaging members or supporters?

What exactly is an “online community”?

The Wikipedia definition of “online community” explains that it is “a virtual community that exists online and whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership ritual. An online community can take the form of an information system where anyone can post content, such as a Bulletin board system or one where only a restricted number of people can initiate posts, such as Weblogs....”

Each organization – from private companies to non-profits and associations – has its own unique online community that it creates and nurtures. In a post a while back (What Makes a Successful Online Community?), Rebecca Leaman suggested that “it’s the members’ level of engagement with an online community that determines whether that community will flourish or fail, not the technology “bells and whistles” of the community’s website. After all, a vital online community can be created across multiple platforms — cross-pollinating your organization’s blog with an online discussion forum, reaching out into Facebook and other social media, and so on.”

The value of online community management

Recently, the Community Roundtable released a report from their 2013 State of Community Management research initiative. The Value of Community Management report offers insight into what community management looks like and the value of community management. And as Joe Rominiecki (Associations Now) suggested in a recent postthis report shows a clear ROI for the active care and feeding of your online member community....[and] also goes a long way in defining what that investment in ongoing management should look like. “

What I found particularly interesting, was the report’s section on “The Value of Community Management”:

Briefly stated, it’s the ability to create a successful community that is not only generating value by engaging with existing content, but also proactively contributing to the creation of it.

The biggest finding of our research was quantifying just how much active community management correlates with high levels of engagement. Most community management professionals are familiar with the 90-9-1 rule) of online engagement and some communities do track very well to that engagement pyramid. But many question this rule because it can be unreliable or an underestimate.

Who is managing these online communities?

The report also offered an overview of community managers – the “hubs” whose role is to “make the boundaries of their organizations more porous in order to increase the responsiveness of their organization to the market it serves. They also play similar roles internally – connecting the organization to itself in ways not always easy in a hierarchical and functional environment.” According to their research, a typical community manager has around 8 years of work experience, with 3-4 years in community management.

As Maggie McGary noted in a recent post about the report on SocialFish:

  • Successful community management is not a role delegated to the least experienced members of a team. Findings showed that, on average, community managers have about eight years experience and three years of community management experience. These are not interns running successful communities; they are experienced professionals with experience across many disciplines and with varied skillsets.
  • Technical skills are not the primary requirements for community managers. Forget looking for a community manager based solely on whether they use Facebook and Twitter or tasking tech gurus with community management. Engagement and people skills ranked highest in importance on the survey, followed by content development and strategic and business skills. Building community is about engaging with people, not using tech tools.
  •  Community management is not just one person’s job. ...Community management is a huge job that spans across entire organizations and for a mature community, tasking just one person with all facets of community management is too much. ...

What about online communities at associations?

After reading the Community Roundtable report, Joe Rominiecki (Associations Now) noted that he was: “left with one major question about online community management, especially as it relates to associations":

For most for-profit companies, an online community for customers, users, or staff is clearly supplemental to the core product. ... At an association, on the other hand, community doesn’t merely support the core product; community in many ways is the core product. So, I wonder if the role of community management at an association must be more dispersed. Shouldn’t every staff member in membership and volunteer relations be a skilled online community manager? And staff in a lot of other member-facing departments—meetings, education, publications, and government affairs come to mind—probably ought to be adept at online community management, too.

All that is just to say that community management may be even more complex a task at associations than other organizations, precisely because so much of what an association does relies on community involvement.

Check out the full report

If you’d like to read the full Community Roundtable report – you can view it here: 2013 State of Community Management.

So – what is the state of your online community? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Additional resources:

Here are some additional resources that might help with your online community:

Image source:  Team support - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 10 July 2013 at 8:30 AM
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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