At Helpful we’ve been thinking a lot about community managers, as the world shifts further online. Community managers are the people (often volunteers) who help nurture the spaces online where we ask questions, answer questions, vent frustrations or seek entertainment.
Community managers are busier than ever and the conversations they look after are getting tougher by the month: health, isolation, relationships, work, money, conspiracy theories and misinformation. And that’s just the light hearted communities of hobbyists or soccer team supporters.
Running a staff Facebook group? Hosting a Twitter chat or managing a student WhatsApp group? I feel for you.
We’ve been speaking to lots of different community managers this year. I thought I’d share some tips from two of them. They both work in very different, but important, communities.
The front page of the internet
Rob Allam works at Tempo Storm, but also manages 5 communities on Reddit (u/GallowBoob) each with more than 2,000,000 members. He shared with me his three biggest lessons:
1. Team effort and a united vision and voice is essential. When you’re addressing issues and mitigating problems within communities, the last thing you want is to seem confused. For that to happen your moderation team needs to fully understand the rules and values they need to enforce internally first.
2. Enforcing and adapting new rules and values within communities need to be a learning process of listening and adapting, not just static enforcing. You need to be open to feedback and stay focussed on your goals (public feedback isn’t always 100% correct as modern day activism tends to blur things on the individual level). Don’t be afraid to make mistakes but be prepared to address them too. Don’t let them fester and become controversies. Stay transparent with your audiences.
3. There will always be bad faith actors that are self motivated or paid to disrupt narratives within any given online communities. These can range from competition, to activists, or simply trolls. Try to identify these behaviours and map out the patterns in which they organise and roll out, to be safe and not sorry when dealing with repeat attempts to disrupt discussions within your communities.
Officially reaching front line workers, in an unofficial community
J works in a communications team in the NHS. He’s asked to stay anonymous. J’s achieved something that’s still fairly unusual. He’s working with an existing unofficial Facebook group for NHS staff, rather than setting up something that’s officially sanctioned – and therefore less likely to thrive.
“The closed group was run by admins from various roles and seniority across the hospital. I didn’t want them to feel like they were being subject to a ‘corporate takeover’: I wanted to work with them, leave them in control. We just helped make sure that members were existing hospital staff and refreshed the group rules.
It’s been invaluable during the Covid-19 pandemic. Government guidance was changing daily and we had a worried workforce desperate to be kept informed. It really helped us reach frontline workers who weren’t able to access an email account but were able to check their phones during breaks.
We went from around 300 members to 1100 in two weeks.”
Four important lessons from the NHS
1. Have a robust set of rules and member management procedures. Instigate regular membership sweeps.
2. Keep the content relevant to the audience. Don’t just parrot what you share in other internal channels and do exclusive stuff in the Facebook Group too. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) helps attract new members!
3. Sounds obvious, but don’t upload anything that would cause you reputation damage if it appeared in public.
4. Keep in touch with your members. Ask them what they want.
Finally, something that all the community managers have said: there is no single platform that’s coping with the new world we find ourselves in. There isn’t a tool or social network that provides a perfect, safe space.
The role of the community manager is more important than ever.
Download this community map if you want to start thinking about where to find your audience online.