February 2, 2016

The Mindful Community Manager

Often, a digital community develops from the needs of a few users with questions. Those users start a Facebook group. They could be volunteers who want to have a place to talk to each other, or teams who are working at diverse geographic locations and need a central place for information sharing.

The community grows organically for a while, but when the organization hires a community manager to manage this valuable resource, they must give that manager clear intentions for the purpose of the community and the direction they’d like to see it develop. That manager must also consider the voice and style of the community so as not to upset the membership. If changes need to be made, they should be done with consideration of and compassion for the members who have invested time and thought into the community.

What Is a Community Manager’s Role?

It’s common to think of a community manager as a moderator: someone to control the messaging and make sure things stay on track. While that’s a part of their role, there is so much more to community management than this! Although they do administer and/or create the rules for the community, they guide the members in a direction that educates, facilitates discussion, and helps each other succeed.

A talented community manager is a nurturer, an arbiter of quarrels, a font of information and resources, and a facilitator of discussions that encourage growth.

In order to do their job to the best of their abilities, they must clearly understand and be mindful of the goals of the organization as well as the goals of the membership. These may be two very different things, so there may or may not be more guidance necessary to ensure the goals of all parties converge and balance.

Finding the “Mavens”

Once you have the intentions clearly in mind you can review the community and discover people who are natural “mavens.” Mavens are people who communicate freely, are generous with their time, and generally have an uplifting presence within the group. People are drawn to them because they have a way of making the other members feel heard and valued.

Obviously, this is a characteristic of any good community manager, but sometimes the community manager has the job of enforcer. While you want your community to feel valued and cherished, it helps to align with your mavens to create a team who can work together to grow a community that is engaged and happy.

Working with your mavens can be rewarding for you both. Here are a few ideas to support them to the benefit of all:

  • Publicly recognize their help and accomplishments. Gratitude is a powerful force to deepen relationships
  • Give them insights into new developments within the organization and let them be the ones to share some of the breaking news
  • Educate them on specific tools or processes important to the organization or doing their own duties
  • Encourage them to message or email you directly with any issues or questions
  • Acknowledge their connection with the members by asking them to single out the stars for recognition
  • Work with the people who may have a negative opinion or experience, too. Help them understand you are listening and there to help

The community is made up of a lot of different personalities and beliefs. And we don’t really want them all to be assimilated into a homogenous community. We want everyone to be free to have their own voice (within reason). If everyone has the same opinions then there is no good discussion it’s all Sameville. Sameville is boring. Vibrant communities are full of all kinds of people and opinions, including the occasional dust up.

One of the least understood characteristics of a good community manager is the ability to scan the community, nurture the people who need nurturing, and give help or instruction to the ones who need that. This is rarely even noticed—they’re not managing out in the open, but behind the scenes. They’re talking to people in direct messages with personal support, ideas for topics that are useful, suggesting edits, or asking clarifying questions prompting more useful discussion. They create chemistry between individuals, empowering them to be better together.

Emotional Intelligence and the Community Manager

When encountering someone who seems angry and obstreperous, the knee-jerk up impulse is to dismiss or get mad right back at them. But, if we are present and mindful, we look to see why that person is responding this way. There may be a underlying reason that needs to be addressed. Simply talking to them can turn a troll into an evangelist and a supporter of the community. It simply takes opening your heart and listening, then using what you learn to make the community a better place.

I am not saying that every community should be a bed of roses where everyone is happy and dancing together. I’m saying we need to encourage diversity and allow people their own opinions without trying to restrict them too much. If they are being aggressive towards other members, dealing with that one-on-one rather than publicly is often the best route.

Sometimes we have to step back a bit. We need to take a breath or go for a walk if need be before we respond to someone in the community who is being troublesome. We put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand why they’re behaving the way they are behaving. Is there maybe a valid reason? Are they feeling ill? Is there something about the person they’re arguing with that we don’t know, like the history of the argument? As a community manager, it’s your job to get to the bottom of it without making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Bottom line? A mindful community manager is aware of the intentions of the organization and the community members and seeks to enable them. She listens with compassion and shares information generously and supports rather than limits. He nurtures individuals to help them be the best they can be. A good community manager is a jewel to  nurture and celebrate!

Learn more! Join Janet for NTEN’s Ask the Expert event: Mindful Social Media for Nonprofits.

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Janet Fouts
Janet Fouts is Founder and CEO of Tatu Digital Media, a San Jose Digital Marketing Agency. Founded in 1996, Tatu Digital works with a range of clients from tiny non-profits to Fortune 50 corporations to manage brand reputation, create effective social business strategies, manage campaigns, search engine optimization and marketing. Janet is a frequently requested speaker on the topics of digital marketing and social business at conferences and within corporations around the world. She has written 5 books, including the recently published: Mindful Social Marketing: How Authenticity and Generosity are Transforming Marketing. Follow her on Twitter: @jfouts