An independent, autonomous community uniting on its own to drive forward its common purpose – this is the dream.
If you’re currently putting countless hours in trying to spark engagement and grow your community’s membership, this may seem like a pipe dream. However, once you understand how much time and energy you can save by developing a community environment that encourages and rewards its own members for getting involved, setting your community up for success this way will seem like a no-brainer.
As your community grows, there is a standard set of needs that will grow along with it. In the beginning, it can certainly be challenging to scale these needs from a business standpoint. But in the meantime, don’t ignore the large pool of active and interested contributors already at your fingertips!
4 Needs that Scale as a Community Scales
1. Moderation & Quality Control
Every community is going to face problems with quality control. This can be as straightforward as dealing with trolls and flamers, or as complex and difficult to quantify as a surge of low quality discussion. There are many automation tools that can help you give your community basic protection from quality problems.
Depending on your community’s size and needs, having a quality control advocate is a great way to complement this – investing in a person dedicated to maintaining your community’s standards is an indispensible resource.
2. Active Engagement
In smaller communities, many leaders and team members can manage the job of actively encouraging discussion. But as your community grows, so will your business – and you’ll often find that both you and your team are getting busier administrating all the behind-the-scenes logistical stuff that come with business growth and development. If your own contributions decrease, it’s important to find ways that keep the community’s engagement from stagnating.
Get a core group of involved contributors to step up and help lead the community, post engaging content, and keep the conversation flowing.
3. Welcoming & Grooming New Contributors
Welcoming new contributors is a curious and fluctuating struggle that hits brand new communities, lessens as they grow, and then rears its head again once you’ve scaled. When you’re a small community, it’s easy for a community to feel cliquey and excluding to newcomers. When you’re very large, it’s also easy for a newcomer to feel like their voice is going to go unheard and get lost in the chatter.
This is a great place to ask some of your top contributors to get involved by helping welcome newcomers.
It carries less responsibility and time than asking them to be a moderator, fosters a sense of inclusion for new members and takes the pressure off of doing it yourself!
4. Mission (& Brand) Advocacy
As a community grows, it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose and values that are the unifying thread of your community. A mission advocate is there to ensure that doesn’t happen! They will help maintain focus and guide the atmosphere of your community.
In small communities, a single team member may be fulfilling all four of these roles. Sound familiar? We’re talking, of course, about a community manager.
What about automation?
If you’re anything like most online community leaders we meet, you’ve probably read through this list and wondered how much of it can be automated.
Automation is a powerful tool, and one that has potential to simplify your work within your community. We recommend using it with moderation, as automation gone haywire can cause as much damage in your community as well-run automation can assist you. On top of this, your ability to automate may be limited by the platform you’ve chosen to host your community.
If you do decide/are able to automate, here are a few suggestions for how it can help you streamline your community engagement:
Create a new member welcome sequence.
If you’re sending roughly the same message to each new member, why not automate part of that process?
- To ensure a consistent onboarding experience for everyone joining your community, develop a series of emails designed to orient newbies and encourage them to engage as quickly as possible. This could include a tour of important features, member success stories or introductions to you and/or your team.
- This series should be long enough to provide new members with critical information, but short enough to avoid overwhelming them.
- Depending on how fancy you want to get and the platforms you use, you can even customize the information they receive based on the information they provided upon registration.
Unless your community is designed to be formal, skip the formalities and use a friendly, welcoming and relaxed tone that matches your brand.
Create a system to automatically moderate messages.
This one can cause a lot of damage if done improperly, but it can be incredibly useful when monitoring for things that violate community guidelines. For example, it can help moderators weed out things like new members spamming the community with links, or send them notifications if a new post contains hate speech or other unsavory content.
Set up alerts for you or your community leaders when a previously frequent contributor has not visited in two weeks.
Proactively identifying these at-risk members will help you avoid losing them by giving you an opportunity to reach out and check in with them personally
Promote active discussion topics so they become more visible.
When a conversation thread becomes especially popular, you may want to automatically put it right at the forefront of your community so that everyone will see it easily. You may also want to do this for threads that aren’t getting as much activity as they should be!
Help students going through course material by linking them to relevant conversations in your community.
This can be done via email or directly in the course's content.
Prepare some scheduled content in advance and auto-post it at a set date or time.
This should not be the bulk of your posts, but can be used to fill in the gaps or make sure you post any content that is time-sensitive (like weekly events, call information, etc.).
Developing Community Advocates
Giving a community member increased responsibility can feel like a reward in and of itself, so often community advocates are not paid. If they are being recognized by your business as valuable contributors, having them take on a leadership position can be beneficial to both parties. However, there are several other strategies you can take to make it worth their while. For example, you can reward them in product or membership discounts, or surprise them with a thank you gift.
As your community grows, some of these roles will eventually develop into full-time jobs. If you’ve been getting your community’s leaders involved in managing your engagement, then you’ll likely already have a valuable hiring pool for these roles. It’s a win-win!
When choosing members to step up, don’t forget that they will be representing you, your business and your mission.
If you pay attention to your membership, some community advocates will stick out quite organically. Others may need to be recruited with a slightly more formal search process. To find them, you can create lightweight interview process to make sure they’re the best fit for the job. Give your advocates a set of guidelines to follow, and ensure they’re familiar with your community’s policies before setting them lose in the group. Of course, you should allow them a certain amount of freedom, but give them enough direction to ensure that they understand their role and responsibilities.
What are some characteristics of a good community advocate?
- They embody and reflect the values of your brand and mission.
- They are solid communicators and are clearly skilled with written language.
- They already have a high level of existing engagement inside the community.
- Their insight is helpful and positive.
- Their communication style is clear, clean and approachable.
- They are proactive and creative in their approach when interacting with other members.
- They consistently show a high level of empathy and understanding towards others.
- They are liked and appreciated by a large portion of your membership, as well as your team.
- You and your team already love them as people.
Getting your community to help manage itself can be a big relief, and save you plenty of time and energy. But always remember that at the end of the day, the community is your responsibility! Don’t use this as an opportunity to take yourself out of it completely, as it’s a critical aspect of your business or organization.
Even if your job becomes less about direct involvement, you should still be involved in the community, making those small course corrections to help ensure your ship stays on course.