Are You Managing Your Community Or Is It Managing You?

May 11, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

One of the biggest issues business owners have with social media is its propensity to become, what’s the word…oh yes…a time suck! If you’re responsible for answering blog comments, tweets, status updates, discussion threads, etc, when does any of that “real” work get done? While using social media tools to reach out and connect with your customers is important, you have to give them something to connect with. That means you can’t simply log onto Twitter and let the rest of your company fall to the wayside. I mean, what if Twitter went away. Or your followers did? Would your company still move forward?

So my question to you is this: Are you managing your community or is your community managing you? Do you even know the difference?

As you may imagine, I have a little bit of experience in this area. I manage Outspoken’s online community, as well as the online communities for our clients. But that’s not all I’m responsible for, which means that in order to be as valuable as I can to both Outspoken and the folks we work with, I need to make sure I’m getting the absolute most I can out of social media in the time that I have. And that means putting some rules and procedures in place to help me control how much time I’m investing in social media.

Here’s what works for me.

Decide on your flagship communities

There’s no greater way to spread yourself too thin and turn social media into a time suck than to try and establish a presence on every site you see listed on knowem. Instead, you want to decide which social media sites will represent your flagship communities – the ones where you’ll get the greatest reward for the time invested. Typically, this means picking two or three of the strongest communities for your niche and really putting in the effort to create a presence there. These communities become your satellites.

Trying to take on too much is an awesome way to shoot yourself in the foot and do more damage than good. Everyone knows that a mediocre community is worse than no community at all. It’s kind of like a relationship that way. Actually, it is a relationship.

Automate social monitoring

I’ve written in the past about the tools I use to monitor buzz and brand conversations. And I still use everything listed in that post. By relying on tools to notify me of potential fires and discussions, it means I’m spending less time trying to find them and can focus that time elsewhere. If you haven’t read the post linked to above (it’s an oldie), you may find it useful.

Have engagement guidelines in place

Whether you’re talking about the blog on your Web site or your presence on Facebook, you need to set strict interaction guidelines to give you an early roadmap. You want to consider how you’ll interact, how much you’ll automate (if any), how much time you’ll invest per week, and the goals tied to these interactions. If you’re talking about a site blog, you also want to set guidelines for how readers are to interact. For example, the comment policy for the Outspoken Media blog outlines what kind of behavior we will and will not accept. Having that in place means we can easily delete comments from people who stray away so we’re not wasting time making “judgment calls”. If you cross a line, you’re gone. Judgment calls are a time suck because they make you waffle between what you know is right. It takes time to second guess yourself.

Clear guidelines also empower community members to stand up and enforce guidelines in your absence. It won’t completely free you to the responsibility, but it’s nice to know if someone goes down while you’re not looking, your community will be able to handle it or at least notify you.

Set community hours

Your community may never sleep but, hopefully, you do. If there are certain hours when you’ll be checking your blog or Twitter, TELL your audience that. You don’t have to pretend to be omnipresent. It’s okay to set community hours to train people when they should or should not expect an immediate response or comment approval. It’s also a good way to train yourself so you don’t ‘forget’ about that social media commitment. Whether you post actual operating hours ala FakeAPStylebook or simply work in that you’re trying your best is up to you. But do give people a clue as to when you’re going to be around.

Note: You may still have to jump into action if a flame starts getting bigger at 11pm on a Sunday night, but hopefully you don’t live your life in a fire suit. And if you do, well, then you probably have bigger issues than your community management anyway. Consider hiring a social media consultant.

Know when you’re working and when you’re not

Most of social media’s “time suck” comes when we’re pretending we’re working, but we’re really not. For example, you hop onto Twitter to search for brand mentions…and then engage in a 20 minute conversation about a TV show you saw mentioned. Or you head into your company Facebook account to update your status…and end up on your personal page stalking the photos of your ex’s new baby. Or maybe you decide to get involved in a blogosphere flame war instead of responding to comments on your OWN blog. I’m not judging you, I’m just telling you to stop it. Just because you’re on the computer doesn’t mean you’re working. Know when you’re using social media efficiently and when you’re clicking for the sake of clicking.

Get others to help you

This is perhaps more doable on a community that you own (like, your blog, for instance), but consider asking other people to give you a hand in managing your community. For example, if your blog begins to explode with new readers and constant comments, after you finish congratulating yourself for being awesome, consider asking one of your blog early adopters or a loyal commenter, to step up and act as community manager for your blog. People love getting deeper involved with the communities that they’re loyal to, especially if stepping up means added recognition and authority. Again, this won’t completely rid you of the responsibility of having to check in and know what’s going on, but it’s a good way to lighten your load. Having partners in crime is super helpful. I know that on days when I’m jammed and am slacking on the community, Rae, Rhea and Dawn are waiting in the wings to help out.

Realize you’re human

Susan Esparza can vouch that in my early blogging career, I pretty much slept with my laptop. I was approving comments virtually round the clock, whether it was midnight on a Tuesday or 3am on a Sunday. It didn’t matter. The idea that someone would have to wait SIX HOURS in moderation while I slept or that someone would go unanswered while I took a shower really bothered me. However, at some point I had to remember that I was human. And that I had to get a life. That means these days I may let a blog comment sit in moderation for a few hours before I can pop in and approve it. It means that sometimes I don’t answer everyone who @’s me, especially if it’s a Saturday. Luckily, I’ve found that people are pretty forgiving as long as they see you’re making an effort.

Those are some of the ways I’ve been able to ensure that I’m managing my community and not the other way around. What works for you? Or are you still sleeping with your laptop? It’s okay if you are. This is a safe place.

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