Yesterday I joined a swag of Australian online community managers at a roundtable organised by Editor and Com Mgr Essential Baby, Ms Alison Michalk. The group of over 15 of us from all around Australia met at Fairfax the home of Essential Baby to discuss online community management.
The group involved a great mix of online community startups such as Nick Gonio’s SportsPassion, through to the effervescent Ms Venessa Paech from the highly established and well regarded Lonely Planet, large media corporates were representated with Bob Dobson ( Entertainment Community Manager, NineMSN) and Ben Mott (Product Manager, Network Ten) as well as the ever-present and unmissable Scott Drummond – Sports Hydrant (not to mention many many others…)
Key discussion points from the day:
- The role of the Community Manager: leaders, the concierge, party hosts, traffic as well as other many descriptions. Community management is a highly complex role!
- The challenges included: head-count in recessionary times how to do the job well with limited resources; moderation is a continual challenge and technology can be your best friend or nightmare – with all agreeing technology platforms need to be nimble enough to adapt to the times.
- Sponsorship – how to ensure the bottom line survives; the challenge of securing sponsors and ensuring sites remain objective is crucial.
- Benefits of online communities: a great way to gain insight from your key members, help you spread the word (WOM) regarding your product and brand and help you get a great understanding of your consumer.
- Metrics – lots of discussion on this topic with qual and quant discussed deeply. The usual page impressions etc were discussed and ever-present AVE (pr metric) but this time wearing the web 2.0 hat – is there validity in this metric? most agreed their was, metrics such as sharability and engagement were also discussed.
- Metric Relevance – of note was the point that you will need to look at member metrics vs metrics for sales and marketing these are naturally going to be different. We also discussed the old ‘conversion’ chestnut – that many clients asked. We agreed that as case studies come out we can put some figures to it but in reality conversion may in fact be a long bow to draw (ie sales) and if it happens – it wont ‘happen overnight’.
- Transparency: No surprises here authenticity/trust are the domain of a healthy and hence successful online community.
- Friction is healthy in an online community one com mgr said ‘it is in our real offline lives so it should be online as well’ – it keeps the community real, vibrant and engaged (too much though is a bad thing)
- Marketing your online community ideally should be a mix of social media strategies,offline activities, combined with some ppc (although some disagreed with ppc being of value). Obviously as a start-up without a brand name it is a lot harder to get that top-of-mind position than online branded communities (think Dell etc)
- Size – The interesting question of do you need to be a large site to be valuable arose. The answer was in fact both yes (particularly if monitisation is involved) and no if you are creating a niche(not a lot of breadth but depth re engagement) – the scalability of communities was also a good topic of conversation.
- Staffing of the community provided lots of variety with some online community managers existing with only paid staff and others relying heavily on volunteers – and every combination in between.
- Reporting Lines: So who do the community managers report to? a large range of responses from CEO through to general manager, marketing, global support/km to finance. We discussed the future of reports and how they typically report into marketing but wondered if it will always stay that way because online communities were providing tangible benefits to ALL areas of the business.
- Privacy is a continual issue for community managers and we agreed that some technology platforms simply don’t have the flexibility with functionality to allow for subtle privacy changes. One manager mentioned the importance of letting your members ‘grow’ with the site and that may in fact mean their privacy settings would need to change from teen/adult etc
- De la Soul – the question was raised is there a magic number for getting traction within your community? the answer we all agreed was in the 50-80 range because at that point the community starts to run itself which is the ideal scenario (with the com mgr in the background)
- Technology was a source of frustration for many managers that had bought into systems that were not nimble enough to adapt to the times. Many believed that open-source systems were indeed the future.
My interest in community management was sparked when I was moderating online research communities for companies such as Kelloggs, Weight Watchers and Sara Lee. While the nature of my work has a research bent manyof the above issues regarding technology, resourcing, engagement and moderation still applied.
Today I am keen to stay in touch with the online community management field as Forrester’s Five Eras of the Social Web indicated communities are going to continue to have an impact on the social web and hence brands.
If you are an online community manager or company starting up an online community based in Australia feel free to join our Facebook group
P.S. Came across this memo to New York Times staff regarding the appointment of their social media editor (who has some com mgr responsibilities) it makes interesting reading.