Managing a social media community (Tseen Khoo)

Photo by Brian |
I've been invited to give a workshop in October, focused on how to start and manage a social media community (or group).

I have so many things to say! And it's probably most usefully said in a blogpost that I can point people to in the future.

Creating and managing a strong online community requires extremely high level communication skills and can bring great value to your professional life. Being a group or community manager can sometimes be stressful and daunting.

This post addresses basic online group creation and management so you can start as strongly as possible in that role!

I should say up front what this post is NOT about:
  • It doesn't address group metrics, business case justifications, or growing a customer base. It is about establishing and managing the sociocultural aspects of an online community. It focuses in the main on setting group parameters for participation and conflict resolution. 
  • It isn't dealing with general public engagement. It presumes you are setting up a group on a social media platform for a specific topic, club or society, or research project/issue.
Instead of bombarding you with a really long series of random insights, I thought it might be a good idea to frame community creation and management using these guiding questions below. They're from Etienne Wegner's book Cultivating Communities of Practice (as featured in The Community Roundtable).

I've tweaked it slightly to suit community-building in academic contexts and clarify the key mapping that needs to be done before even starting. If you're taking over a group that's already started, it's still useful to walk yourself through these elements to see if they are firmly in place - or need consideration and confirmation.

Domain - the 'why' of the group

A strong, shared understanding of what the group is for is crucial. Think through the following questions:
  • What topics and issues does the community really care about?
  • What are the community’s values and goals?
  • What kind of influence does the community want to have?
These are all elements that will probably end up in any community "About" section - it signals the kind of group it is, and the kinds of members the group wants. This makes it much easier to decide whether someone should be a member, whether you run a moderated group where people need to ask to join or have an invitation list.

Depending on what the group is for, it may be really helpful to have a website that offers further information about the community and what it is doing. This can take a load off the group description as having to be THE repository of information about it all. 

Community - the 'who'

This aspect seems straightforward but it's important to think about who will run the group and make the judgements that keep it on track in terms of discussion, topics, and acceptable engagement.
  • What roles are people going to play? Who are the administrators and members? Do you need to recruit them and how will you do that?
  • How will administrators and members deal with conflict?A huge factor in the success of social media communities is having clear, solid rules of engagement (ground-rules). This means that, should anyone go against the community rules, there is clarity around what line was crossed (for an example, here's what's recommended for Facebook groups). What the administrator(s) must decide is what are the levels of line-crossing are and what kinds of actions would follow? When is someone potentially banned or blocked from the group? Do they have warnings before being thrown out? These are elements that are good to have worked out early.
    If a member of the group is removed, it's extremely important that the admins report back to the members on what has happened and why. This transparency aims to maintain trust with the members and gives clarity/emphasis around the rules of engagement for the group. Hopefully, this isn't a situation that happens very often, but it's good to know what actions are available to you if there's disruption or difficulty. 
  • How will newcomers be introduced into the community?
As well as knowing people's strengths in managing these online communities, it's good to consider how much time might be required in the roles. For example, if you're a group administrator, when are you expected to be 'on duty'? Would it be during office hours? What happens on weekends or public holidays? What if everyone's off on rec leave?  

Practice - the 'how'

Part of deciding on the shared aims and values of the community is what it actually means in practice: what kind of information is shared and what's the point of this sharing? Can everyone post or is it only the admins and members can comment or discuss?

The dynamics of the group will depend on whether it's a group that meets up face-to-face (or via vid-chats), or exists only on the social platforms.

When setting up the group and growing the community, think about opportunities for different forms of interaction. Would it be useful to have a livechat on Twitter to supplement the group's conversations and possibly recruit like-minded people? Could there be a meet-up? Might someone lead conversation on the group that week? There are any number of initiatives that can change things up and build engagement and interest in the community (and retain the interest of current members).

That said, the lifeblood of any online community is good shared content and generous, supportive members. If you don't have enough of those, being the best admin in the world makes no difference!

Relevant links (just mentally edit out the business/sales-speak...): 

There are forthcoming posts about being a good moderator and a good member and what these roles entail. Meanwhile, I hope this post helps with thinking through the foundations of setting up a group first!