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ren asked: “What [do you] do when upgrading to new software causes a downturn in user engagement? How [do you] get it back?”

Thanks for the question, ren. For me, it relates to the general issue of change on communities and what you can do to make your changes more meaningful and widely accepted by your community. That is what I am going to cover in this article.

So that we stay focused, I am going to assume that you have given the change a lot of thought and have determined it to be worthwhile. If you have a staff, you have also asked for their feedback and improved the proposed change to a point where you are excited about it and are looking forward to rolling it out.

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For the 2012 edition of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, I would like to reflect on what it means to manage the same online community for more than a decade. My proposal is titled “Lessons from a Decade of Community Management.”

In 2011, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of two of the online communities that I manage – KarateForums.com and phpBBHacks.com. I launched both of these communities and have managed them since day one. You aren’t this involved for this long with projects of this nature without them becoming a part of your life – without them becoming your baby.

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ren asked: “What [do you] do when you ban someone for defamation (not of you) and impersonation and they use social networks to bad mouth your forum and organization?”

I’ve banned a lot of people. The vast majority of them were simple spammers or the like. But, some of them were members that had contributed something. If you have guidelines that you fairly and evenly apply to your community, you will have to ban people. It’s the nature of the beast.

Some of those people will speak poorly of you and your community in public spaces. I find that a reasonable portion of these people, in my case, claim that I banned them because I disagree with them or because I am mad with power. Those are particularly popular reasons.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: K . Chan

Launching a new online community can be daunting. How can I get those first few members? Unfortunately, there is no magic trick. It’s time and hard work.

However, that doesn’t mean that being new is all bad. You would do well to recognize that being new, while in some ways a disadvantage, can also be an advantage, in two key ways.

First, people want to know about new things. That is what media outlets cover. They cover things that are new. If you can come up with an interesting way to pitch it, you might be able to get coverage and attention, simply for being new and well put together. No one wants to know about new and sloppy.

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I love Amazon.com. Love. They have great prices and selection and wonderful customer service that has yet to let me down and I’ve been a customer for almost 10 years. I regularly recommend people buy products there. In some cases, they are the first and only place I go to buy something. That’s the built up capital that they have with me.

I have spent a countless amount of money buying things from them. I use the Subscribe & Save feature to get particular items delivered regularly. I am an Amazon Prime subscriber and have been for years. I have an Amazon.com Visa card. I like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. I am a long term Amazon.com shareholder.

Unfortunately, though, I believe that Amazon has a real problem on their hands with the Customer Reviews feature and, eventually, they are going to have to face it. Specifically, the Amazon.com Community Team is going to have to face it.

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Bruce Stephenson (@FamilyPhoto on Twitter) asked: “[What is the] best way to start to participate when new to a forum?”

Thank you for the question, Mr. Stephenson.

I am going to tackle this from the perspective of an individual wanting to participate in a forum for personal reasons, such as a passion for a specific topic. If you are looking to do this for commercial reasons, check out my guide to brand engagement on forums and communities that you don’t own.

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Loving County: Least populous county in the US
Creative Commons License photo credit: rutlo

My friend Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, who I co-host the Copyright 2.0 Show with, asked me to write about the following topic:

One thing I’d be very interested in, something I don’t think you’ve covered here, is an article about how to get a community started.

If a community is like a fire that you have to cultivate and maintain, I want to know how to light the spark so to speak including getting the first members, encouraging the start of the conversation and so forth.

If you are thinking about launching a community on a given topic, there is a good chance that you know some people who are also interested in the topic. That is a good place to start. Reach out to them individually, tell them about your community and ask them if they would like to help you get it started.

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Stand out
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gdpaule

How can I help you?

To be more specific, what do you want to know about? What online community or forums management related topic would you like to see me cover? Do you have any questions for me? What can I share with you?

I love to write articles that directly address questions that people have or things they want to know more about. So, I’d love to hear the topics you’d like me to cover and the questions that you’d like me to answer.

If you have any, please leave them in the comments or, if they are more sensitive, you can email me directly at patrick@ifroggy.com. Thank you for giving it some thought.

Online communities can be very powerful. When a group of people gather regularly around a topic or interest, especially when that topic or interest is directly related to your company or a product that you sell, an established online community can represent a great opportunity to engage with your core audience.

That is why a lot of companies try to engage within an online community by joining and “participating.” But, it is sometimes done in a way that actually has a negative effect because the company either tries to blatantly take advantage of the community or, at least, participates in a manner that suggests that is what they are doing.

Online communities and forums are a different beast than more general, mainstream social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Each online community is like it’s own country, with it’s own culture, laws and societal norms. The backlash that a company can face from disregarding these norms can be painful and that is why a lot of companies are afraid of engaging in these more controlled spaces.

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