Ice Isn’t Seasonal: Small Online Communities, Like Small Businesses, Must Compete on Personality

Posted by Patrick on November 29th, 2012 in Interacting with Members

I don’t support local businesses. I don’t support global businesses. What I do support is businesses that offer me the greatest experience.

Experience, for me, can be broken up into 5 categories. Quality, selection, price, convenience and personality (which includes customer service). In order to get my business, you don’t have to be great at all of these. At a minimum, you need to compete on quality and personality. If you fail at one of those, it doesn’t matter how good you are at the rest. I’ll use you if I have to, but I am actively looking for a way not to use you. That’s a bad place for you to be.

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How to Build a Tight Knit, Loyal Team of Online Community Moderators

Posted by Patrick on November 26th, 2012 in Managing Staff

I really enjoy having a tight knit team of moderators who are loyal to me, the community and one another. I’d go so far as to say that it is one of my favorite parts of community management.

Many of the challenges that we face as community managers are those we face in private. They aren’t for our members to know about and be concerned with. I’m talking about the day to day stuff that you do behind the scenes that keeps your community healthy and on track. The stuff that your moderators know about.

You’ll make decisions that are unpopular, but it is always good to know that your staff has your back. They understand what you are doing, why you are doing it and they support you. That’s important.

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People Remember Details

Posted by Patrick on November 22nd, 2012 in Interacting with Members
Creative Commons License photo credit: j_lai

I spoke about monetization at indieconf this past weekend. This marked the third year for the event and, having spoken at all three, I can say that it is a great conference that provides a lot of bang for your buck. Michael Kimsal, the organizer of indieconf, cares and it shows.

Following the event, I had dinner with Michael, as well as Jonathan Bailey and Kevin Dees, friends of mine who had also spoken at the event. We discussed indieconf, of course, and the discussion turned to conference food.

I don’t recall all details of the conversation, but I believe Michael said that a bunch of people complemented him on the food at the event. Specifically, the quality of the food and the options available. There were sandwiches, salads and desserts. There were options for people who eat red meat, who don’t (me) and who wanted a meatless sandwich. There was also a dedicated table for vegans and vegetarians with some good looking options.

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The Oatmeal to Content Creators: “There’s No Shortage of Community on the Internet”

Posted by Patrick on November 19th, 2012 in Thinking

Last week, The Oatmeal (also known as Matthew Inman) released a new comic, “Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web.” It is, in a word, tremendous. It’ll speak to everyone who creates stuff for the web, especially stuff that has been consumed by a reasonably sized audience.

There are a lot of great observations in it, about the ups and downs of being in this position. You should give the full thing a read. I loved it, shared it with my brother and we laughed like crazy as he read through it. But, toward the end of the comic, there is a section about comments and how some content creators enable comments on everything that they do.

We need to add comments to EVERY page on our website to create community because … community!,” says one character.

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Report Details Online Community Tool Usage by Big Brands (Free Download)

Posted by Patrick on November 15th, 2012 in Research

ComBlu has released the 2012 iteration of their “The State of Online Branded Communities” report. You can download it for free via their website. It includes data from 219 communities owned by 92 brands in 15 industries.

The report takes a good look at the tools used and features deployed in these communities, in addition to the success levels and reason for being. It breaks this data into various segments, such as by industry and by those who scored the highest on their scale.

I appreciate that they made the report available for free because it contains a lot of interesting data that is worth pondering and interpreting in your own way. There were a few areas that jumped out at me as I was reading through it. In this chart, you can view the overall adoption of different types of tools or features, or what ComBlu calls “best practices,” across the communities surveyed.

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“Monetizing Online Forums” Has Been Downloaded Over 5,000 Times

Posted by Patrick on November 12th, 2012 in

On July 2, “Monetizing Online Forums” was released. The new book, which I wrote with contributions from Alicia Navarro, Ted Sindzinski and Todd Garland, was published by Skimlinks. Thanks to the sponsorship from Skimlinks, we were able to create a real, independent book – not a gimmick – and offer it for free.

When you think of free ebooks, you think of teasers. You think of short sighted material meant for list generation – meant to get you to give them your email address. We railed against that notion. We spent money, time and talent and we gave it away for free, with no strings attached.

As of last week, that book has been downloaded over 5,000 times.

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Community Managers Unite People Around Specific Interests, Not Divide Them by Politics or Religion

Posted by Patrick on November 8th, 2012 in Managing the Community

We just had the presidential elections here in the United States. On my communities, we don’t allow generally political or religious discussions, so there really hasn’t been any talk about it.

Those who follow me online – on my forums, the websites I write for, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and elsewhere – will know that I almost never talk about politics or religion. That wasn’t what I always did. But, it was a conscious choice I made, several years ago.

I was thinking about that choice recently and am glad that I made it. I came to the realization that my job isn’t to divide people, but to unite them around specific topics and interests, like online community, martial arts, Photoshop, soda and more. To help them have fun, connect with passionate people and become better at what they do.

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Mistakes Create Teachable Moments for Moderators

Posted by Patrick on November 5th, 2012 in Managing Staff
Creative Commons License photo credit: anitakhart

When a mistake is made, or when something is not handled in an optimal manner, you are presented with a great opportunity for everyone to get better.

It’s not that I seek, encourage or enjoy mistakes. But, I also don’t think that it’s the end of the world if a violation is missed or if a post was removed when it shouldn’t have been. It’s not ideal, but it happens. To pretend that it doesn’t is to delude yourself. You want to correct it and you want to follow up with the affected members to ensure everyone is on the same page and, if appropriate, apologize for the error.

But, that aside, you then want to try to limit similar types of errors in the future and a great way to do that is to treat it as a lesson. I like to do this in the member documentation area, right alongside where the initial action was documented.

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Explanation is an Important Skill for Community Managers

Posted by Patrick on November 1st, 2012 in Interacting with Members, Managing Staff, Managing the Community

Strong communication skills are essential for a great community manager. And a subset of that skill is explanation. Your proficiency in explanation helps to determine how successful you are as a community manager and how effectively you spend your time.

If you can’t explain why you removed a post, you may confuse or anger a member or have to spend more time talking about the issue. If you can’t explain the new features that you are launching, adoption of those features will suffer. If you can’t explain the responsibilities of your staff members, they will not grasp their roles quickly and you will have to spend more time training them.

My friend Lee LeFever of Common Craft just released a new book, “The Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand.” In it, he defines an explanation as:

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