Communities’ secret sauce

<Intro mode ON> Earlier this week I had a lenghty conversation with a long time friend and client who’s recently been given a new job where he will be building a global stakeholder community which he asked me some feedback on.

On the return train I spent some time checking it out, resulting in a number of bullet points which I thought could be recycled as a blog post on the mundane but important matter of the proper organisation required for a successful community.

So here it comes! <Intro mode OFF>

A good community requires essentially three management/coordination roles: Editorial, Recruitment, Community. Let’s look at what each does and who are the best profiles for each role. You may also refer to this post for a broad description of the role of a community within the frame of a marketing project.

Editorial Manager

This person is responsible for all things content. S/he needs as input:

  1. the list of topics the community should cover or “channels”; these may be the fruit of an Insight analysis (see reference post, #1) or may be part of the brief, in which case you ought to challenge whether it is a based on solid research, it’s unbelievable of how many people THINK they know their targets…
  2. the desired frequency; this is typically the result of a negotiation between desire for frequent content refreshes (helping SEO) and available resources – and when I say this I do not mean budget you pay your agency, but – much more constrained – how much time can your Subject Matter Experts (see next point) devote to this new task. This is usually VERY little and hence the support of editorial staff who can intelligently pick hints, notes, presentations and write a 90% correct post is essential.
  3. the list of Subject Matter Experts. Knowledge cannot be faked, this must be the real stuff and its quality will ultimately decide the fate of your community. Unfortunately, SMEs are expensive and therefore very busy in little things like solving clients’ crises etc. They never idle around by water coolers looking for something to do. The first task of the Editorial manager should therefore be to engage these SMEs, if necessary (likely) one by one to explain the purpose of the project, the support that will be available to the brave ones and – with good manners – what is the benefit to them. Moral suasion by upper management comes in handy at this stage: early adopters should be made heroes vs. their peers to stimulate others.

The essential tools of the trade for this role is a good calendar and a strong content pipeline system tracking each piece of content, where it stands, who is responsible, when it is due and any interim milestones as well as appropriate “emergency buttons” to hit alternate routes if something essential gets stuck. A 24-hour delay is not really critical for a community, but the system should treat as if it was lest chaos takes over.

Recruitment Manager

While content is the fodder of the community, its life is its members. Recruiting is something you MUST always be doing – the intensity of recruitment can subside once you achieve critical mass, but critical mass is defined as a “sufficient number of regularly active users” whose news stream will carry the existence of your community into the digital lives or other potential members.

You’re not likely to hit that magic threshold soon, so you better prepare to run regular recruitment runs, which in turn require someone to be in charge.

Recruitment runs should be considered like any other launch program, except the “product” you’re selling is the community itself and the “price” they’re paying is their time and attention. Like any marketing program it should have a clear value proposition (Why you should join) and a simple landing page where this value proposition is clearly spelled out.

As a consequence, navigation should be clear and intuitive (=simple) to reduce bounce rates (did you know bounce rates upward of 60% are not uncommon? This means that over half of the people who come to your destination leave immediately, talk of waste…)

As input, this role receives the news stream generated by the new content posts as well as a list of existing affine communities (see again the Insight phase description) where a respectfully worded and contextualized post about ew content can meet more interested people.

This is the person which can use pro accounts on existing large scale Social Networks to seek new potential members through the (paid-for) recruitment tools offered by most Social Networks; these may/will include straight ad campaigns, games, sweepstakes, competitions – the whole shebang.

This role spends most of his/her time on assets other than the community’ own.

Community Manager

Once new members arrive, we must ensure that their initial experience is a rewarding one, to encourage returners.

The community manager oversees all the existing discussions, moves posts to other categories where appropriate, monitor compliance to the community rules of behaviors.

S/he receives as input the flow of new content provided by the Editorial Manager and places as appropriate; if ghost-writing is necessary, this is the person which owns the access credentials of others.

This role also has the responsibility of monitoring ongoing conversations, and, when necessary (very often at first) inviting comments by other members based on their profile; after a while, the Community Manager will know which members are the natural leaders, what are their beat topics; he will visit their blogs, peruse their profiles to steer the conversation towards topics that are more likely to stir a lively discussion, feeding this information back to the Editorial Manager to improve future content.

S/he is also the community’ policeman, banning where needed misbehaving users; as a rule a Community Manager never participates in a discussion which is always among peers.


As it is obvious, these roles overlap with each other, so that regular coordination meetings are needed to review the community growth and development. These are also the steering meetings where new input is received and progress towards the stated objectives is measured and resources allocated.

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