Issue 8
Welcome to a special New Year's issue of conduitIn this issue we will look back to our archive of past questions posed to CommunityAnswers.com and the theme of building community from the perspectives which those questions have been raised: community users, community managers, site owners and moderators.
 
We hope you find the information below of use and should you wish to contribute or render feedback, please feel free to do so by writing to us. We would love to hear from you.
 
Happy New Year!
 
This issue's quote: "There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul."

- Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) poet & writer of fiction & essays
 
In this issue of conduit:
 
1) Your Community Answer: "Do you agree that a community is only as good as its membership?"
2) Community Voice: Building strong communities one person at a time.
 
Your Community Answer
Whether you are a community user, moderator or manager you probably have opinions about the quality and effectiveness of communities.  But is your opinion based upon the rationale for the community, the technology it employs, or its participants.  Do you agree that a community is only as good as its membership?
 
That's our question for you this issue. What are your thoughts?
 
Community Voice
Building strong communities one person at a time.
 
A successful community is dependent upon many key individuals from the site owner to the user, community manager and/or moderator. Each person plays a role in ensuring a viable and enriching community experience. We have compiled some tips that we hope will be helpful and maybe even validate what you are already doing in your own communities. It is our philosophy that communities really are built one person at a time.
 
Users
 
Users are crucial to the communities they participate in. If you are a community user we offer the following tips to gain the most from your online community experiences:
 
1) Exercise caution in giving out information - use e-mail aliases if possible.
It is critical that you never give out personal information (phone number, address, credit card information or passwords) in a chat, on a message board or in e-mail. Sadly sometimes even posting on a message board can mean repercussions in the form of spam to your e-mail account. Use separate e-mail accounts for the communities you are involved in, thus reducing the possibility of one mailbox being overrun should it be added to a spam list. 
 
2) Always be sure to review site guidelines or Terms of Service (TOS) before participating.
It is very important before you participate in any community that you acquaint yourself with the guidelines/TOS so that you have a clear understanding of what is considered acceptable exchange within a community. It is also a good idea to refer back to these from time-to-time as reminder. Mistakes happen, but if you keep yourself informed of site expectations you are less likely to find yourself in a difficult situation.
 
3) Try to take "arguements" to e-mail -  concentrate on issues not personalities.
People do disagree, and sometimes those disagreements lead to arguments. If you find yourself in one that is caustic or causing upset, as a courtesy to yourself and the other members in the community, try and take it to e-mail. This will enable you and the other person to "hash out" your differences in private without detracting from the other conversations taking place in the community. If you can't take it private, try to move the argument away from personalities and towards issues.  Remember: you can't always win an argument, but you can win people over because of the way you argue.
 
4) Words can make or break you - be sure to review what you've said before you say it.
Message boards keep track of a thread of conversations or chat rooms publish transcripts, so your words are out there for everyone to see and re-read and make judgments about you many months into the future. So be sure that you are comfortable with that prospect before you hit "send"! Treat others as you would like to be treated - remembering always that words in black and white have a great impact and are very difficult to retract.
 
5) Have fun!
This is the most important element to participating within a community. Enjoy your time and use it to connect with others that hold similar interests to you. Online communities are a fantastic way to gain information, support and camaraderie with people from all over the world.
 
Community Managers
 
Your role is vital to the success of your community. We hope that the following tips learned over our years as community managers add value and support to your job:
 
1) Be approachable and available - be human.
It is important that your moderation staff and/or community members feel that they can come to you at anytime with any issue. Open lines of communication are key to building team and community cohesiveness and trust. If your moderation team and community members feel that you are available to them they are more likely to communicate what is on their minds. This is very helpful, especially if turmoil arises – rather than it festering, an individual is more likely to approach you so that you can assist in finding an agreeable resolution. Consider developing "open office" hours of chat or a dedicated message board folder for both your community staff and users to communicate with you and ask questions.
 
2) Keep your finger on the pulse - be seen.
It is important that a community manager be seen in their community as regularly as possible - not only will it give your staff and users confidence that you are keeping up to date on what is going on, but it will also help you to see how the members are interacting with one another and with your moderation staff. Being present in your community will most certainly help to make your job easier.
 
3) Try to answers issues and queries within 24 hours - be responsive.
It is also extremely important to try and respond to member or moderator e-mails within a reasonable time - preferably a 24 hour period. Even if you are unable to provide an answer to a query, letting an individual know within 24 hours time that you are looking into their issue will go a long way to maintaining and managing community.
 
4) Develop a solid staff/volunteer policy for moderators - be consistent.
Just as your members will have guidelines or policies for participation that they must follow, your community staff should have some as well. It is important that your staff know what the expectations are for being a part of the community as valued contributors. This will also provide support and clarification in the event that disciplinary actions must be taken or team problems resolved.
 
5) Give yourself some time to "cool off" during a heated moment - be calm and collected.
We are all human, so it is not uncommon for certain issues to raise our hackles a bit. Should this occur, step away from your computer and give yourself some time to process the issue(s) so that you may respond in a calm manner than rather from an emotional place.
 
6) Have fun!
Community users and staff appreciate your involvement, especially if you show a humorous, fun side.  Fun is contagious, so if you are having some, chances are others will catch on and have fun too. Think of ways you can have fun in the community - it could make your job a lot more rewarding too! 
 
Moderator
 
Being in the trenches you are the eyes, ears...heck, you are the face of the community, representing the site and all within. Your job, while sometimes difficult can be one of the most rewarding, and we would like to share the following to hopefully assist in making that the case:
 
1) Smile - make it a permanent part of your moderator "uniform".
Have you heard the phrase "Smile from the wrists down"?  People may not be able to see you, but if you words are cheerful and your disposition upbeat, your smile will radiate through your words and interaction.
 
2) Try and remain neutral during member disputes.
You wear many hats as a moderator, one being the hat of the mediator. It is important when you are moderating a community that you try to never take sides in a member dispute, but rather help members find an acceptable resolution. By being the neutral party you will most likely be able to see potential solutions that others may not be able to see. Remember to remain calm and to see both sides of the issue.
 
3) Be present.
Aside from your smile, this is probably one of the most important things you can do to add value to your community. If you are seen as a present and participating member of the community, rather than the "thought police", you will find that your membership will look to you for assistance, insight, and friendship. With a constructive presence, members will be less likely to see you as just someone who is there to hit the delete or kick key, but rather someone who is there to add to the conversation and assist.
 
4) Lead by example.
How many times have you heard this one during your lifetime? As cliche as it may be, it is true. If you are leading by example, maintaining the site guidelines/TOS with every post you make or comment shared in chat, or prompting and participating with constructive and entertaining comments it is most likely that your members will do the same.
 
5) Have fun!
Yep, you got it! As we mentioned before, fun is contagious, and since you are on the frontline, it is important that you feel you can and do have fun. The members will appreciate it, and you will find your role as moderator to be much more rewarding for it.
 
Site Owners
 
Your ideas and efforts helped to bring the community and site to life. To assist with maintaining the growth and development and to support your hard work, we have compiled the following tips:
 
1) Ensure you know how your community is doing - quantitatively and qualitatively.
Whether your community is meeting your expectations or not, you need to be able to measure how your community is performing.  Both quantitative and qualitative reporting measures are most likely required so that you have both the numerical and subjective data you need. It is especially important to be able to identify specific areas of your community in your reporting, so that you can remedy any underachieving elements or expand on the successful ones.  Over time, this qualitative and quantitative reporting will feed into your overall planning and strategizing for your community's growth and needs.
 
2) New ideas can be generated from within the community - listen to them.
Community managers, moderators and users are your eyes and ears if you let them be. A common pitfall which can befall a site owner is keeping community too close to themselves.  Once a site has been built, community fostered and it has gained some stability, the very ideas which have given it stability should be opened up to the participants and users of that community. Don't be afraid to relinquish some ownership to your participants, empowering them to share what they feel works and does not work on the site. Listen to them, they are an incredible resource for ensuring success.
 
3) Ensure that there is a reason for users to return to your community.
The most common myth in the community development industry is to think "if you build it, they will come". In order for people to come to your site, and participate in your community, you must continually provide them with reason to do so.  Fresh content, thought-provoking topics, vibrant and safe exchange, as well as encouragement and rewards for participation are some, but not all, of the ways in which you can help to foster recurring visits from your users.
 
4) Ensure that site functionality works and that users and staff are informed of changes.
Check your site regularly to ensure that all its components are in proper working order. If something is not working, let your users and staff know what is not working and that it is being rectified. Keep them informed of progress. This is also important when it comes to making significant changes to your site and the features it offers. If you are going to add or take away a service, let your staff and users know in a timely fashion and be consistent in the messages you present. Consistency and trust go hand in hand. With the trust of your participants you have a key ingredient in building a successful community/site.
 
5) Have fun!
You have probably got the message by now all participants within a site need to have fun. You, as the site owner, are no different. You deserve to have fun too, and if you are not doing so, it may be time to ask yourself why not.
 
Whatever role you perform in online communities, we wish you the best of success and enjoyment for 2002, and we look forward to your questions throughout the year.
 
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