Community management in the modern age

A community manager isn't your community. No more so than an apartment manager is your apartment.


"Community management is a refreshingly simple concept: it’s how you communicate with the people who buy/use/think about whatever it is your organisation produces. And that makes it more than just a marketing channel. It makes it an airway, or a major artery."

– Rob Hinchcliffe, Think Vitamin


I'm participating in a panel at Tribecon next week about the State of Community, (say it aloud! In a Very Important Voice!) and I keep noodling around in my head with these somewhat-related points:

  • Web communities are growing by leaps and bounds, meaning that…
  • There's more new people. Exponentially more. Every. Single. Day.
  • How's that influx/population gain impacting the web itself
  • Community. How do we define it, or can we, when everyone's here and not just a few of us?


In other words, like it or not, your grandmomma's on Facebook, and so are your kids, your boss, and your neighbor. It's past "here comes everybody" now that everyone's at the party. Everyone's here.

Now what?

The way people interact with the world around them is changing because of the everyday use of the social web. I'd love to see the numbers on people who don't even know they've got a Facebook account.

To keep chasing this rabbit down the hole: is Facebook a community in and of itself, or a platform with many loosely-joined communities? Both? Neither? I know that I've been in touch with people I wouldn't still know otherwise, and I see things all the time that make me wince and think: "I'd never say that online." And I used to say everything online.

So here we are, struggling to use and understand this new-to-most technology, to make room for everyone while maintaining what we know. Like a band that only we used to know, it's not only ubiquitously in our attention, but/and connects us now to family, friends, acquaintances and businesses. On the fly, we're redefining what a "friend" means in this particularly peculiar context. Businesses are learning that dubbing a social section of your website a "community" doesn't immediately conjure said community feelings up from the ether.

How does your understanding of good manners work with your grandmomma's understanding of the web? (And how do you stop her from posting every day? And why don't you write to her more?) One part social mores and expectations, another part experience and savvy on the part of you and your connections, and a good dose of alchemy to feel our way through this new way to talk.

How do we determine manners for the web? Damned if even I know sometimes, and I've been participating, watching, and facilitating online interaction for a long time. I'll still shake my head and declare that people were raised in a barn.

There's this amazing chance, then, to still connect in smaller communities while helping everyone be aware that the web itself is a community, too. This whole new set of people need us community pros to figure it out with them, instead of for them. We can't tell them they're a community, instead, we have to remember to demonstrate that we care about it. 

You don't have to be a dork about it. Unless you want to be. If you've been around the web a while, and you're feeling curmudgeonly that there's only inane/insane blather? Be more selective in your reading. Blow up your RSS reader and start afresh. Whinging that no one blogs anymore? Lead by example and show by your trail of faves, likes, comments, photos, and yes! Posts! With words!

Show us what you think the web's about. Reveal your hand a bit.

We can do better, I think, by seeking out more than just our clique. Metafilter, Salon, and yes, even that evil stepchild Gawker are still good starting points for exploration. Get beyond your routine, if you have one. If you don't, build one. Find people whose writing, photos, or whatever they have to share is something you like. Hopefully, something you love. Just find something you'd never known you'd liked all along.

Or, hey, you tell me, smartypants person still reading this far who obviously gets a cookie: what can you do, today, now, to make a small shift, something you'll do that'll make the web better?


(Inside baseball and proper thanks to LauraGlu for the link, and Anil for reminding me to blog.)