Melbourne Community Manager Roundtable

19 March, 2009

Last Friday I got into the office did a few bits and pieces then headed off towards Footscray to check out Lonely Planet’s funky HQ and more specifically to participate in the first Melbourne Community Manager Roundtable.

Lonely Planet’s Community manager Venessa Peach decided that she’d had enough of all the cool conferences and meet ups being on the other side of the world or the country and decided to bring one to little old Melbourne. When I heard about the idea I thought awesome! At the moment I’m in planning and research mode for a number of online community projects at the moment so chatting a bunch of people who have already got their communities up and running seemed like it would be a great opportunity…It was!

The day was a free flowing conversation around many issues of community management ranging from dealing with moderators who have passed their used by date, community / community member life-cycles and even a chat about the technology hosting online communities. I wont go into details about the conversation as Venessa has done an awesome job of capturing that on her blog, instead I’ll just jot down a few of my thoughts.

Online communities can be crazy places, Community managers are faced with all sorts of stuff appearing on their sites that should not be appearing on websites anywhere let alone next to your logo!(think threats, abusive posts,  posting of people’s personal details). Coming up with a standard rule about what content to allow and what to block is pretty much impossible to define. In the room on Friday we had people all kinds of networks ranging from ours which is a professional network for people in Finance and Accounting  to parenting networks to virtual worlds for teens just to pick three. Each of those environments have their own unique line that defines acceptable and unacceptable. What is not acceptable in one might be perfectly normal in another, the key message is get to know your community, build a good relationship with your community leaders, figure out what works for them AND what works for you. You, after all are hosting the party.

Community leaders (formal or informal) have an enormous influence over the tone and type of activity that goes on within the community. You need to work closely with your community leaders to make sure that the community develops in the direction that works for everyone. It can be tempting to say ‘the community is about the members so let them decide’.  The risk with this approach is that the members will steer it in a direction that works for them but does not work for you. For example it is very easy for a community to develop cliques that can be intimidating for new members. The community leaders might be having a great time but new people don’t hang around as they can not get into the ‘in’ crowd. For you, that is a problem.

A final point that stuck with me was the importance of keeping moderators fresh. If you make a member who is an active participant and leader within the community a moderator they may not stay as interested as they once were. Everyone gets to a point where a community they are a part of is not as relevant to them as it was when they joined. It is important to recognise when a moderator / leader’s interest in the community is waning and to come up with a plan to move them out of the moderation role. This can be a tricky process and needs to handled with extreme care.

The day was filled with so many interesting conversations it is difficult to get it all into one reasonably short blog post, I’m very much looking forward to the next meeting and continuing the facinating discussion!


3 Responses to “Melbourne Community Manager Roundtable”

  1. Alison Says:

    I didn’t know where to start with summing up day of free flowing convo, so good work! I would have liked to hear more about your community on the day but there were so many competing communities (and battle scars).

    To expand/add another dimension to your post is the question of paid roles vs volunteers.

    Do you pay Mods (eg. Habbo) or have more senior in-house paid roles (eg. Lonely Planet) and less volunteers? There seem to be a few different models out there that work with varying success.

    I think managing vols is a challenging task, as is managing remote staff so when you combine the two it is worth looking into the resources used to manage this model.

    And resources aside lots of issues crop up with managing Volunteers as you have mentioned. The issue of power is an ongoing one with online (and IRL!) communities. I need to do a Pros n Cons blog I think!

    Great post Mick 🙂

  2. venessapaech Says:

    Thanks for coming along, and for this great reflection Mick.

    As Alison says, the question of volunteers versus in-house is a potent one.

    I think the nature of your community and its content is a big factor here. For example, if you have a global, external facing community you’ll be subject to certain kinds of legal regimes around safe harbor, defamation, etc. If you have an internal intranet where contributors are largely from one region/country, your legalities are less complex.

    Trusting user/volunteer moderators to mitigate around the former is a high-risk scenario I’d caution against. Those individuals are defacto reps for your organisation, and you need to be able to manage them accordingly.

    To Alison’s point, this takes up a lot of time, and can be a bit like focusing too much energy on problematic community members. You just want to stop and focus on those members doing the right thing. I look forward to Alison’s pros and cons post!

  3. Mick Leyden Says:

    @Alison and @Venessa – Great point, one had not stuck in my mind in the wash up of the day. I am really glad you mentioned it as it’s very relevant to my current planning. I’m hoping to be able to use a combination of Vols and Staff, it will be interesting to see how that unfolds, I’m looking forward to your post too! 🙂

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