So, managing an online community isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, huh?

As an undergraduate student, I spent a lot of time on Facebook.  I mean, a lot of time.  It was my go-to distraction for avoiding all types of homework and it was the tool for keeping up on what everyone was doing, even though they were only a dorm room away and I probably could have asked them myself.  My friends I habitually posted our pictures after every weekend and couldn’t wait to choose the new profile picture for the week.  Facebook, during that time, was just fun activity; a tool that allowed me to post embarrassing pictures of my friends and witty statements on their walls.  I never gave much thought to the fact that it could one day become an integral part of my career.

Fast forward 2 years after graduation and visit  I have been managing this Facebook Page (along with 8 Ettractions Twitter accounts—try following @ettractionsCHI for information on great places to visit and things to do in Chicago—a Foursquare Account and their overall website in general) since June of 2010 as part of an internship that turned into a contracted position.  When I first started, I literally thought to myself: developing an online community on Facebook—no problem.  After all, on my personal Facebook Page I have over 800 friends, how hard could it be to get 800 or even more “Likes?”  Turns out, developing, and nurturing an online community of users has been quite a  challenge, and the journey to the 302 “Likes” the page currently has was not easy (although I have to admit, that the job is fun, exciting and rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other position out there).

I thought I would take the remainder of this blog post to share a little what I have learned and use’s article The Art Of Building Virtual Communities to ground some of my reasoning.  Also, for those of you who are interested in the concept of fostering an online community as a profession, I highly recommend that you follow @ambercadabra on Twitter, or follow her blog, Brass Tack Thinking at for great resources and insight.  She really hits the nail (or is it the tack?) on the head when it comes to thinking of online spaces and the people that visit them as communities and community members.  I’ve learned a lot from her tweets and blog posts as they have helped me keep a healthy perspective on what exactly I am doing in terms of creating this community online.

What I’ve learned:

  • Don’t worry if you aren’t seeing high numbers of “Likes,” or getting a lot of people to “follow” or “friend” you:  People are definitely “linkers.”  Facebook Insights came out with this new analytic tool called “Impressions” a few months ago and at first I was stunned to see the results.  According to the Insights tool, one of my wall posts had been viewed 1,435 times.  How could this be, I thought?  I only have 267 “Likes” and no one has commented on the page in the last 3 days?  It was then I realized that people were viewing the Ettractions Facebook Page, but they weren’t necessarily ready to commit to being a member of the page  (a “lurker”) and they certainly weren’t reader to contribute to the page (a “learner”).  Instead they just wanted to take a look around, read some posts, look at some pictures and leave.  Maybe they found the page through Twitter, or maybe it popped up in their News Feed.  Whichever way they found it, the important thing to keep in perspective is that they saw the page, saw the brand, and maybe found something interesting and engaging on the page that will keep them coming back.
  • Being a community “Leader” takes time, effort, consistency, and the ability to change:  I update the page every day, Monday-Friday, and set up posts to go out on Saturdays and Sundays.  I have a schedule of things to post, when to post them, what to link to, who to respond to, etc. However, I consider my schedule to be a “work in progress” because I never know what might come up that needs to be featured or showcased.  The members of the community will tell you what they want, whether it is textually, through their comments, or, and in some cases the most telling of places, through their silence.
  • Pay attention to silence:  While I did mention before that most people are “linkers” or, another way to look at it, “consumers,” it is important to remember that the point of creating these online spaces is to create a dialogue with the visitors.  If people are never “lurking” or, commenting, then you really need to pay attention to reasons for this silence.  Maybe you are only posting information that promotes your product and you never actually invite conversation.  Maybe the topics aren’t that interesting.  Maybe your tweets sound like sales pitches.  Maybe you need to be more human, more transparent.  Whatever the case may be, it is important to change things up a bit, try new ideas and ask for feedback from your community.  Avoid getting stuck in your ways at all costs.  (***Warning*** Paying attention to silence and turning consumers into contributors is one of the hardest things I have encountered, and I still haven’t gotten it right.  I’m always learning and trying new things, hoping that something along the way will work and invoke response.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.  The most important thing to remember is to keep going, keep learning, keep trying.)

I wanted to end this blog post by pasting some of my favorite tips from’s article.  I found these to be refreshing reminders of the attitude to have when “Leading” an online community.  I hope to keep these in the back of my head on those days where I just want to give up:

  • Size of the community isn’t as important as results. Participants ask themselves what is the benefit of membership? What is the value added? How good a job does the community do of taking all the information and redistributing in an effort to give something back?
  • Community organizers should view their role as part of the community, not feel they own it
  • Healthy communities are self-managing and self-governing. Members have a sense of ownership
  • Better title for the organizer is community instigator. Have the philosophy that everyone is a leader. Ask what do you bring? Where are your talents? There is a place for everyone and everyone in their place.

What do you think?  Has anyone else experienced similar frustrations, successes, or situations in their role as a community manager (organizer, instigator—still trying to figure out what to call it!)?  As always, feel free to share comments, questions, insights, etc.  It’s been almost a year with and I still can’t believe that I’ve gone from picking out bumper stickers to put on my friend’s Facebook Walls to creating a space to not only market a brand, but cultivate community on Facebook.  Who would have thought?

    • ginny
    • February 18th, 2011

    This is a really interesting and blog post – thanks for sharing your experience! Many of us will be in a position to wrangle a social network on behalf of an employer in the future, and these insights will be useful when that scary time comes.

    I especially appreciate your discussion of “paying attention to silence.” It’s a concept that is important not only for this kind of community leadership, but for any person who is in a leadership or managerial position, and yet I’ve never seen anyone explain it that way before!

  1. Thanks for the nice comment 🙂 Glad the post was helpful!

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