Leading Community Managers out of the engagement trap

Hi everyone,

I just finished reading The Indispensable Community and it made me reflect on my current situation, which I would like to share with you.

Scenario:
Imagine you have a role as - let’s call it “Community consultant” with the task to improve the overall performance of a company’s Community Management Team (gaming).

Situation:

  • Said team consists of 40+ offsite Community Managers (working from home) all around the globe.
  • Almost all of them have been working with their communities for 5-10 years, pursuing one goal: Chasing engagement (Because 10+ years ago they were taught that this is what online Community Management is about).
  • Almost all of them seem to be convinced that it is all about making members post as much as possible, generate positive feedback and “make members happy”.
  • When this approach is questioned, CMs often react defensively (“We’ve been doing that for years, and the Communities are still around, so we must be doing something right. Don’t question my 10-years-experience”).

Challenge:
It’s one thing to persuade one or two executives or stakeholders, but changing the mindset of a 40-headed team who is stuck in the engagement trap, convinced that everything is fine, seems an even bigger challenge to me.

I am eager to find a way to lead them out of this trap (before judgment day arrives), and am thankful for any thoughts or tips you may have.

Cheers,

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I think it’s pretty simple really – ask them what value they’re getting from the engagement and see what they say.

I also think it’s important to remember that some degree of engagement is very important in almost all communities. If someone isn’t creating content then what motivation is there for anyone else to visit?

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I tend to lean toward quality over quantity in terms of engagement value and the meaning derived from said engagement by the community at large. In some circumstances, I’d rather have one meaningful post rather than 10 mindless posts that offer no value to the conversation.

@hawk makes a valid point that some degree engagement is vital to community functioning, mindless or otherwise.

We are always striving to maintain the balance as CM’s, no?

40+ CM’s seems like a one of those “too many cooks in the kitchen” situations. Addressing the collective mindset (AKA the “engagement trap”) of the CM’s is definitely the first challenge. Creating a list of action items might help the CM’s redirect their focus. Humans are not terribly good at adaptation, and perhaps seeing what other KPI’s you’re seeking, alternative to engagement, might be helpful.

With that in mind, @Andrej_Raider, what might you be looking for out of this community if engagement is not the main focal point?

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I think you need to lead the community managers through a journey of understanding. They need to be brought together in a global meet-up where new goals are defined. And to help them out, you back it up with specific objectives and examples so they can see what needs to be changed.

To be honest, a lot of community managers strive for community management because they literally don’t know what else to measure / aim for. You need to redefine the game that they’re playing.

If you get challenged:

  1. Just because your community has been around for 10 years doesn’t mean it’s been the best 10 years, or the most appropriate 10 years, or the 10 years that have met company objectives. Being the last man running in a race that no one cares about doesn’t win you a medal. It’s time to run the race that people care about, whether that means gaming feedback, bug testing, beta testing, etc.
  2. Chasing engagement for the sake of engagement can yield some very warped results. It tends to amplify extreme opinions, fear-driven content, and offtopic humor. It doesn’t cultivate content is relevant, thoughtful, appropriate, or what the company actually wants. It also tends to reward the ‘overtalkers’ - the handful of users who feel the need to give their opinion on EVERYTHING, even when their response has nothing to do with the primary topic. Users from overlooked backgrounds (ie. minorities, females, or whatever) also benefit from having some breathing space to voice their opinion.
  3. What is judgement day? What are the repercussions for not following the community plan? They’re NOT running their own communities where they can do whatever they want. They are running the community on behalf of the company and it’s ultimately the company that owns the community.

Lastly, this also means YOU need to redefine what’s reported to senior management. You can’t just point out the number of new members, new topics, and other engagement metrics. You need to point out the number of bugs reported and solved, the number of beta testers and depth of testing, the community managers who are focused on these new benchmarks, and the community managers who need to be culled.

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Hey there

Here’s what I can think of
Ask your CMs to define objective of the community a single sentence. This has to be the big picture on the community with a linkage on the brand and digital objectives. Then align on the metrics that are used to measure the objective.

How does generating engagement align to this core objective and how can you connect it with the community’s ROI?

I think you could get them thinking and then share examples of communities that have engagement + other objectives it could help.

Cheers,
J

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Thanks so much for all your input! Indeed, this was very helpful for me and triggered some ideas.

I think this is the right question to ask, but I doubt that it will trigger a significant change in the long run.

I realize that questioning the current approach or ask the Community Managers to “come up with more meaningful goals” won’t be enough. As joelr mentioned,

So, I feel in that case the team needs to be “taken by the hand” (at least at the beginning).

That’s a great question and I gave it a thought but realized that it’s not easy for me to give one definite answer on that :slightly_smiling_face:
It’s quite dynamic. The goals not only vary from product to product, but also from situation to situation.
The product departments frequently develop new content and I feel that every content release requires individual goals and strategies not only on product-side and marketing-side but also for the CM-team.

With that in mind, I am thinking to introduce a quarterly goals-conference with the teams, where the CMs get briefed about the current goals of the quarter, so they can make it their goals and pursue them in their Communities. And then, at the end of the quarter, review the results.
I think this could be a first good step for them to establish a goal-oriented approach rather than running the default engagement-program time and again, regardless of the situation. (Not trying to demonize engagement, I just feel it shouldn’t be the main objective :sweat_smile:).

Yes, I think this will be necessary!
I am sure that during this “journey” I will run into the next problem that some CMs may not know how to set up tactics that contribute to those goals. I think this can be solved with one-on-one coaching-sessions and perhaps also by showing some best-practice cases / examples.

Thanks so much for your thoughts so far, and if you have any more, please keep them coming :slight_smile:

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