How do community managers build community?

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Talking to customers. Understanding their needs. Brokering disputes. Learning what’s best for the community as stated by the members of the community. And communicating that to others. These are some of the things that the best community managers do (online and offline) to build a great community. But what do they do, really? Community is a messy thing and not well understood – primarily because participants in a community perceive that community differently based on their life experience and their goals for participating in community.

Starting with a definition of community helps us to focus the problem and better understand what community managers need to do to build successful communities.


Place as Community

Communities among software users or Internet communities in general don’t always start from a place. The best of them take inspiration from John Winthrop’s famous 1630 speech where he suggested that New England Colonists should be “as a city upon a hill” and set an example of behavior for the rest of the world.

What does this mean for community? It means having physical meetings where you can see people eye to eye and learn more about them. It means that people ascribe meaning to virtual space (our community) and don’t treat it as just bits and bytes but as a replacement or augmentation for a physical thing. For some, the ultimate goal of online community is to have a place where we can do everything we can do in real life (IRL); for others it’s simply to create a hub for communication and coordination with those in our shared physical spaces.

Fellowship as Community

When we meet virtually or in person, we want to know by virtue of belonging to a community that the person is at least a little bit like us. We can seek the same goals, root for the same team, be interested in the same programming language, or want to succeed by using a product or service that we admire (or sometimes even love).

Online, these communities often appear in social media, in the communications that companies have with customers, and in the communications that customers have with each other when the brand is not involved. So what does a community manager do to build community?

Actions that build Community

Here are some actions that community managers do in their everyday work that build community.

Learning from Others

Successful community managers do a great job learning from others.

  1. Participate in Twitter Chats – some of the best ways to build community are to have conversations in real time on Twitter – for an example, visit the #custserv chat and #cmgrchat.
  2. Have Coffee Meetings that Don’t Scale – Contact other community types and ask them to coffee or 10 minute Skype.
  3. Commit Random Acts of Kindness – Make an effort to help one or two friends every days without the expectation of receiving something in return. See #payitforward for examples.

Practice Building Community

Great community happens one interaction at a time. Here are some ways to practice those interactions.

  1. Contribute to different communities – you can do this online and offline. Find some communities that you like and engage.
  2. Write about community building and share your insights – tell others about community tactics that work. Be specific, like “talk to three customers every day” – and share your work.
  3. Try new skills by engaging in new communities – by trying new products and engaging in new communities (check out Product Hunt for a great place to find new products)

Take Care of Yourself

You can’t build a community well if you don’t take care of yourself. Build for the sprints and for the marathons.

  1. Eat right. Have boundaries. Exercise. Smile.
  2. Sleep. Make sure when your computer’s battery winds down, you do too.
  3. Find things that help you recharge – then build again.

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