05.23.2017

One of our favorite things about running CMX Summit, and all the meetups and webinars we host all over the country every year, is getting to meet with community managers of all stripes to find out what’s working in their own communities.

But the flip side is that sometimes things don’t always go as smoothly as we might hope. To that end, we wanted to highlight some of the mistakes we’ve seen others making—and made ourselves—because sometimes knowing what doesn’t work can be just as valuable as what does.

1.    Keeping Interactions Impersonal

Your community is made up of people. That sounds elementary, and of course it is, but it’s important to bear that in mind with every interaction you have or brand experience you help engineer. Because one of the most common mistakes we run across is community managers inadvertently treating their communities as a business asset without injecting a human element.

How can you avoid this? First off, listen. Let the conversations your community starts lead the way and avoid giving a stock answer or response. Make certain that you aren’t just responding, e.g. if someone’s had an issue, don’t just offer them a discount on their next order and move on, instead engage with your community members to see what went wrong, what you can do about it in the future, and help engender a sense of being heard.emotional man on a beach

2.    Conversely, Being Too Emotionally Invested

A great community manager cares about the community they manage, but it’s important to keep what that means in perspective. At the end of the day, it’s still business and it’s always important to keep it professional. While it’s your role to nurture and support your brand, you are not your brand. You can’t take it personally.

Because, as we all know, especially if we manage online communities, people are not always at their best when they’re upset and have a modicum of anonymity to boot. As the moderator of your community, you must keep things in perspective. This requires thick skin. Sometimes very thick. Sometimes like an elephant’s! But if you react emotionally to every incident that might arise, you’re likely to escalate a situation unnecessarily while also damaging your own psyche in the process.

3.    Waiting for Critical Mass before Responding

Repeat after me: You must stop a crisis before it boils over. You must stop a crisis before it boils over. You must stop a crisis before it boils over.

In other words, be proactive. There’s a reason the come-from-behind sports story is a trope of movies (hint: it’s rare).

Think about it. Just about every week, you’ll come across a new example of some large brand that has made a grave mistake and is being taken to task for it quite publicly on the Internet. Oftentimes, you could probably pinpoint the exact moment that the brand failed its community and then failed again to be proactive and let the situation get out of hand.

So how can you prevent this? First, focus on creating a community that’s non-toxic, where members feel safe and heard so that they’re more likely to bring any potential problems to you rather than blast it across the internet.

Second, pay attention. Focus on listening, observing, and intuiting when there might be negative feelings a-brewing and don’t wait for your community members to come to you. Offer support before they might even know that they need it.Robot looking at camera

4.    No Brand Voice

Hello, humans. We are glad you are here with us, humans. Please come join our human community, humans. Does that sound something like a robot trying to manage a community? Unfortunately, many of us unintentionally end up sounding similarly in our own interactions with our community. We’re boring and we’re not connecting. Oftentimes, this can be a case of not having a clear idea of how to interact with our community members.

What can solve that? First of all, keep in mind that when you’re nurturing a community, the idea of storytelling should always be in your mind. Show, don’t tell. Show your brand to your community members, don’t just tell them about the idea of it. A clear path toward doing this is to have a content strategy in place that will help guide all of your interactions and keep you focused on what your overall story actually is.

Next, keep your interactions friendly. It’s okay to be open and it’s okay to have a sense of humor, but stay professional and don’t let “friendly” become “juvenile”. Conversely, remember that you are the authority in your community, not the authoritarian. Refrain from policing the small things that might be better worked out between community members.

5.    Sticking to the Script

Scripts can help you get it right at times when you’re interacting with your community, and having a plan for responses in place can help you maintain continuity in your communications, but you still need to customize. After all, you don’t want to be like an automated phone line when you’re interacting with your community members, it’s an easy way to alienate them and convince them that their feelings and opinions don’t matter.

Have fun when you can. For example, if some of your brand channels are on social, don’t be afraid to be playful when it seems appropriate. Look at how much good will and free brand exposure Wendy’s garnered from the free nuggets kid on Twitter!

Mostly, just be aware that even though your message to your community should generally stay consistent, you should find ways to personalize each and every interaction you have with your community.

6.    No Customization of Content Across Brand Channels

What works in a small and intimate meetup might not work at a less personal webinar or chopped up into 140 characters on a social channel. To make certain you’re engaging with your community most effectively, it’s imperative that you take the time to customize your voice and tone and content strategy and extend it from the community to all other content that your brand creates. Community content must match company content, but it shouldn’t be boilerplate.

Take into consideration each of your brand channels’ specific audiences and customize your approach to be most effective for each. For example, if one of your brand’s pieces of content is a very specialized white paper, you’re going to want to have a very different way of presenting it than you might for a photo asset that you share in your community’s private Facebook Group. It’s cerebral vs. visual.

Make sure you know the in’s and out’s of who exactly each brand channel is reaching—i.e. their age, the medium, their ability to respond, etc.—and customize your message in order that you might generate the biggest response and engagement.

7.    Focusing on Size instead of Building a Truly Valuable Community

We’ll ignore the easy joke here, but the age-old saying is actually true when it comes to matters of community: size doesn’t matter. Instead, it’s the quality of the interactions between your brand and your community as well as individual community members between one another that does.

Whether you’re working within social channels or leading in-person meetups, you are likely tempted to equate the raw numbers of who shows up or how many retweets or shares you get with the overall health of your effort. But you need to keep in mind, not all followers or participants are created equally.

But how can you know if your small community is having an outsized impact that’s bigger than it might seem? Keep your eye on the big picture (look up into the SPACE Model, friends!) and tie your community’s health back to that big picture.

For example, are folks coming back? Are they engaging amongst themselves? Do they actively help recruit more community members? Does all of that tie back to product, sales, marketing, or other brand-building value?

If you can start to answer these types of questions using data, you’re on the right path and focusing on what really matters.Two foxes fighting

8.    Being Reactive to Negative Feedback

Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of negative feedback, and sometimes, our roles as community managers can feel like we’re constantly in the crosshairs. Being just the human beings that we are, it can be very tempting to lash out and be reactive toward negativity, especially when it seems unfair. Don’t.

When you’re on the receiving end of negative feedback, no matter how unfair or misguided it might be, refrain from arguing about it. Being contentious or returning bad feelings with bad feelings will only serve to escalate the situation. Instead, stay positive and be proactive. React quickly to close the negative feedback loop and resolve the issue. If you need to, vent to a friend or family member, but never bring that negativity into your community.

And finally, think hard before deleting any negative feedback. While it might be difficult to read, it’s oftentimes a strong asset for prompting valuable growth.

9.    Not Tracking Success

You probably have a feeling in your gut when your community is growing, interacting, and generally on the right track. But can you prove it? Are you sure? In our research on community value, we’ve found that 56% of community managers don’t have their metrics in place within six months of a community launch and that even might be inadvertently monitoring metrics that don’t actually show the whole picture of how a community is succeeding and where it might be lacking.

Without a road map for properly tracking your community’s growth, response, and interactions, it can be very difficult to spot your wins and your losses, making it difficult to know how to move forward. And what can this mean? A lack of internal support which can make your job into an uphill battle.Pile of clutter

10. Trying to Do Too Much

Most community managers work under multiple departments and have two jobs. You might be a little bit marketing, a little bit executive, for example. This is a problem because it can keep you feeling perpetually off-kilter and unable to figure out where your attention should be at any given moment. Fight for your focus. I can hear some of you silently screaming, “But how!!!” I hear you, it can be difficult. If you’re lucky and have the budget and ability, hire on the help that you need to take as much off your plate as possible.

At the very least, work on having a clear strategy in place for both your immediate and long-term goals. Once you have a strong understanding of where you want to go, it can help more clearly illuminate the steps you’re going to have to take to get there. Let those things become your focus and then you can pay less mind to the things that aren’t going to get you there.

Interested in sharing your own community mistakes? Join our CMX Hub Facebook Group and find plenty of like-minded folks who would love to share in your journey.

Rebecca Bridge

Rebecca Bridge

Rebecca Bridge is an English professor, poet, screenwriter, mother, author, and (multiple) dog owner who lives in Seattle. She has been a Content Strategist for the past seven years and has worked with hundreds of brands to help them build connections with their communities and develop strategies that help them humanize what they do.