Yesterday I spoke with a community manager who doesn't have a strategy to develop her community. She resolves issues as they arise. She isn't alone. Many community managers don't have a plan for their community.
You must have a 3 - 6 month calendar of proactive actions to improve and develop the community. If you're always in reactive mode, you'll miss both the opportunities and the threats to your community.
We need people who can use data, theory and experiences to set objectives and clear actions for growth, moderation, content, events, relationships, business integration and technology. If you don't, you're in reactive mode - and that's bad for a community.
A good plan for a community will answer many of the following questions:
What type of growth does the community need? Replenishment or expansion? What channels will be used to grow the community? Direct recruitment, promotion or referrals? What data, theory or evidence supports this? How much time should be spend on this? What has worked best in the past?
This will then be put into a practical action plan i.e. Who will you approach? Why will you approach these people? What will you tell them? Why will you tell them this (link this to motivation)? What tactics will you use to stimulate referrals? How will you convert newcomers into regulars? What will these people do in the community? When will you take each of these actions? What will success look like?
Events & Activities
What will happen in the community for the next few months? What activities/events does your community need to host? What is most engaging? How big will they be? What live-guest chats, themed discussions, challenges, competitions, interviews and off-line activities will you host? What's coming up in the calendar that could make for a great community-related event? When should you host an offline event?
A community needs regular events. Events created shared experiences which increase the sense of community amongst members. This means more participation. And how are these events connected to the other elements of the strategy e.g. recruitment, content and moderation?
Remember that the events you host will need content, discussions and possibly technology changes to support them.
What content will you create for the next 3 months? Why this sort of content? What sort of content has worked well in the past? Will you create content about members? About the community's broader ecosystem? Or about the organization?
What will be your big exclusives and cornerstone pieces of content? Will you publish news or advice? What about previews, reviews, interviews, predictions and a variety of other types of content?
What will happen on each of the days in your community for the next 3 months? Remember the rule of repetition, content should be competitive. So you might interview a community member every Wednesday for the next 3 weeks, for example. This doesn’t need to be a huge amount of work.
What are the objectives for content? Increased page views? Repeat visits? Calls to action? How much time will you spend on content?
What is the moderation strategy? Will it be strict or relaxed?
Will you stimulate discussions in certain areas? What sorts of topics will you make into sticky threads? How will you steer your community? How many discussions will you be planning to start? What is your strategy for getting people to participate?
What are your benchmarks and what are your future targets? How many people will be participating per day? How many new discussions? How many people stimulating discussions? Why this many? How will you influence this?
How concentrated will activity be? When will you open up different areas of the community for discussion? How much time will you spend ensuring topics receive a reply? What are your processes for resolving conflicts?
Who are the most important people in the community? What counts as an important person? How will you build relationships with them? What are your objectives for this relationship – how does this fit in with your strategy?
Will you be developing a group of insiders and recruiting volunteers? How many volunteers do you need (this should be based upon the work above)? What will they do? How will you achieve this within three months?
How much time will you spend on this? You should have targets here e.g. personal relationships with the top 10 members of the community, 20 volunteers etc...
What technology trends do you need to be aware of? What’s lurking on the horizon? What do you need to begin thinking about and planning for now for the community to be a success in the future?
How much downtime have you had? What issues need to be resolved on the platform? Where are the bottlenecks? What practical steps can be taken to resolve these? How can you improve the platform and automate some of the more tedious processes?
How much time will you spend on technology changes in your community platform? How much time will you spend on updates and maintaining the technical side of the community?
Have a clear technology plan for the next 3 - 6 months. This should include practical steps each set for a specific date.
Is the organization getting what they need from the community? What is the disconnect?
How integrated is the community with the organization? Are employees participating? How many? Is the business giving the community exclusive news and content first? Are you interviewing key people within the organization?
Is the organization reacting to what happens in the community? Are complaints being addressed? Or ideas being picked up upon? Does the community feel they are respected by the organization?
You can, and should, set practical targets for each of these areas.
By the end of this process you should have a clear plan of action, down to each specific day, with targets for what you want to achieve and a rationale for why you want to achieve it. This will force you to proactively develop the community every day.
It's very easy to wait for things to happen or to take actions without knowing why. It's much more difficult to find people who can create a practical action plan for an online community that is specific and defensible (based upon evidence/theory).
A community manager should always know what they're working on and how it fits with the broader community strategy. They should never be stuck in a reactive mode. Every action listed above should have a time estimate and be set on a specific day during the week.
If not everything fits, then you need to prioritise and cut out the less important tasks.
Two further things here.
1) By setting targets in each of these areas, the work of the community manager can be judged. Right now it's too difficult to tell the difference between a good and bad community manager.
2) By having such a clear plan, the community manager can track their own progress and make a clear case for more resources along with the benefits to the community of these additional resources.