A common story…
The community launches and quickly reaches a critical mass of activity.
A major benefit of the community to members is being able to engage directly with staff on issues that matter to them.
However, as the community grows, staff become busier and less accessible. Members start to feel neglected and sentiment in the community gradually turns against the organisation.
There are three interrelated problems here:
First, it’s hard to translate ‘accessibility’ into a metric. As a result it can’t easily be turned into a goal and thus rarely becomes a priority – at least not alongside more measurable priorities.
Second, you often don’t notice when accessibility is slipping precisely because you’re becoming busy with other tasks. You might think you’re still engaging with members at the same level, but members know that’s not the case.
Third, it’s easy to undervalue the importance of simply being accessible. If a superuser has a question, they should be able to get a reply from you within 24 hours in a private group. It’s good for engineers to visit the community frequently and tackle some questions. It shows the organisation cares.
Being accessible is important. It’s one of the major reasons to build a brand community in the first place. You get to give your most important audiences better access to you and each other.
The problems above also highlight a solution:
1) Make accessibility a metric you’re accountable for. Either add it as a question in your annual (or bi-annual) survey or measure the number of staff engagement in the community.
2) Recognise that new priorities will make you less accessible. As the community expands, you will become less accessible unless your headcount expands with the community.
3) Gather anecdotal feedback showing the importance of direct engagement. Whenever you see a positive outcome of direct engagement, capture it in Evernote (or any tool you like) and build up a growing collection of powerful stories to persuade others.
It might not entirely solve the problem, but it should hopefully help.