A lot of people would probably love community management to be about being nice to people online.
If someone has a question, you help them. If someone has a complaint, you resolve it. Yet, this ignores the big picture of growing, developing and sustaining a highly-active community.
There is a limit to how much time you can spend doing one-to-one discussions with members. The more time you spend doing this, the less time you have to do the high-impact work that affects all members.
Resolve one member’s question, and they might have another in a few days.
We need to first undertake the activities that have an impact upon the most members over the longest period of time. Then we need to do the activities that have a big impact over a relatively short period of time. Finally, we need to do the activities that affect a few members over a small amount of time.
Affects lots of members over the long-term
For example, setting up a good segmentation/e-mailing system is high impact. It affects all community members. It increases the level of activity overall. It might take a few days to set up, but once it works it pays off indefinitely.
Another example, creating and updating the community history is high impact over the long-term. It increases the sense of community for all members in the community. There are numerous other examples. Optimizing the newcomer to regular conversion ratio, persuading members to become columnists/content creators for the community, build up a group of insiders/volunteers etc…
These are all things you can do once and then continue to pay off for a long time.
Affects lots of members over the short-term
Then we have the activities that affect a lot of members over the short-term.
This would include organizing regular events/activities, creating content/newsletters for members, introducing word– marketing activities, initiating self-disclosure discussions etc…
Affects few members over the short-term
Finally we have the firefighting tasks. This means moderating discussions, removing the bad stuff, responding to members questions, resolving complaints/disputes between members. These all affect a tiny number of members over the short-term.
The problem is we’re far more comfortable at the bottom of this list than the top. We spend too much time on the elements that affect few members than the elements that affect most members over the short-term.
Most communities fail to grow and develop because the community managers aren’t proactively trying to grow, develop, and improve their communities. They enjoy the firefighting and individual interactions too much.
This is the clash between what you want to be doing and what you need to be doing. Too frequently we spend too much time on the former and not enough on the latter. Fortunately, this is easy to fix, simply do the long-term, high-impact activities first (every day!).