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Structure to Succeed – How to Maintain a Healthy Online Community

At one point or another, we’ve all been part of a digital community, from official forums and branded social pages, to volunteer-run Facebook groups, subreddits, and neighborhood message boards. Anyone who has participated in an online community can likely attest: not all communities are created equal. Regardless of size or purpose, successful communities have several qualities in common, ones that any community manager should strive for in their own environments.

What Makes a Community Healthy?

Oftentimes, failing communities are referred to as “toxic”; that is, the unwelcoming, negative attitudes of existing community members seemingly infect new members, perpetuating the existing unfavorable atmosphere and deterring others from participating.

On the contrary, a healthy community is one where the atmosphere is welcoming, and users are encouraged to return and engage in a positive way that is relevant to the focus of the community. A healthy community is consistently growing, or at least maintaining size. If you look at communities that continue to thrive, they have one other important thing in common that drives good health: a well-structured team supporting the community.

Structure your Community Team

A full-fledged community team will have several distinct roles:

Community Management: Developing strategy, content creation, and calendars. They decide what happens in the community when, and how. Community managers (and sometimes assistant community managers) are the official voice of the company or entity that owns the community, and as such, they must know how to present information clearly and professionally, and have solid strategies for addressing an array of potential crises. They are also the ones to establish the guidelines that engagement, support, and moderation agents follow.

Engagement and Support: Responding to members with the intent of encouraging conversation and return visits, as well as helping answer questions and resolve issues. It’s important that engagement and support agents know how to talk with members of the community, rather than at them. True engagement requires being well-versed in the community’s purpose and discussion topics, as well as the voice you’ve established for your brand. High quality engagement will allow members of the community to feel they are understood by and can connect with the agents you have tasked with representing your company.

Moderation: Ensuring adherence to community rules in order maintain a safe and welcoming environment. Moderators are able to judge content against the established guidelines for the community and remove or edit it accordingly. A good moderator will not only edit and remove content that violates the rules, but also ensure that violators are informed of what they did wrong and how they can instead contribute positively to the community.

Communication among these roles should be fluid from top to bottom as well as bottom to top. Community managers need to ensure everyone else working within the community is aware of upcoming events and content and how to engage around them. If specific questions or issues are expected around an announcement, agents should be equipped with approved responses and FAQs. At the same time, moderation, engagement and support agents should have a direct path for raising emerging topics and issues to the community manager, who can decide the most appropriate next steps.

Establishing distinct roles and responsibilities for all members of your team means a more efficient team that can focus on engaging your audience and fostering a healthy digital environment.

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