By Alyssa Curran

Ah, the internet. The birthplace of endless cat memes, double rainbows, not-quite-birthing giraffe live feeds and a source of limitless information on any topic you so desire. If you’re lucky enough to manage social media for a public figure, brand page, organization or even yourself, you’ve likely done some community management. What is community management? It’s the management and cultivation of a group of people online. More specifically, it’s serving as the moderator or administrator of everybody’s collective comments and opinions, trying to find harmony and maintain a peaceful digital community where people feel safe to “hang out” online.

Sounds easy, right? Not exactly. Community management is a task that may sound minimal, but can easily become the full-time jobs of a team of twenty. There are even agencies dedicated to solely teaching community management practices and policies. If you’re a small social media presence, for example, let’s say, Sally’s Sweet Shop, a pleasant, small-town candy shop with 117 Facebook likes, it’s likely that you do some element of community management here and there. Maybe you reply to a negative Yelp review, and give a “thumbs up” to the people who posted a sweet selfie with one of your famous truffles. Whether you’re a tiny independent business or a giant brand with millions of followers, standard community management principles apply no matter the size of your community.

Community Engagement
Social Media is SOCIAL. It is not ANTI-social media. To best foster a collaborative and thriving online community, you need to make an effort to engage with the people commenting, liking, and sharing on your page. This doesn’t need to take a ton of your time; it’s simply “liking” here, RTing there, thanking people for posting photos, and letting people know that you’ve heard their feedback. When in doubt, always reverse the roles. If you posted on your favorite sweet shop’s Facebook wall with a cute selfie, wouldn’t you like it if the shop wrote back and thanked you for visiting?

Moderating the Nastygrams
It’s virtually impossible to please everyone all the time. This is your first lesson in community management. Your skin will eventually grow tougher, and you’ll realize that somebody who’s written a diatribe about the evils of whatever happened may have just had a really bad day. If their comment is harsh but reasonable, take a deep breath, reply when you’re calm, and address the situation. If you’d rather not write out details online, ask for their phone number or email in a private message and address offline. Do NOT ignore your negative comments! Eventually, these will grow, and become a dark fungus on the once pretty home of your social media. If the comment is hateful or profane, advance to step number four.

House Rules
Is your community bustling? Is there a new social media situation every month, like Velma Vanilla keeps trying to sell her new diet pills on your Sweet Shop page, and your constituents are getting annoyed? It may be time to institute house rules. This can either be a single post that is pinned to your Facebook page, or a link you place in your profile or tabs. Your house rules are simple: They state what IS allowed on your page, what ISN’T, how you will handle what ISN’T allowed, who your administrators are, and how to connect an administrator or moderator if need be. Not sure what we mean? Check out these examples on Pepsi’s Facebook page, or the house rules in the “About” section on the Oreo Facebook page.

Give ‘em the boot: Blocking or Banning
Blocking or banning is something that should be done with a light hand, and seldom. If you block people too liberally, you’ll be opening yourself up to a reputation as somebody who hides reasonable feedback about your business, and you don’t want to do that, as negative dissent can quickly multiply. However, if you notice a certain name who keeps coming back, who is swearing, who posts hateful speech or constant spam, give ‘em the boot. Remember, a dedicated troll can come up with a new name, so you’ll never be rid of this person FOR GOOD, but it’s one solution towards maintaining a troll-free community. Whatever you do, DO NOT fight back. Don’t engage. Don’t feed the trolls. Remember, sometimes all the troll (or bully) wants is your negative reaction. Don’t give them that. Rise above, and move on.

Airing your dirty laundry
Let’s go back to Sally’s Sweet Shop for a moment. Let’s say the sweet shop has suddenly noticed an uptick in people complaining about the change to the recipe of their famous fudge. There have been 14 comments in the past 2 months, and Sally is getting tired of the comments on her page about the change in fudge, so she posts an update to her whole Facebook community letting people know she had to change the recipe due to cost. Sounds like a good idea, right? Not exactly. Fourteen comments over two months on a page of 117 people is not much – that means, there were 103 people who liked the fudge enough or didn’t even notice, that now know that something is going on with Sally’s fudge. She makes the Facebook post, and suddenly, people who didn’t even know about the change are commenting what a shame it is that her Grandma’s original recipe had to be changed. If Sally had just chosen to address the negative fudge comments individually, she wouldn’t have aired her dirty laundry to everyone. In some instances, a broad Facebook post makes sense. But if it truly is something minimal that will blow over with no harm or inaccuracy, address comments individually.

Every online community is different, but if you truly take the time to monitor the pulse in your community, you’ll find that managing them can be enlightening, educational, and yes, even fun. Remember: take a deep breath, be social, and don’t feed the trolls.

Alyssa works on social media for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, a 60-mile walk to end breast cancer. In the past she’s managed communities ranging from teensy-weensy to massive. When she’s not tweeting, “Liking”, or blogging, she’s crafting recipes in the kitchen, playing with her daughter, or buying more nail polish she doesn’t need. Tweet her on Twitter or link up with her on LinkedIn.

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