Community Management

Community in Crisis

April 9, 2024

Co-Founder @Talkbase

One way or another, when it comes to communities, we're always dealing with people. Of course, we love and value data, but there is another side to it. Regardless of the topic of the community, the truth is we're engaging with humans, yes, real people! One of the best ways to engage effectively with the people in our communities is to listen and learn from them.

We sat down for a conversation with Tim McDonald, who shared his story of how, through a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, he understood the meaning and role of community in a whole new way.

We're sharing the key takeaways from our chat with Tim. Tim shares so much value and wisdom; we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Tim has been working in the community space for 16 years. It all started when he worked in real estate in the Chicago area. He got involved with the Social Media Club in Chicago, which hosts 150 people monthly. When they asked him to be on the board as a director of communications, Tim quickly realized that the role was much more than communications. At the time, being a community manager was not a common job role. In his experience, he did everything from social media communications and digital marketing to event planning and management. He was the picture of what we now know as a Community Manager. Tim saw a void that other community managers must have felt as well. It led Tim to create a website called My Community Manager. This was a community for community managers, a place where people like him could connect and support each other. The group filled the gap for many community managers who, at the time, lacked resources and support for many of the roles they had. During this time, Tim did a lot of live-streaming and community-building by learning and embracing everything about the community.

Next, Tim took on a role at HuffPost when they launched Huff Post Live and was promoted to Director of Community. Tim oversaw 57 people, and then things got quiet for the pandemic. At the same time, Tim started to notice symptoms he could not explain. In 2020, Tim was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

Here, at the height of the pandemic and facing stage 4 colon cancer with a 15% prognosis of survival, what Tim did next is a testament to the strength of communities.

We learned so much from Tim during our conversation, and of course, we want to share his wisdom about community management with you. Here are the key takeaways from our talk with Tim.

Use personas as a guide but not as a roadmap

In community, we usually want to assign a person to a member persona. Most communities are broader than that - the diversity of people in a group varies greatly (Man Up To Cancer - is a shining example of that). The people in the group don't fit the "persona."

Personas and planning can be valuable for communities. However, there are other people we need to find that need the community just as much engaged and they won't fit the personas that we developed. We need to make sure that certain factors do not exclude a person from the need they have for the topic, discussions and support happening in the group.

Engagement starts with you

Look for opportunities to communicate and get involved with new community members - never let a question hang and go unanswered. People like Tim are very engaged in the communities they belong to, but there is more than one way to participate in a group.

Ask a question - "Hey, we talked about this. Does anyone have the links or info?" Talk to your contributions consistently over a period of time - people engage with you back. Consistency means the community is always thriving. Build a community that has a percentage of the group that is always engaged. It won't be everyone. It's more like 10%

Go outside the roadmap

Take a chance on smaller interests from the larger group, and maybe even give members the trust to run smaller sub-groups based on their proactivity. There is value in when people do this, and there's no harm in communities filling these niches.

Support community members even if it's not in the plan yet. What can happen when you give members a bit of fuel and let them run with it? Probably more good than harm.

Be open to your members' needs

Once a group is established, how do community managers pass the baton to the group members and let them take the lead more? Tim says, "Sometimes the control we have is just in our heads." In a community, what works is embracing the lack of control. Tim was a proven group member over a consistent period of time—that was a standout characteristic—empowering them and supporting/allowing them to do it in their own way.

Learn from the lessons - can they be replicated? How can we create more of this? Yes, data is important, as is listening to the community members.

Seek balance with your members

Balance of different personalities. People have a way of lifting our energy up, and some tend to bring us down. In a community, it's a mix, and we don't always have the choice. Some folks will always be very active in your community, some will stay lurkers.

What Tim learned is that his role is not to change the other person - it's draining. He would find a way to work with that member in a way that lifts his energy. It reminds us that we can't control others, but we can control how we respond to them.

Check out our full interview over at our YouTube channel.

Klara Losert
Co-Founder @Talkbase

April 9, 2024

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