Article originally published on the blog of James Wong – The Online & Offline Adventures of a Social Entreprenuer.
Today, myself and Community Managers all across the nation are celebrating our successes, during the 3rd Annual Community Manager Appreciation Day (#CMAD). This internet-based pop culture celebration was originally founded back in 2010 by Jeremiah Owyang, of whom dubbed the 4th Monday of January as a day to reflect and to give thanks to Community Managers across the online landscape.
2012 marks my 18th year of managing online communities in various forms and industries. It is only as I reflect upon my own personal and professional experiences, that I realize how much the world has changed through technology and its adoption.
The Glory Days of BBS’s
It was 1994 and I was only 12 years old when I first became a Community Manager. Of course, we weren’t referred by that title at this point, as the internet was still a technology mainly used by “nerds” with pocket protectors and the latest in Sony Walkman technology. We were known only by those in the profession as System Operators, “SysOp” for short. SysOps managed rudimentary text-based communities called Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), which were the precursor peer-to-peer networks before the popular adoption of the Internet as we know today. Users had to dial into the server through phone lines, and most BBS systems only had a single incoming line, with a small handful of BBS’s having up to three incoming phone lines.
This was state-of-the-art and only a hobby for technologically inclined geeks of the 1990’s. In fact, technology was so limited during this time period that Google was only in its early start-up stages and was still being updated manually at this point in Internet history.
As a SysOp of three local BBS’s, I spend many hours dialing in and connecting to various BBS’s, constantly making new connections, new friends and absorbing as much knowledge and insight into what was popular and what wasn’t. Today, we call this user experience and usability studies, user behavior and competitive analysis. Back then, I called it listening to the community. Through text-only forums and in-game messaging within games like LORDS or MUD, SysOps were able to get a sense of what users enjoyed, wanted and needed from their BBS community.
Community Management Today
Fast forward 18 years, and we now have massive networks like Facebook and Twitter, and an entire society almost completely interconnected via laptops, mobile devices and even their internet-enabled TVs. We live in a world that operates on two timetables, the real world and the internet world, where time seemingly travels at 10x the speed of real-time.
Regardless of the technologies involved, and adoption rate, the basic principles of community management still holds true even today. Listening, engaging and developing new features that serve the purpose of the community, has and always will be the cornerstone of any successful online community. Community Managers must be given the flexibility and tools to quickly react to the needs of their communities, or risk mass exoduses to other communities more capable of meeting their needs.
Bridging the Online with the Offline
These days, I spend much of my time challenged with bridging the online and offline communities in which we live. While many organizations are only focused on engaging their supporters and community members via Facebook and other social networks, I enjoy bridging the gap and capitalizing on the benefits of connecting the online with the offline.
Today’s young generation of social media consumers have grown up knowing nothing but connecting with friends via Facebook, and text messaging their friends to stay in touch. Lost are the face-to-face communication skills vital to life-long success in the real world. As Community Managers, it’s our responsibility to serve our advocates and supporters as best as we can. In my mind, this includes bridging the online to offline gaps. Some of the most successful local networks are popular because they actively try to bring their online communities into the offline world for meet and greets, activities, games, events and more.
Linkedin Live Raleigh is a prime example of how an online community of over 100 million, can be enhanced through the opportunity of local members to come together and connect in the offline world. As one of the organizing partners, Virginia Johnson and I have fostered an environment of support, networking and community outreach at our monthly business networking events. In fact, we’ve managed to also bridge the gap between the for-profit and non-profit worlds which typically do not attend the same events, yet through the right messaging, one-to-one connections and online conversation, we’ve managed to integrate the two “worlds” and pull them both in and out of the digital world.
Celebrate With Us!
So take a moment today and thank your Community Managers that represent the online brands, services, businesses and organizations that you’ve come to love and pledge your loyalty to. Seek out opportunities to connect with the communities you’re a member of, both in the online and offline world. Don’t hesitate to offer feedback and suggestions to your Community Managers, because you never know which suggestions will make the cut – but those suggestions not offered are guaranteed to be overlooked.
Community Managers… never stop listening to your members, advocates and supporters. Embrace their feedback and fight for the flexibility to maintain the purpose and mission of the community at large. Strive to always improve upon your community, and whenever possible, bridge the gap between your online and offline membership.
Success is measured in many ways, but a truly successful Community Manager will know it in the voices and hearts of the members and advocates. It’s often the qualitative measurement of community sentiment that matters more than just the quantitative bottom-line. Satisfy the mission and purpose of the community, and they will always stand loyally by your brand.