As learning experience designers move into the realm of social and informal learning, there’s a lot to be learned. This interview with Christopher Pappas, who has run many learning communities, offers insights into what it takes to be a community manager.
COACH: How long have you been a community manager?
CHRIS: I’ve been an online community manager since 2007. I always wanted to connect, interact and share knowledge with professionals that had similar interests with me. For example, in 2007, I created the Moodlers group at Ning. The Moodlers community was an extremely popular online community for sharing best practices and “moodle knowledge.”
In May 2008, I created the Instructional Design and e-Learning Professionals’ Group at LinkedIn, which has 14K+ members all over the world.
Recently, I created the Freelance in Instructional Design and e-Learning Industry Group for professionals and organizations that are looking to hire instructional designers and eLearning professionals on a project or temporary basis.
COACH: What large organizations have their own managed internal communities?
CHRIS: Nowadays, companies of all sizes, from start-ups to multinational corporations, have created internal communities. For example, several large organizations that have their own internal communities are Adobe, Yahoo, Oracle, Virtual Trip Group, eLearning Guild and eFront. See How to Launch an Online Community at Your Organization.
COACH: What are the typical job tasks of an online community manager?
CHRIS: In my opinion, the primary role is to build an online community of professionals that are involved in the same field, have the same interests, and work in the same industry. My typical job tasks as an online community manager at the Instructional Design and e-Learning Professionals’ group include:
- Helping instructional designers and (or) e-Learning professionals find a project or a temporary job
- Sharing industry knowledge via blog posts, tweets, etc.
- Being passionate about e-Learning community building
- Being proactive, enthusiastic, organized and detail-oriented
- Writing short-form content, editing, and communicating effectively with the e-Learning community members
COACH: What personal qualities are important for being an effective community manager?
CHRIS: My top 10 personal qualities that make an effective online community manager are:
- Passion about the industry
- Knowledge about the industry
- Willingness to share and learn from the community
- Strong communication skills
- Sense of ownership
- Strong social skills
- Supportive attitude
COACH: What are the rewards of managing an online community?
CHRIS: I am indeed a social person who loves to share knowledge, listen carefully, and learn (life long learner). Thus, my reward is the continuing every day communication and collaboration with professionals across the globe. My role as an online community manager has helped me to develop a global understanding of the eLearning industry, find new friends, new colleagues, and new partners.
COACH: What kinds of rules must a manager establish for an online community?
CHRIS: Excellent question! In order to make an online community effective, the community needs the following from its members:
- Be a real human being: Encourage members to sign up with their email address and real name. Limiting membership to real participants keeps the conversations constructive and means no one has to deal with anonymous trolls.
- Aim for respectful, constructive conversations: Without constructive feedback and debate, a community won’t be able to achieve its collective goal. Without respect and civility, constructive feedback and debate is impossible.
- Be relevant: Ensure members keep posts on-topic and in the correct category of the group. Keep any other comments relevant to the content they’re attached to.
Here’s a list of behaviors I recommend that community members avoid. Do not:
- Harass or insult other members: Making personal attacks, insulting other members, or discussing a specific member in a negative way is not ok. The two golden rules are: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all; and treat others as you’d like them to treat you.
- Post private information: Do not publicly reveal information like your email address, phone numbers or addresses.
- Spam: Spam is posting the same message repeatedly across online community. Spam is sending the same message to multiple members or promoting or advertising external services, websites or other products.
COACH: What are common mistakes that new community managers make?
CHRIS: I have joined several online communities as a member. Based on my experience, the top 5 common mistakes that online community managers make are:
- The aim(s) of the online community are not clear.
- The online community manager does not obey community rules or even worse he/she has not developed any rules at all.
- The online community manager promotes his/her company’s products or services.
- The online community manager is not respectful to the community members.
- The online community manager creates an unofficial community which eventually becomes an organization’s official community.
COACH: How do you think a person can best learn to become an online community manager?
CHRIS: My suggestions to a person that would like to become a community manager are:
- Take relevant classes, such as marketing, public relations and international business.
- Learn from the experts.
- Volunteer as an assistant community manager.
- Just jump in and create online community(ies) and start managing them.
Does your workplace have an internal online community? What do you think makes a good community manager? Respond in Comments below.