Community Management: Plan for What You Can Predict and What You Can’t

The biggest mistake any community manager can make is assuming nothing bad will ever happen. The reality is that issues large and small will crop up throughout the life of a community; it’s up to the community manager to have plans in place to address both the ones they can predict and the ones they can’t. We recently shared why structure is so vital to the ongoing health of your online community. Equally important is being ready for those unexpected and unfortunate moments that happen every now and again. For example:

  • Bots have invaded a forum community and are sending spam to all your members.
  • Users are outraged and vocal about a major announcement you just made on behalf of the company.
  • Your game servers crashed and there is no ETA on when they will come back.
  • There’s been a security breach and your users’ private information has been compromised.
  • Your cereal changed its recipe and everyone hates it.
  • There is a PR crisis spreading across your social channels, and it’s growing worse by the minute with your public community.

Any and all of these can happen (and have).

A community manager is a central, core figure between customer support, marketing, PR, and the direct audience-base. In times of trouble, a community manager is a general on-the-ground for a company, working within all stakeholder teams to get organized and direct with customers and communities.

In order to ensure issues are addressed, if not solved, quickly and with as little damage as possible, it’s important to have your community manager craft escalation paths ahead of emergencies, with all important parties. There should be separate paths for escalating the various types of issues you can reasonably plan for — server outages, shipping delays, product discontinuation,, bot invasions — as well as ones for public relations crises and other unpredictable scenarios. Keep in mind the importance of scalability for emergencies that require “all hands on deck.” Being able to unlock immediate access to necessary moderators or community staff is key.

To the point of scalability, it’s a given that your team will need to take time off for vacations, holidays, illness, or unexpected emergencies. There are also going to be times when a major announcement or event (or, dare we say it, crisis) creates significantly higher activity within your community than you see on a typical day. It’s important to have plans that keep your community covered at all times.

In many cases, it doesn’t make financial sense to rely entirely on internal, full-time staff for coverage during these times. A solid outsourcer will work to provide you with community management and moderation support, building a schedule of coverage exactly for when you need it, and supplementing your team with the resources and support vital to your business. Ideally, your outsourcer will also staff your needs properly with agents who share your community’s interests, making it much easier for them to understand and connect with brand-specific operations, tones, and the community discussions being had.

There is no “secret sauce” to managing a community, as each one is unique and requires its own strategy and approach. The best community managers are nimble and adaptable, and there are tried and true practices that can be applied generally to help ensure all I’s are dotted and T’s crossed. An ounce of planning is worth a pound of peace of mind.

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