M&S have used it as an opportunity to invite their brand community to form a feedback panel. I think this is an interesting move and shows the opportunity of acting on feedback and hoping to turn things around.
What can other organisations learn from this? How often do we ask people for their feedback and actively involve them in producing or improving products? How often do organisations reach out when they face criticism?
Actively listening your community is incredibly important for charities for the following reasons:
Charities rely on people power and trust to generate funds to keep operating
Charities rely on people power and trust to get support for their work, to galvanise campaigners, recruit volunteers and attract staff
Charities should be led by and reflecting the voices of the people they are seeking to support
Charities should be willing to listen to their supporters, service users and audiences to ensure they’re heading in the right direction.
Practical examples for charities
Below I’ve included some practical examples of how this can work.
Involving people when you are creating a new product or service via existing service user groups, giving engaged people a voice. Tip: this can be incredibly powerful but needs to be carefully framed and ensure that the ‘asks’ don’t cut into the other activities (what they turned up for).
Creating online feedback discussions via discussion threads, Q&A sessions or setting up a feedback platform. Tip: be careful to ensure that you engage with and facilitate the discussion where possible so people feel heard.
Involving people when making changes via workshops, online surveys, and testing sessions. Tip: again, it is really important to consider how to meaningfully facilitate this work and to frame it correctly.
Why does framing and facilitation matter? Bringing people together and leaving them without guidance can lead to chaos. There is nothing worse than people giving ideas you cannot implement and then feeling that you’re refusing to hear them, or receiving no response after giving feedback and feeling their input isn’t valued.
As for Percy, here’s hoping he will be around for many years to come.
The founder of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has written a passionately worded article about the future of his own invention, and hints at how community building plays a key part.
Opportunities and dysfunctions
Tim explains that the web has become more than just a place to find information, which was the initial purpose of the HTTP part of the internet we know as the web. The web is also a place to connect with others. It’s not only a shopping mall but also a service provider. A place to find humour, kindness and mutual support.
There are three key dysfunctions that are harming the web today, according to Tim: deliberate malicious acts, intentionally manipulative systems, and unintended consequences from things that had good intentions.
I think a fourth dysfunction underpins how those three dysfunctions are able to happen – the lack of effective resources (machine and human) for managing online spaces. In other words: ineffective or insufficient community management, design, development and web administration.
As recent articles have alluded to, Facebook’s failures indicate that their platform could be working as intended. Their response showing a new interest in ‘private spaces’ shows a possible change in direction – but time will tell.
Caretakers of the web
For websites, communities and networks to work well, we need community managers, moderators, designers, developers and web administrators.
We also need well-trained and well-resourced people and tools, ethical practices and organisations held to account by effective laws. This is vital to ensure the web is well managed, and users are protected from harm.
The Web Foundation which is working to bring this about with their Contract for the Web which asks people to:
Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and
relevant content for everyone.
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity
so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
The role of community
Community Managers have a key role to play in caretaking our own online communities and looking after our little corner of the web.
We have the ability to establish our own cultures – offering connection and encouragement, and enabling people to feel that they belong.
We’re able to manage expectations – removing damaging content, encouraging positive behaviour and closing the door on people who harm the wider community.
We’re also able to empower and enable – sharing useful information with newcomers, helping to co-create resources that benefit the community, and signposting people to specialist help and support.
Community Managers who are dedicated to making the web a better place for everyone are worth their weight in gold.
Thanks to the commitment and hard work of many digital roles including community managers, the future’s looking good on the web. Here’s to another 30 years!
This is part two of a blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part one]
Looking after yourself is a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people. Here are five more self-care strategies that help motivate and empower you, and keep you safe from burnout.
6. Look at ways to scale support for your community
Consider whether there are options to increase support for you and your community.
Get an agreement not only about your own responsibility for ‘out of hours’ but identify who could offer support so you can take leave. You may want to delegate to others in your team to cover agreed tasks, or to agree an ‘urgent queries only’ cover with another colleague working in a service user support role. Set clear expectations and ensure they’re clear on what’s expected, by sharing your processes, FAQs or letting them shadow you.
Look at other ways where you could agree support. For example you could ask colleagues with subject knowledge to help answer hot topic queries, or even answer questions on your community. You could agree an escalation process or a knowledge sharing agreement with your Helpline on more complex or emotive queries.
If you have a staff team, make sure you can all cover your basic BAU tasks like email enquiries and moderation. If your community is growing and you have an active member base, consider inviting members to support the tasks of welcoming others, being helpful, and flagging problems. You may also want to consider giving experienced members the opportunity to help with moderation. This can radically increase the effectiveness of handling spam and urgent issues, particularly out of office hours.
7. Take breaks
This is obvious advice but I think people in digital support roles need to hear that they have permission to step away from their community and their day job. Your community is probably open 24/7 but you shouldn’t be.
This can be as simple as setting screen breaks, or checking in with other colleagues during the day to switch perspective. There are notable benefits of stepping away from your screen, particularly in the evenings.
If you can (and it works for you) agree at least one day out of office on a regular basis particularly for planning or development tasks when you may need to get your head down and focus. Set expectations with your team or with colleagues.
Most importantly, ensure you use annual leave – you’re entitled to it! Spend that time doing the things that matter to you.
8. Learn reflective practice
Reflective practice is so important for community managers as so much of your job is about handling issues, resolving conflicts and balancing the expectations of your organisation and also your community members.
You may be faced with emotionally charged conflicts, waves of resistance or abusive responses to moderation. An avalanche of issues can lead you to question your decision making and affect your confidence.
Reflect on how you respond to issues – not only what you say but how you say it. Catch yourself doing it right, as well as assessing responses that could have gone better. Consider your own emotional response.
Look on feedback as an opportunity to improve, or a way to recognise what is already working well.
I’d recommend spending time coming up with a list of ‘review’ questions that you can use to support yourself or others on your team. See the reflective practice model below for an idea of what to include.
When a challenging issue comes along (particularly an upsetting one), you can reassure yourself and your team by working through those questions and checking in on what you did well and could do differently.
9. Build your support network
Community management can be tough, and it can be an isolating role.
Build a network of support for multiple reasons – for buy-in, peer support, debriefing, advice and constructive challenge.
Start with people in your team, or people who also have user-facing roles in your organisation to offload, share perspectives and build a mutually helpful approach. This will prove especially helpful when you need to take a united approach to handling a major reputational issue.
Find people in similar organisations and build connections and trust. Ask questions, seek support, share war wounds (yes, this!) and explore ideas.
There are a number of comms-focused communities of practice in the UK charity sector, including Digital Charities on Slack, Third Sector PR and Comms Network on Facebook. For those running peer support communities there’s Modbods on Facebook.
Outside of the charity sector, the CMX Hub and CR Table groups on Facebook are worth a look to connect with others working in community management.
Try to find someone who has similar – ideally greater – knowledge and experience. No one knows everything. Find a mentor if you can, and make use of their experience to grow. Finding someone who will respectfully challenge you will help you to improve.
10. Redress the balance
Finally, one of the best ways to look after yourself is to take a balanced approach.
In this job you may handle difficult issues, support people in distress and take responsibility for resolving conflict. This comes with an emotional ‘cost’.
Redress the balance of handling heavy things by spending time doing things that make you feel energised.
What is meaningful and uplifting for you?
I support people who are distressed, bereaved and feel isolated. In my spare time I gravitate towards food movies, comedy and exploring London’s history. I offload with good friends in oak timbered pubs and walk the family dog.
To finish, I’ll share a video that inspired me to think about my own HappyList:
Really? How is looking after yourself a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people?
If you work for a charity that might sound counter-productive. Surely your focus should be on the cause, the people in need, the people you support. Putting time into focusing on your own needs can feel distinctly uncomfortable, wrong somehow.
You’re probably under-staffed, under-funded, overwhelmed and trying to meet an increasingly endless wave of need. The challenges could include service users in distress, complex moderation issues, last-minute requests for case studies, problems that apparently only you can solve, and that regular ‘ping’ of emails on the work mobile phone.
Self care? 5 minutes of yoga, a smoothie and a smug self-help quote won’t cut it.
Ten self-care strategies
Even with a low budget and limited resources, here are ten effective and helpful self-care strategies that work well for me. They can help motivate you, empower you, and keep you safe if you’re an online community manager at a charity.
1.Be clear about your remit
Doing this will help you to know what you should focus on, and what you should say no to. This can prevent feeling like you have to be all things to all people at all times, which leads to burnout.
Define remits around time by agreeing expected work hours and the type of issue that justifies attention out of hours.
Define remits around requests by agreeing the types of requests that people can make, and how you handle them. Don’t give any external (or internal) person a carte blanche to post requests without your involvement – that way lies chaos!
Define remits around moderation by being clear what you allow, what you don’t and why. This will set your culture and ensure everyone knows what is expected (more on that another time).
2. Talk to your Helpline team
If you’re regularly in contact with people who are emotionally distressed or experiencing really difficult times, this can quickly have a big impact on your own emotional wellbeing. If you have a Helpline team, speak to them about how they handle these feelings and the tools they have in place to help them support their callers.
In my experience, online community professionals for charities should learn empathic communication techniques used by Helplines, and apply them to their processes for handling moderation, complaints and other enquiries. Empathy and community go hand in hand.
3. Set a clear debrief and escalation process
Make sure you plan ahead and know how you will handle issues. This is a great way to retain control when unexpected and urgent things happen. You’ll feel calmer and reassured when you follow your own agreed process.
This should cover:
How you respond to reputational issues – from identifying a complaint to effectively resolving or escalating.
Getting the right skills and process for safeguarding users who may be at risk of harm or abuse. This is particularly important for charities and will help you to know you’ve done all you can to help users in the greatest need.
Agreeing a consistent moderation process that will help you to be confident in handling a wide range of issues.
The other important part of this is the debrief. Do you have someone to check in with after handling a difficult situation? Find someone to support you and help you to talk things through.
4. Look out for triggers
We all have things that upset us, make us angry or unsettled.
Trauma triggers can happen at any time. This could be a series of threads about losing a parent, a news story about sexual harassment, or a user being sexually abused.
Learning to recognise your own emotional response is important. Watch out for things that keep returning to your mind, or make you lose your calm.
It’s helpful to develop your own techniques for keeping one step removed from these issues. Empathic communication and reflective practice can help you to develop good techniques that enable you to offer support and keep you at a safe distance.
This will help to guard against burnout, or vicarious trauma.
5. Log and track positive feedback – why you do what you do
Appreciation matters (see previous blog). On a tough day when you’re facing budget cuts, crazy deadlines, and a wave of issues it can be easy to wonder why you bother.
Put a little time aside each week to log positive feedback – from simple thank yous to the detailed stories that help show the tangible impact your community has.
Invite others in your team or in your organisation to keep watch for feedback.
If you have more time, share this feedback in your newsletters (anonymising details) or share with your internal contacts.
In community we spend so much time doing the job we don’t shout enough about the great value of our work!
To be continued…
This is part one of a two part blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part two]
You never forget the important milestones in life like graduating from University, getting married, or being called a despot for removing a racist joke.
You nostalgically nod when recalling the first time someone told you “I wish I got paid for sitting on the internet all day.”* Or that time the charity CEO said “What’s the point of Facebook.”**
Not a lot of people know this, but today is Community Manager Appreciation Day. If you manage an online space where people come together, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed at times, and misunderstood by many.
If you work for a charity, you’ll be absorbed in the real-life experiences of your supporters and on the receiving end of anger, complaints or disrespect. You’ll know the importance of ‘smiling from the wrists down’ when responding!
You’ll never forget the first person whose distress brought tears to your eyes, the first threat to leave your community due to a misunderstanding, or the first time a much-loved member passes away. You’ll know how important it is to find someone to offload with.
You’ll also remember the first time someone told you why the community matters to them and what they’ve learned as a result. You’ll know the great feeling of reading through positive feedback, or being able to direct someone to the support they need.
If you’re new to community management, some of those things may be new to you. In time, you’ll find your own highs and lows, and your own tips and tricks to manage through tough times, learn from mistakes and share the great moments.
If you’re a lone community manager, you may not know who to connect with or how to go about this. The best way to do this is to find people in similar roles at similar organisations.
If you’re a community manager and you’re struggling, please know that you’re not alone. That there are others who understand.
Keep on learning, keep on sharing, keep on doing. You’ve got this.
Happy Community Manager’s Appreciation Day! More about CMAD:
It sounds obvious. Why start another blog about community? There are plenty of blogs on this subject from content gurus, marketing ninjas and people who describe themselves in much less cringe-worthy ways.
Because most blogs seem to be written for community managers who are in it for the money. Sounds controversial. However, the vast majority of community management blogs, websites and events are tailored for people who are in the business of selling things and making profit. In it for the money. What if you work for a charity?
Your ‘why’ will be fundamentally different. Your purpose will be a cause or a challenge, and a belief that if people join you in that purpose, the world could be fundamentally different.
What if your primary aim is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? What if your primary users have a health condition? What if you’re in the business of giving (as well as asking)? What if your main driver is to bring social change, to tackle isolation, or encourage people to volunteer?
To meet your aims, you’ll need engagement and resources like any other organisation. To meet your aims well, you’ll need to connect people around your cause. You’ll need to empower people, to support people, to learn from people.
You’ll need to bring people together because if they buy into why you exist, they’ll want to join you in making your vision a reality. That goes far beyond a website visit, a donation, a newsletter subscription and into the business of building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships aimed at making things better.
Community Management – the profession that brings people together – is vital to the success of a charity. Community has been steadily gaining traction in the charity sector and I’ve been excited to be part of this work over the past 10 years.
There’s much more that can be shared, discussed and learned, and more that can be done – so charities can connect people and make things better. This blog is my way of helping to share experience with others and I hope it will be helpful.
Community has always been primarily about people. John Coate, one of the world’s first online community managers said: “We realised pretty early on that we weren’t in the computer business, we were in the relationship business.”
Let’s bring people together – for good.
I’ll finish by sharing one of my favourite TED Talks, and the inspiration for this blog post. Before you do anything, it’s worth starting with why.
If you’ve only got five minutes, the edited version is below: