Archive for July, 2009

Interview – Martin Reed of CommunitySpark.com

Martin has been building and managing online communities for over 9 years.  He’s given talks and advice to a number of organizations about building communities, including the NYC Dept. of Education.  He’s been interviewed by the BBC, Web User Magazine, and other international newspapers.
His site, CommunitySpark, is an invaluable resource for any admin, new or mature.  As Martin offers great advice on growing an online forum, keeping your members happy, and promoting your community.
Hi Martin, would you mind staring off with telling us a little bit about Community Spark?
I built my first online community from scratch back in 2000. Since then, I purchased a dormant online community and brought it back to life and last September I launched another new community. Community Spark is where I share what I have learnt in over nine years of community building.
We are split nowadays when it comes to community building advice. When I started out, this kind of advice was hard to come by. Furthermore, I hate seeing online communities fail – and most of them do. The goal of Community Spark is to help people build successful online communities.
I’m still learning – even now. Not only do I share advice on my blog, but I also learn from my readers so the benefits run both ways.
You obviously have a natural affiliation for running communities.  Do you think there are a few personality traits that make for a good forum admin or community organizer?
Yes. Patience, dedication, passion and determination. Real communities don’t develop overnight. They take a lot of hard work and sometimes community management can be rather unrewarding. You need to be in it for the long term. Being passionate about the community or the subject matter of the community will get you through these tough times. You need to be determined to succeed.
Do you find that running different communities with different interest groups and demographics poses new challenges to you?  Or is it the case that there are a few fundamental concepts on running an online community, and these apply universal to different groups?
Every online community is different (or at least, it should be). Therefore, even if you manage more than one community on the same subject matter, there will be different personalities and a different culture.
The subject matter of the community shouldn’t hugely affect how you run that community – some subjects may require more sensitivity or different moderation policies but at the end of the day, you are still dealing with people. People want to feel recognized and rewarded – the subject matter comes second to the human element of community.
My newest community is Female Forum – an online community for women. I am the community manager and all the members know I am male – I make no secret of the fact. Some new members are a little wary at first, but they soon recognise that my gender has no bearing on my ability to manage the community.
Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins in order to run a fun and active forum?
Only three?!
1. Know why you want an online community, what will make your community different, and why people will want to join.
2. Forget quantity. Instead, aim for quality.
3. Always listen to your members (don’t confuse this with always saying yes), be approachable, and keep them in the spotlight.
.
What are some of the more ‘shocking’ things you learned throughout your 9+ year career of running online communities?
The anonymity of the Internet can be both a curse and a blessing. People will share information that they would never dream of discussing face to face. This can lead to some very frank, open, honest and often touching discussions. On the other hand, some people can be so abusive and offensive you may sometimes question people’s humanity.
As a community manager, you’ll receive abuse at some stage. Sometimes it will be awful – you need to ignore it and rise above it. I’ve been told to ‘watch my back’, some people have told me they know where I live (handy in case I forget, I suppose) and others have threatened to destroy the community by attacking the server.
What are some tips you might share to reinvigorate communities that might be loosing steam?
You need to work out why your community is losing steam. Is it boring? Are members feeling undervalued? Are you involved in the community yourself? If you aren’t involved, why should others contribute? Make sure the community is easy to use – focus on functionality rather than features. Make sure members feel rewarded and valued (remember to say thank you). Create a culture where members form real relationships with one another – they’ll find it almost impossible to leave a place that is full of people they regard as friends.
Finally, for all those new admins out there, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Don’t think that members will flock to your online community just because it is there. Community building is harder than that. Aim to get members before you open – invite people you respect and those that are interested in the subject matter of your community to help with the development process. Tailor the community around these initial golden members, and ensure there are discussions and content in the community before it goes live.
Author’s Comments: Martin, thank you for your concise responses.  I recommend all forum admins head over to CommunitySpark for more indepth articles.  Martin’s last point for new forum admins is really good advice.  Frequently I see admins in our support forum get frustrated when members don’t ‘flock’ to their new forum.  It takes time and sweat for an admin to incubate a new community.  Just creating the shell of a forum won’t get members there and certainly won’t provoke them to start posting.  An admin must work hard to invite those ‘golden’ members first and spur conversation and questions between them before attracting more members.  Lefora will continue to post best practices around starting a new forum in the coming months.

Martin has been building and managing online communities for over 9 years.  He’s given talks and advice to a number of organizations about building communities, including the NYC Dept. of Education.  He’s been interviewed by the BBC, Web User Magazine, and other international newspapers.

His site, CommunitySpark, is an invaluable resource for any admin, new or mature.  As Martin offers great advice on growing an online forum, keeping your members happy, and promoting your community.

.

Hi Martin, would you mind staring off with telling us a little bit about Community Spark?
I built my first online community from scratch back in 2000. Since then, I purchased a dormant online community and brought it back to life and last September I launched another new community. Community Spark is where I share what I have learnt in over nine years of community building.

We are split nowadays when it comes to community building advice. When I started out, this kind of advice was hard to come by. Furthermore, I hate seeing online communities fail – and most of them do. The goal of Community Spark is to help people build successful online communities.

I’m still learning – even now. Not only do I share advice on my blog, but I also learn from my readers so the benefits run both ways.

.

You obviously have a natural affiliation for running communities.  Do you think there are a few personality traits that make for a good forum admin or community organizer?
Yes. Patience, dedication, passion and determination. Real communities don’t develop overnight. They take a lot of hard work and sometimes community management can be rather unrewarding. You need to be in it for the long term. Being passionate about the community or the subject matter of the community will get you through these tough times. You need to be determined to succeed.

.

Do you find that running different communities with different interest groups and demographics poses new challenges to you?  Or is it the case that there are a few fundamental concepts on running an online community, and these apply universal to different groups?
Every online community is different (or at least, it should be). Therefore, even if you manage more than one community on the same subject matter, there will be different personalities and a different culture.

The subject matter of the community shouldn’t hugely affect how you run that community – some subjects may require more sensitivity or different moderation policies but at the end of the day, you are still dealing with people. People want to feel recognized and rewarded – the subject matter comes second to the human element of community.

My newest community is Female Forum – an online community for women. I am the community manager and all the members know I am male – I make no secret of the fact. Some new members are a little wary at first, but they soon recognise that my gender has no bearing on my ability to manage the community.

.

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins in order to run a fun and active forum?

Only three?!

  1. Know why you want an online community, what will make your community different, and why people will want to join.
  2. Forget quantity. Instead, aim for quality.
  3. Always listen to your members (don’t confuse this with always saying yes), be approachable, and keep them in the spotlight.

.

What are some of the more ‘shocking’ things you learned throughout your 9+ year career of running online communities?
The anonymity of the Internet can be both a curse and a blessing. People will share information that they would never dream of discussing face to face. This can lead to some very frank, open, honest and often touching discussions. On the other hand, some people can be so abusive and offensive you may sometimes question people’s humanity.

As a community manager, you’ll receive abuse at some stage. Sometimes it will be awful – you need to ignore it and rise above it. I’ve been told to ‘watch my back’, some people have told me they know where I live (handy in case I forget, I suppose) and others have threatened to destroy the community by attacking the server.

.

What are some tips you might share to reinvigorate communities that might be loosing steam?
You need to work out why your community is losing steam. Is it boring? Are members feeling undervalued? Are you involved in the community yourself? If you aren’t involved, why should others contribute? Make sure the community is easy to use – focus on functionality rather than features. Make sure members feel rewarded and valued (remember to say thank you). Create a culture where members form real relationships with one another – they’ll find it almost impossible to leave a place that is full of people they regard as friends.

.

Finally, for all those new admins out there, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Don’t think that members will flock to your online community just because it is there. Community building is harder than that. Aim to get members before you open – invite people you respect and those that are interested in the subject matter of your community to help with the development process. Tailor the community around these initial golden members, and ensure there are discussions and content in the community before it goes live.

.


Author’s Comments: Martin, thank you for your concise responses.  I recommend all forum admins head over to CommunitySpark for more indepth articles.  Martin’s last point for new forum admins is really good advice.  Frequently I see admins in our support forum get frustrated when members don’t ‘flock’ to their new forum.  It takes time and sweat for an admin to incubate a new community.  Just creating the shell of a forum won’t get members there and certainly won’t provoke them to start posting.  An admin must work hard to invite those ‘golden’ members first and spur conversation and questions between them before attracting more members.  Lefora will continue to post best practices around starting a new forum in the coming months.


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