We sometimes analyse things too much. We spend too much time thinking about what we’re going to do and too little time actually doing it. Don’t get me wrong – we are big believers in planning and strategy at FreshNetworks. When we are building an online community for a client we spend a lot of time on planning, more so than some might, but enough to mean that when we do launch and build the site, we know how to make it a success. At this stage the detailed planning is important – you should try to make as many decisions as possible up front, consider all outcomes and plan for what you will do in different circumstances.
But sometimes you can get too wrapped up in planning things to the smallest detail when really your time is better spent just doing it.
In an online community, copy in forums, newsletters, polls and features is important. It is one significant way in which you can engage the community members, highlight what is happening on the site and how they can benefit from and add to this. Newsletters, in particular, can be a very effective way to engage people and draw them back to certain types of online community.
There is a lot of analysis that you can do on the effectiveness of copy – do certain articles attract people more than others? Do some headlines get more click-throughs and greater time spent reading the particular article once people are there? Do some newsletters have lower unsubscribe rates? All of these are valid and really important measures. They help you to monitor the health of what you are doing and identify things that are not working. But the beauty of online communities is that they are changing and organic environments – you can benchmark what you know typically performs best, and you know what works for an individual community. But there are many unpredictable factors in an online community and with community members. Sometimes it’s best to just get things written and see what the impact is.
The benefit of having a strong online community manager is that they get to know the community and its members. They live and breath it day in and day out. They know the key members, the ones who contribute most and those who are starting to become more engaged that they want to nurture. They understand these people and what makes them tick. They take part in discussions with them and they know when these discussions have gone too far.
A good online community manager will develop an innate sense of what works for their community. They will know how to talk to them, what to talk to them about, and how to engage them in a new idea, discussion or piece of functionality. In short they will know what to write to get the impact they want.
This kind of knowledge can be augmented, refined and enhanced by statistics and measurement. But they are not a substitute for the intimate knowledge that an online community manager will have. Sometimes, rather than spend forever planning, writing, testing and rewriting copy it can be best to trust your community manger. They know what works and test and refine this knowledge with the data from what actually happens. Trust them to get it right. And trust them to get it written.