Community Scaling: The Answer is Within

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One of the most invigorating things about successful online communities is that they grow. A community manager has the opportunity to guide and shape the malleable, lifelike entity that is an online community that draws in members like moths to a flame. And if that manager is successful, the members become engrossed in the community, generating more content, driving conversations, and pulling in even more members.

While a successful online community is what all community managers strive for, exceptional growth can land the community manager in a sticky situation: being in over her head.

There may come a point that the time needed to respond to every e-mail and tweet, monitor discussion boards, write blog posts, and maintain the platform, exceed the working hours in a day. It is when this pinnacle is reached that the practice of scaling a community becomes a necessity.

Rich Millington, founder of online community consulting firm FeverBee Limited, addresses some of the challenges of scaling a community in his post 11 Processes for Scaling Online Communities. The processes he suggests are logical and put a heavy premium on the need for responsible, dedicated community members to pick up a shovel and do some heavy lifting.

In his post Scaling the Management of Your Online Community (SXSW Interactive 2013 Proposal) Patrick O’Keefe of iFroggy Network states that “As an online community grows, it has different needs.” He then goes on to pose 5 questions about the challenges of scaling an online community.

As luck should have it, many of Millington’s 11 processes can satisfy some of O’Keefe’s questions.

O’Keefe Question 3: With greater contributions comes a greater burden on moderation. How can you scale your moderation team, and your policies, to ensure they are fairly and evenly applied to members?

Answered by Millington Processes #2 and #6:

#2: Rewriting guidelines if they are violated too frequently.

Here, Millington advocates for a more navigable community. Stringent or confusing guidelines may result in well-intentioned community members unintentionally violating guidelines, which subsequently takes more time out of the community manager’s day and dilutes the quality of content within the community.

#6: Ensure members can identify and remove bad posts.

The concept of instilling this great power in members can be nerve wracking for managers and insanely empowering for members. While the ability to delegate some of the community moderation to members can be a life saver in scaling a community, the members entrusted with this power should be fully vetted.

O’Keefe Question #4: How does the community manager role change as a community grows?

Answered by Milllington Process #1: Recruit, train, manage and motivate volunteers.

While pretty much all of Millington’s processes are applicable here, this first provides the overarching gist of the idea. When a community grows, a community manager has to find a way to delegate some of the responsibilities of managing that community, which can be achieved through empowered and enthusiastic community volunteers. While this by no means indicates that the community manager hands off enough responsibility to become detached from the essence and daily conversations of the community, handing down some responsibilities to volunteers can allow for a larger community that maintains its quality.

O’Keefe Question #5: What can you do to tap into the power of your growing membership to help you scale your management of the community?

Answered by Millington Processes #1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. So essentially, the majority of Millington’s processes will satisfy the realization of this question.

#1: Recruit, train, manage and motivate volunteers.

#3: Encourage members to submit their own news.

#4: Setup a community e-mail address which several volunteers can access and reply to.

#5: Teach volunteers to recruit and train other volunteers.

#6: Ensure members can identify and remove bad posts.

#7: Automate members inviting their friends.

#8: Let members apply to run various forum categories.

#9: Allow members to create their own groups, initiate events, start live-discussions with scheduled VIPs they have persuaded to participate.

After assessing O’Keefe’s questions alongside Millington’s suggestions, it seems the answer to good community scaling lies with the members of the community.

As Millington states in his book Buzzing Communities, “Community volunteers are the most effective means of scaling an online community.”

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