Changing your tools to meet your online community's needs

If I've learned anything from a decade of online community management, it's that you cannot teach people how to use your community "correctly." Your members will use the tools you make available the ways that suit them, and time spent trying to convince them to use them differently is just a waste of moderator energy. Your tools MUST match the needs of your community — if your members are not using the tools the way you intended, then you need to reassess the tool.

This situation gets even more complex because the needs of a community shift as it matures. A tool that might have been awesome at one era of a community's development might be completely pointless during another era. You can't get attached to your tools, because if your members aren't using them, they're useless.

Ok, ok. Less vague-blogging. Let me give you a very specific recent example from the Offbeat Bride Tribe: the killing of the Primal Scream Therapy section.

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The 24-Hour Reply Rule

Stating the obvious here: dealing with drama when you work with an online community can get a little overwhelming. Whether it's moderating comments, moderating forum content or internal blogs, or just dealing with contact from readers or members, there is a lot of potential for being in a situation where you're dealing with really unhappy people. This is why I have my 24-hour rule…

Our mission-critical WordPress plugins

It's no secret that I bet the farm when I built the Offbeat Empire on WordPress. My developer, Jennifer M. Dodd, suggested way back in 2006 that we tap into WordPress's open source platform and a big part of that was the active plugin development community around WordPress.

In the years since, we've tested out hundreds of plugins. Some of them have become mission critical — to the point where I literally couldn't do business without them. Others of them, unfortunately, have been so poorly coded that Jennifer has scolded me for installing them on our server. (ACK! That's the risk with open source code…)

In the interest of spreading the awesomeness around, here are the plugins that the Empire literally could not function without:

Ning Tribe taken offline 5 weeks earlier than expected

So, I had it on my calendar: Old Ning Tribe account expires 10/1/2012. Then today it came to my attention that no, actually the final date Ning had on the account was this weekend. This means Ning took the old Tribe offline as of today.

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Small, focused, and yes, exclusionary community sites flourish

Recently, I ran some numbers and realized that traffic on the Offbeat Bride Tribe (the private community component of Offbeat Bride) was down… like, significantly down. Down by half from where it was at this time last year.

As a publisher, of course my first reflex was OMG TRAFFIC DOWN = BAD BAD BAD! But as a community manager, I'm keenly aware that the Tribe is functioning and behaving better than it ever has…