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…

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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…

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Bootstrapping, Tribesmaids, and earning back a $10,000 investment

For those who aren't familiar with internet start-up talk, "bootstrapping" refers to a business that doesn't take on any investment capital. As Wikipedia explains, "Such startups fund the development of their company through internal cash flow and are cautious with their expenses."

The Offbeat Empire is a bootstrapped company. I started it with money out of my own pocket, and have never taken on any investment dollars or venture capital. This means that by necessity, the Empire always has to function in the black — simply put, the company has to be profitable, because there is no other money other than the money coming in.

For the most part, I love bootstrapping…but sometimes it's hard, and the Offbeat Bride Tribe's migration earlier this year was one of those times.

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Contagious content: the challenges of memes you don't want

Content is highly contagious. In my online communities, I've learned this over and over and over again — both for good and bad. We all know that content's contagiousness is what drives funny things going viral on the web. It drives the memes that I eat for breakfast each morning. Contagious content makes corners of the internet feel like one big hilarious inside joke. We're all infected with the awesome!

The challenges with contagious content is when the infection doesn't line up with the brand or editorial goals of a given website. LOLcats being contagious is AWESOME for the Cheezeburger folks — less awesome for someone trying to run a community dedicated to, say, ailurophobics.

Here are a few examples of contagious content challenges we deal with on the Empire, and how we deal with 'em: