So you’ve done it. Everything is going perfectly and your community is growing fast… maybe growing much faster than you expected. But don’t panic there are things you can do to keep from getting overwhelmed and losing control. In my case we grew from from just over 1 Million registered users in May 2008, to over 8 Million in April 2009, roughly 7million new accounts in less than a year. I had some successes and some failures, and I hope you learn from my experiences.
At this point you shouldn’t be running things by yourself, but if you are get some help. There are only three options here… Hire help, enlist Volunteers and of course doing both.
If you hire, be sure that everyone shares your vision of managing a community. It is imperative that you are all on the same page and that you are working as a cohesive unit. Mixed messages from the Community team will only cause additional issues. I strongly suggest that if you choose to hire, that you hire from within your community… Why? Morgan Johnston, JetBlue Airways’ Manager of Corporate Communication, advises those looking to fill a community or social media position to put someone with “an intimate knowledge of your business, or the immediate resources to access and apply that knowledge” and who better than someone already in your community, already a fan and already making positive contributions?
If you can’t hire, you can still leverage the champions in your community as volunteers. Just keep two very important things in mind. You need to compensate them, but be very careful about the labor laws. As we have seen time and time again there can be some serious issues when treating community volunteers like employees. At one point I had 200 exceptional volunteers helping me manage the 14 communities I was in charge of. We used a structured hierarchy of Teams with Leaders. However, there are a number of ways to order your team. There are communities that you are most likely a part of, seek out the Community Managers of these communities to ask about how their programs work. Most CMs will welcome your interest and be very helpful.
You really have two important questions for them “What are we doing wrong?” and “What are we doing that we can we do better?”. Honestly if your community isn’t already telling you what you are doing wrong, then you really need to dig deep because there is already a big problem. Communities must feel comfortable and, importantly, empowered to express their opinions positive and negative. You need to be able to listen objectively and realize that they are ultimately on your side… they want things to be better for everyone too. So take time to ask the community to help determine the biggest issues, prioritize them and even suggestions for resolving them.
That said, you are already doing great things; otherwise you wouldn’t be dealing with growth issues. It could be subtle little things that make a huge difference in the perceptions of the community. Keep in mind that not every aspect of your community will be growing at the same rate. Now is the time to see what should be changed to improve the experience for your community. So you should ask about what you are doing that could be improved. Try to get them to be specific. Using forum boards as an example, see which forums are getting the most traffic, which are dead and ask which might be better if they were merged together and are there any new forum that should be created. Be sure to outline ways your community can effectively impact your decisions for the community. Don’t be afraid to look at other ways of connecting with them. If you haven’t explored Social Media site, official pod casts, blogs or other means of connecting to your do so now. We held what we called “webinars” which were really Developer chats, which we converted to pod casts, where the players got to talk directly with the developers on a near weekly basis. We treated this as an open forum where the players could ask about what was coming to the game and air issues they saw in the game. Everyone loved this personal, one on one interaction. The developers loved the instant feedback and the community really knew that their message was heard, since the devs actually talked to them.
Most importantly, explore the suggestions of your community as best you can and be honest about the things you can and cannot change. With luck all this will help you fine tune everything and prepare you for further growth.
Keep on, Keeping on
The bottom line is that you have a “great” problem: You are growing rapidly. Just continue to communicate well with your community and revisit the suggestions above as needed and I’m sure you will be able to ride the rising tide of success