5 Common Mistakes with Online Communities

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In my last post Getting Started with Community, I shared the top 3 considerations before jumping into your new adventure in community management. In this blog I want to address the five most common mistakes that I have seen with communities.


The 5 mistakes of starting a community

Following a Fad

I have often seen companies and executives choose a new pet project because the market is singing the tune. Communities have been around since the late 90s, yet since 2012 I have seen a tremendous upswing in implementations. Communities are not new, but they have achieved a new level of success and hype. A lot decision makers don’t take the time to evaluate whether communities are the right fit for them or not. They just jump on the band wagon because it’s trendy. Just like diets, if you don’t put continued effort and strategy behind it, it will fade like a fad. Don’t be left standing empty handed, disillusioned and with the feeling of failure. Don’t be that guy!

Create the space and then walking away

Another stumbling block is failing to realize that a community needs to be nurtured once it is built. So you made it all the way through assessing your needs, and implemented a forum or a community. Awesome. Good job. Now comes the hard part. Just because you created the space, it does not mean people will come to it. Nor does it mean that they will stick around and engage on a platform they have no vested interest in. So YOU need to stick around and manually start building the value of your community. David Spinks formulated this really well in this blog. The basics are that your community needs to provide an identity, trust, participation and reward to create value for the community member to stick around. Don’t just create a platform and hope people will flock to it. Give them a reason to stay!

No dedicated Community Manager

I have seen project managers, who are on loan from another teams, build communities and then hand the off after launch. Often the task falls onto full time employees who are product marketing or social media marketers.

Creating a new communication channel for your audience and not placing someone with the right skills in charge is equal to burning money. Community Managers have a fairly unique skill set and a young community has a tremendous amount of day to day management and programming needs. I don’t recommend this to be your side job. If you only put in half an effort, your community will either erode due to lack of engagement, or if you are lucky it will grow, but very slowly. This in turn will frustrate stakeholders and executive sponsors who won’t see good ROI on their investment. So please, if you invest $$$ for a platform, spare the extra cash to have a dedicated community manager. Keep some money for engagement programs, promotions and small rewards as well.

Build  Community in a Silo

My all time favorite mistake is launching a community as a one-department initiative without a company-wide buy in.

A mandate to prioritize the success of the community does not come from a few individuals. If communities is truly important to your business, make sure that everyone knows it and lives it, no matter what department your employees are working for. The Community is your platform to engage and interact through.

It is not a push communication channel like marketing brochures used to be. It is a place where customers expect to see and meet peers from different industries and different departments of your company. Truly a community can feed insights to basically any and all teams within your organization. Most typical ones are feedback on training, product documentation, product features, marketing efforts, communication channel preferences, content strategy, customer service and so much more. It is paramount therefore, that when you launch a community initiative, you are involving all kinds of teams as moderators and contributors to the community. Make sure that business goals align with community goals and all departments are working towards the same objectives.

View Communities as a Marketing Channel

All communities should start with one focus. The SPACE model describes the 5 most typical community purposes. (Read more on this at Getting Started with Community).

You have probably launched your community with one ultimate purpose, let’s say customer support. What I have seen in the past is,  that when the one dedicated person leaves the company, the community falls into the hands of marketing. Marketing often unknowing of the communities objective only sees another communication channel in it. They will start pushing marketing information and sales pitches without much regards for anything else since that’s what they know best.

Now, if you think I am a hater on marketing, think again. I am a marketing professional. I love my job. BUT, I have learned that communities is so new and undocumented that some people have no clue how to manage it. Marketing is the fall back guy to whom everything gets shoved off if it does not fit seamlessly with your work objectives. And while they might be well meaning, ultimately I have met very few marketing teams that had the mandate and resources to think freely, creatively and follow the customer’s lead, versus projecting the corporate agenda on all outlets. Thus a community with the purpose of customer support will wither and die real fast.

My recommendation is to make sure that the person who inherits communities has a clear understanding of the purpose of your community and adheres to it. Select the new Community Manager based on their ability to identify with your community goals and drive the community forward towards its objective, not the departmental agenda. Then it does not matter what team the new CM belongs to, they will do a terrific job.


Try and avoid these pitfalls. Unsure you have got all the basics covered? Take a step back and walk through these elements of your community again. It is never too late to go back to the basics and start yourself the basic questions of:

Why am I building this community?

Who am I building it for?

What will they and I gain from it?

When can I launch this in a healthy way?

I hope this will help you find a stable path to success. If you ever have any questions about planning for your community, you know where to find me.

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