The last time I saw Chris Pirillo was probably 1998 on TechTV (before they were later acquired by G4TV). That’s a long time, but I encountered an interesting video blog entry (vlog) that he did discussing the transparency of online communities. The principles he discussed are useful for social networking leaders, social media experts and online media mavens to embrace as they build and facilitate online community.
There are literally hundreds of stops on the Internet subway.
You might as well be honest that you stink and need to clean up.
The truth is, there isn’t a lot of transparency in online communities. From unexpected product changes, hidden product features all the way to content enforcement — these topics matter to users online. MySpace, for example, lives a pretty shielded life from their users. As a MySpace user, I haven’t been able to find a feedback area or any way to learn about what new features are coming out.
As Pirillo pointed out, it takes a lot of work to be transparent. A community manager must always decide the level of exposure something is worth discussing in addition to anticipating the community response and balancing the sum. Sometimes the issues own you, sometimes you own the issues. It’s OK to not be correct all the time. Most users are willing to forgive mistakes, not silence. In my former work blog, I admit it was a struggle to balance the needs of the users and the needs of the business, but I managed to keep several thousand people happy. There are so many audiences to consider when communicating a would-be elementary message.
Here are a few simple ways to be transparent with users of an online community:
- Refrain From E-mail Blasts. Most social networked users almost explicitly use internal social network messaging with each other, with a higher attention span. If e-mails are necessary, at least segment your recipients to receive somewhat relevant content in it.
- Give Plenty of Notice to Service Changes. I’d say give one to two weeks notice before changing something on the service. This is ample time for a community manager to guage the community response, tweak it if needed as help inform as much of your users without drawing “panic” responses.
- Use Your Own Platform. I find it baffling that some social networks don’t openly use their own platform to communicate service changes. When you use your own service, people generally believe you have faith in it. If you used it effectively, you shouldn’t need to worry about PR, since the Internets will pick it up for you.
- Be Engaged in Your Users, Service and Reputation. It’s great to talk about your products and services, but follow-up and participate with your community.
- Listen to Your Community Manager(s). When running business ideas by Community Managers, be sure to interpret their input as if it was a business P/L analyst. They may be timid, but they can anticipate user response like no other industry research could. We’re softer but more passionate in the business world I guess. 😉
Oh, and on a final note: If you are going to stand up a blog up for your community, please try to keep the dust off. Users like content that is dynamic, with new content no less than weekly.