The photography post from Friday kind of relates back to online community management. Bear with me here. Remember how I found a different audiences on tumblr, flickr, and Facebook?

You have got to go to where your audience is to find them. If your forums or Facebook page are dead but there are people using your product then they are still talking about it, just not where you would prefer.

One of the gaming communities I worked with last year had this issue.  Folks were using the forum and Facebook page, but not as many as I would like in order to get a good picture of what they’re talking about.

After getting to know some of the more hardcore players I found out through them that these players were on a chat service I had never heard of before called Palringo. It operates in a manner similar to IRC or other chat rooms, except with a proprietary client for desktops and mobile that enables purchases for emoticon packs and some neat features like audio messages that folks tend to use when driving or because their Android phone is a piece of junk for typing.

There weren’t just a few players from the community I was supposed to be a part of on this service, there were hundreds.

This is one of the most important lessons that people just refuse to learn. You cannot force a community to form where you like it, you have to seek out your community where they are.

I chose to come into that community of players and talk with them and prove I was real by handing out some prizes to people who moderated the chat rooms or other folks when I was feeling generous and it made sense to do so and it further ingratiated me into that community.

It was also important to step away and let folks trash talk each other and discuss the company without me being there. This is another important thing to do that so few people learn and instead burn out their community and themselves with constant status updates, requests, and other feedback. You as the community manager are a participant and have got to step away sometimes to let the conversation flow without you. Come back soon, but make a habit of stepping away.

Most of these folks will be around long after you’ve left the company if you’ve done your job right and allowed them to take ownership of it. Not all of it, just the parts they control and you should give up some control so that they can participate.

hi5 was another good example of this. We had a global community of millions who didn’t speak english. Even if they all spoke English there was no way we could reach everyone on a one-on-one level.

The solution seemed obvious to me because it had already been implemented before I got there by somebody that was way more talented than I am.

You talk with your bilingual members who are already leaders on the site, or in our case a social network, and lend them credence and they will become invaluable to you.

Most folks call this a VIP or superstar program, whatever you want to call it, it is essential to talk with the people who actually use your product and reach others who you wouldn’t otherwise. These people will connect you to them and when someone you don’t know has an actual problem there is a decent chance that you can solve it through your superstars before it becomes a real problem.

When I took over this program I would often know about issues that wouldn’t show up in analytics or certain service outages before our (awesome!) operations team knew about the issue.