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Putting the Social Back in Social Media

My Mum isn’t on Myspace or Facebook. She’s never heard of Twitter. She thinks YouTube is a deodorant stick and suspects that Widgets are things that “certain” people keep in their bedside tables.

With all the proliferation of apps and platforms in the social media space these days, it’s easy to get caught up in the slipstream of progress and forget the mainstream.  The odd Joe the Plumber may have an iPhone and highspeed access, but the majority of North America is still having trouble remembering their ATM PIN numbers let alone their online passwords.

Which is why I have to remind myself on the days when I’m carried away with the possibilities of some new, cool functionality that the majority of the guests and authors who frequent the Community don’t really care so much about the technology — it’s the social aspect of the community that the technology enables that they care about. They’re coming to us to make friends and meet fellow readers and share information on their favorite books and authors.

Community Managers and Authors from Harlequin

Now, this emphasis on the social doesn’t mean that they’ll accept clunky interfaces and awkward, non-intuitive site architecture. But, for my mind, my core tasks as Community Manager are:

  • develop content to meet and exceed their expectations;
  • distribute it using the technology and tools that won’t overwhelm them;
  • and help them form relationships. 

We facilitate conversation in an easy to use, safe and entertaining environment.  And although I’m an early technology adopter and have beta-tested more platforms and services than I care to admit, I need to be mindful that my key audience is much further behind me on the learning curve and remember what all this technology is supposed to be enabling in the first place.


So, here are my 5 basic guidelines for relationship-building in an online community:

  1. Be honest.  If you’re not prepared to tell the truth about who you are and what your standards for engagement are and take responsibility for your space, then may I suggest gardening as a lovely hobby.  Plants generally don’t talk back or start flame wars.
  2. Assume goodwill.  You must be prepared to listen and read between the lines of what your constituents are saying.  The fact that they’re actually saying something to you is HUGE; it means they care about the space they’re in.  Hurrah, you’ve hit a major milestone in community engagement.
  3. Listen. Listen and be willing to hear what you may not want to. And be prepared to act on what you hear even if it goes against YOUR grain.  Sometimes you have to bow to the will of the people.
  4. Admit mistakes.  NOBODY is perfect. Better to admit it, address the error, apologize and move forward.  Everything you do and say will be remembered and absorbed as community lore and become your culture.  So ask yourself: are you a good witch or a bad witch?
  5. Don’t be afraid to be human. And by that, I mean, actually BE one.  If you generally don’t like people, see point 1.  Have you ever called Bell Canada and struggled with Emily? Right. The simple fact is that people prefer talking to another human being and being listened to.  Have I mentioned listening?

What are your thoughts? Do you have any pointers for relationship building in your online communities?


  1. mose
    mose June 2, 2009

    I have been so impressed with Harlequin’s online efforts.
    They have been and continue to ‘get it’ in both DM and online.
    Nicely written piece! Perfect.
    (I was fortunate to have done a dozen or so covers* for Harlequin and the reason the company does what it does is the fine folks they employ!)
    And no I didn’t model for the covers. Sheeeesh! I designed them.

  2. Andy Strote
    Andy Strote June 3, 2009

    One of the biggest goals you can aim for is to get your online community to also become an offline community. Witness the success of tools such as MeetUp. It’s still tough to have a beer or coffee online.

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