Much is made of the role of community in developing deep relationships with customers, supporters or members and in improving your services and generally staying relevant and current – but it can have a wider role as well. Your community can help you speak with some authority to the wider world about your key topics.
You can – must – manage you community to welcome visitors and encourage participation; but management is rarely enough. You can also steer, prod, suggest, and summarise opinion.
Many community managers, conscious that their members may have far more expertise than themselves, are reluctant to put themselves forward as experts. Yet the community needs a stream of stimulating content to survive. If the community manager does not take a leadership role akin to that of the editor of a magazine, the community may not on its own produce enough compelling content to justify the continuing attention of its members.
This may be daunting, but it should not be. No community will flourish unless it commands its niche, and that means that some (at least) of its members will be among the most experienced practitioners in the field, and will be prepared to share what they know. Some of them may well be your colleagues, and if so they should be energetically encouraged. As the curator of the community, you daily demonstrate your credentials to be trusted by a wide range of people and organisations who care about the topic.
The advantages of curating your own community
Curating your own community can put you in a unique position to gather informed opinion, and to draw in more and more decision-makers. Specialist suppliers will be eager to talk to your audience, and through such features as expert answers you can give them controlled access in a form that will benefit all parties.
You can also establish research groups, whether around particular products or suppliers (a good source of revenue for you) or around new ideas that need working up. Once these demonstrate their seriousness, you may even involve politicians or other sector decision-makers in a manner that involves them in the discussions without compromising their independence.
You’ll have a unique insight not only into the debates in the field, but the personalities and the challenges as well. So you have your own opportunity to become an authority, and your blog can acquire must-read status, not simply promoting the community but speaking on behalf of the community members.
Of course, if you are managing the community for an organisation, then your voice can never outweigh those of the board or other decision-makers. There are accepted processes for making decisions and policy, and you wouldn’t want to circumvent these. But if you can get the decision-makers to fully appreciate the value of the community as a source of knowledge both to the niche and to the organisation itself, then you will enhance that value, and enhance your own position as thought leader within the organisation.
Planning all this needs a lot of thought, of course. Shilbrook works with a wide range of membership associations, publishers, charities and brands, and can help you do the essential strategic thinking and detailed planning.