Community management & engagement

How can you run a healthy group, and what do group leaders do to run a group? What are some practical tactics to keep group members engaged?

Running healthy groups

Running a "healthy" group is somewhat intangible, but people can feel when an environment is healthy for them. Community leaders manage the space and set the tone.

  • Welcome people. Appreciate people for their presence and contributions.

  • Get to know people. Try to understand the goals of each person in the group.

  • Help people get to know each other, find friends, and get into good conversations.

  • Genuinely care about how people are doing, and seek to help them.

  • Have a genuine interest, enthusiasm, and curiosity. Sit in the space of possibility.

  • Share and do things that interest you. Enable and encourage others to do the same.

  • Enforce clear community ground rules and agreements.

  • Make sure people are always learning (including you).

  • Seek to solve actual, real-world, and specific problems with/ through your group.

Be mindful of connections people are making and the relationships that are forming in your group.

  • Do people feel WELCOME when they first join?

  • Are they ORIENTED to the space and the people?

  • How long until they make their first FRIEND? This is a key metric to building a true community.

SOURCE: David Jay

Engaging members

Catalyze and host conversations

"Conversation is the stem cell of learning" - Jay Cross

  • Conversations allow you to explore and learn together

  • Conversations can happen at events, on online discussion tools, or via e-mail.

  • Amplify good ideas and good stories

  • Call out specific people to enroll them into the beginnings of a new conversation.

    • "Play Tag" - post a tip and tag someone else within a user group to get them to post something

  • If you see members enforcing and reinforcing group norms, thank them individually. Give them more power and privilege if you can.

  • Getting users to engage deeply online is tougher than in person, since they have so many other things vying for their attention at the same time.

  • Create space for people to work through real problems they're having on projects, at work.

Host events

  • Keep momentum between meetings

    • Social media platforms to engage users with content or discussions

    • Plan your meetings as far ahead as possible, to avoid lulls

  • Reach out to members if they miss a meeting they said they’d be at

    • Builds a stronger relationship

    • Builds trust

    • More likely to return next time

Seed and share content

  • What is useful? What will people learn from?

  • Good content can be very important for driving engagement, especially since there's already SO MUCH content out there.

    • Take the time to really clearly and efficiently answer important questions.

  • Try to vary the target experience level

  • Try not to repeat content too often

  • Source content from all your members. Give people the stage.

  • Invite content and presentations from other groups (including Autodesk University presentations!)

    • All of the work that went into preparing those materials can be re-used!

  • Be careful about too much marketing content. It can be toxic.

See the Content & Speaker database for presentations you can use and adapt to your group, and guest speakers who are available to present and engage with your group.

Jobs & Careers

  • Job postings can be an important and valuable type of content & conversation within your group.

  • Encourage people to post jobs, and encourage members to let the group know when they're looking for work.

  • Consider networking events or topics specifically related to career development.

Surveys and setting group direction

  • Are users getting a continued benefit from participation?

    • If not, they'll stop putting in the time

    • They need to feel the value of the time spent

  • Adjust strategies or goals based on member input on what they want

  • Surveys are a great tactic

    • Use surveys if the group has been stagnant for a while and you'd like to infuse some energy

    • Make sure you take action based on surveys, and close the loop with the group

  • Give members encouragement and support in making their ideas real.

    • This may lead to sub-groups and projects.

  • Sometimes informal chats can lead to exciting new directions and ideas.

Community and innovation are integrally tied. A part of community management is encouraging people to do and try new things. This kind of signal amplification & support of good new ideas helps with both the creation of new ideas, and the adoption of new practices.

As a community manager, how can you create a safe and motivational space for new ideas?

From Ralph Montague, a group leader in Ireland, at AU2020.

Recruit members, groom and engage the leadership team

  • Seek new members and new ideas

  • Curating members...

    • Make sure people who join are a "fit"

    • Fit with the mission

    • De-clutter by removing people who are not fitting with community norms/ culture

  • Share/Delegate some leadership responsibility

    • Too much on one person will cause burnout

    • Having 'junior leaders' helps develop ownership, and in turn increases involvement

    • To enroll a new leader, start by giving them something small to help with

  • Make it fun and rewarding to be a group leader.

    • Make time to connect as leaders with “leadership/ board meetings,” perhaps quarterly.

    • These might even be informal dinners where you all just talk about what’s on your mind.

    • Consider a special leadership retreat where you can have fun, brainstorm new ideas, & set group direction

  • Groups that don't groom new leaders are more fragile (see Ending or Evolving Groups)

Group news & communication

  • Consider establishing regularly scheduled outgoing communication from the group/ group leaders...

    • Newsletters

    • Meeting minutes

  • If your group has a listserv or other peer-to-peer communication tool, group news & conversation might just come through that channel

Doing Group Projects

If the group is strong enough, or it's explicitly part of the group's mission, it may be able to accomplish work, build things, and do projects.

These can be difficult to start and maintain due to constraints on time and energy. Even small projects, over time, can accomplish a lot.

This Community Dojo is an example of a project by the Autodesk Group Network!

Projects might include...

  • Developing tools and maintaining code (especially for developer groups)

  • Content creation or managing a publication (knowledge bases, podcasts, blogs)

  • Hosting larger conferences or trainings for the public

  • Pro-bono projects to support a cause or local effort

    • Training or volunteering at local schools

    • Advocacy or activism work with mission-aligned non-profits

  • Developing industry standards, contract templates, etc.

  • Paid consultancy work

The Bad Monkeys is an example of a consultancy that grew out of a community of practice.

Running Contests

Contests can be a great way to spur engagement and creative energy within your group, and beyond.

To run a contest you'll need to create a design brief, clarify the rules, identify judges, build a clear process and timeline, get prizes, and promote the contest.

Past contest examples from groups in the Autodesk Group Network

Moderating: Dealing with toxicity & mediating conflict

  • Have clear guidelines/ ground rules that you always reference (along with the group's mission)

  • Clarify and communicate who the community manager are, give them the power to moderate

  • Have clear moderation norms and processes.

  • As a community moderator/ admin, you have a responsibility to tend the community and ensure it's healthy.

    • You need integrity to: 1) the idea/goal of group; 2) all members of the community.

  • If someone is dominating conversation in a way that's not healthy, take action to: 1) create space for others; 2) prevent this person's actions/posting from harming or burning out others.

  • Use community guidelines as a compass and rule-book to justify taking action against someone's behavior by warning them, removing their content, or banning them.

    • It is not censorship if a person's behavior violates norms and guidelines they've consented to.

  • As a moderator and community manager/ leader: Don't doubt yourself, claim your power. But always follow the community norms yourself.

Graphic from Maggie Appleton on Twitter... (April 2020)

Online communities form the "Cozy Web" (in a way that's often connected to Digital Gardens). The job of community managers/ administrators is to keep these spaces healthy.

Revitalizing a Group

  • If a formerly thriving group has become dormant, usually due to a core leader dropping out, it's possible for members or former leaders to rekindle that group.

  • These new leaders are essentially Starting a New Group, with the mission and membership of the previous group as a starting point.

  • Establish a new solid leadership team

  • Debrief the past

    • Appreciative inquiry - what worked well?

    • What led to the group’s decline?

  • Re-engaging former leaders to…

    • Learn more about the past

    • Hand over any systems

    • Activate the community as a bridging strategy

  • Re-engaging former members to…

    • Survey them on what they want now

    • Get them to spread the word

  • If the group has gotten a reputation for being toxic or not engaging, it may be best to gracefully end the group. This might create space for something different and better.

Other resources on the web

Engage to improve

Submit questions, feedback, or suggestions on running groups

Connect with a peer mentor on running groups - access codes listed here for Autodesk Group Network members. Become a peer mentor