Creating Healthy Online Communities


Online communities are the ideal way to communicate with and engage your prospects, customers, partners or fans and extremely powerful customer relationship management tool.

Good communities provide a level of interaction and immediacy that cannot be found with traditional dialog through email, web site submissions and a level of contact with all parts of your organization that is typically done via phone.

Organizations adopting communities have some challenges when launching including how to launch a community that attracts members, how to keep their community interesting, how to make it  “sticky” so users keep coming back and when they do, they stay for long time.

I’ve launched a number of internal and external communities wanted to share some of my make or break lessons learned for online communities that I experienced as a community manager and executive stakeholder:

1) Single point of failure – The Lone Community Manager

A community manager’s responsibility is to create content, interact with users and promote the community to potential members.   Essentially they are the point of contact for all things community…or is that the single point of failure?   The fact is the community manager should be an overseer vs. lone ranger with key contributors on their team to keep the community running smoothly.  One community manager responsible for all content and interaction is a sure way for your community to fail. This is especially true where the community manager is wearing multiple hats for the company and community management is only a part time job.  They need help to ensure they are effective and your community thrives!

2) The Chokehold – Super Sanitized Content

You want to make sure all of your content is customer ready, on message and bullet proof.  Who doesn’t?  To do this it requires approval from the Communications Director, Marketing Director, Legal, and revisions to make the posts suitable for community viewing.   Epic #Fail!   If you go down this path you are going to encounter at least two things with really poor and potentially damaging side effects to your community.

Issue #1 – by the time your content goes up and down the flag pole it will be stale…like old bread and your members won’t care because it won’t be timely nor will it be relevant.

Issue #2 – your customers are smart and they can smell sanitized spin from miles away!  Quite frankly they won’t tolerate it for long.  People want to do business with people.  They don’t come to a community to get hooked, spun and buzzed.  Save this material for your collateral, presentations and website.

The poor side effects I was eluding to?   Your members won’t stay, won’t return, your message won’t stick and your community will ultimately your community will fail.

3) But Some Employees are not “Customer Facing”

Why not?

Seriously…why not? Because your organization never tried?  Because these employees were never given the opportunity?  Because traditionally, some people just don’t talk to customers?

Hogwash and hooeeey to an extent…  To make a community successful we need to establish a team of key contributors that represent the organization to their members in various capacities ranging from development, support, marketing and all the way through to sales!

But you can’t throw traditionally non customer facing people into the fire.  That is just asking for trouble.  To ensure this is successful, ensure you have rules of engagement to follow that foster a positive sense of community and encourage engagement by members with your community ambassadors.  Train your people on the standards of care to be delivered and the type of conduct that is expected when they represent the company.  Then MAKE IT HAPPEN and empower your employees to engage and interact with your community members.    Communities will fail if company participants are not empowered to respond and participate.  REAL PEOPLE – REAL DIALOG is a win win for both your members and your organization.

4) Recognition and Rewards

Recognize and reward key internal and external participants of your community who go above and beyond in contributing to content, discussions and dialog.   These members should be part of your company’s top tier, TLC group and should be publicly recognized in the community as key contributors, and even given special treatment as ambassadors of the organization.  Some platforms offer badges and visual recognition of contributions and participation.  Leverage these features and reward and recognize key members of your community that are keeping your community vibrant and alive.

5) Damage Control – CRISIS, SCANDAL, What to do?

Not everything that happens in a community is sunshine and happiness.  Your members will use their voice in your community if they are unhappy for whatever reason.   In the case where there is a negative statement or a concern or quite frankly if your organization screwed up (yes it happens) use it as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership with this approach:


This shows your constituents that you are serious about customer satisfaction and will address a problem if it arises.  Some organizations choose to censor this activity however this creates a false community that ultimately will fail.  It will always be a little fishy if there is never voices of displeasure or worse, if posts voicing discontent are suddenly “missing.”

Organizations that correct customer issues ultimately build stronger customer relationships.  In fact, it is easier and more cost effective to “fix” a customer problem than to get a new customer so it is definitely worth the investment.

7) But We Don’t Need to be INVOLVED in our Community

Some organizations believe that if you build an online community not only will “they” come but they will contribute, maintain and interact in a way that will build your community all by itself with little or no involvement of the organization.   While this has been successful for some very large organizations where they have very knowledgeable external self designated customer ambassadors to essentially run and manage their community, it is not the norm.  Being present and available in your community and contributing content is vital to the initial and future success of any community you launch for your organization.  Don’t believe that if you create a community it will magically attract your target members and they will run it themselves.  The inmates should not be running the asylum…in other words…take ownership, responsibility and accountability for your community success with clear objectives and contributions.  If you build it…they may never come…so get and stay involved!


This is a huge problem for free communities.  If your users are being pelted with spam directly and have to wade through it to get to the real content, your community is at high risk of losing the majority or all of its members.  No one will return to a community if they will be spending most of their time sifting through the spam to get to the content they came there for.    Once one spammer gets through, spam will multiply…like rabbits…and fast so take care of it immediately.   How to do this?    Consider a pay model.  Spammers don’t like to pay to spam in your community.  If pay models are not in your future consider a stronger account validation service.  Limited activity for a period of time, providing full profile details of real profile information and depending on volume or bandwidth a review and approval of new accounts.

9) What to do with Disruptors?

It will happen.  Someone will act out, say something inappropriate and this doesn’t work in favor of your community (or anywhere for that matter.) The great thing about a healthy community is that the community members themselves will not tolerate disruptors with any personal attacks, profanity, bullying or unfounded negativity.  In any case, you need to address it.  If there is profanity, racism, and direct attacks on members or ambassadors – REMOVE IT and consider removing the offender.  No good can come from that type of content on your community.  If however it is simple disruption for the sake of being acknowledged or get attention…consider leaving it there for a little while and see how your members respond.  You can quickly gauge the health and loyalty of the community by how members defend it.  Don’t let it go on to long though…consider it an experiment and really be clear as to whether it is something YOUR ORGANIZATION needs to address quickly or put a stop to.

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Anastasia Valentine is an award-winning product strategist, CEO of a fabulous marketing and PR agency, speaker, published author and mother. She has over 20 years achieving amazing results in bringing ideas and products to market in the high-tech, music and retail industries.
She works directly with amazing solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, and small, medium and enterprise-class companies across the globe.  Her approach combines her knowledge, skills and experience fueled with her drive, a little tenacity and a lot of moxie to launch and build businesses!  Visit Anastasia at

This Post Has 7 Comments:

  • Stormy says:March 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    Great points, Anastasia! As a solopreneur, the idea of creating an online community is daunting and your point #1 concerns me most. I’d like to suggest a pre-step even to #1, one of determining what your goals are and whether a community is appropriate, sustainable, and something you are willing to commit to, especially when there are other lower-cost ways to foster interaction, such as through social media. Thank you for sharing your lessons learned!

  • admin says:March 12, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    That is a great point Stormy. For solopreneurs we need to switch gears a little bit and ensure that there are some sustainable and repeatable practices that either they can put in place or easily have a virtual assistant get up to speed to assist with. It is also great to have another set of eyes and perspective on content and communications. Even a solopreneur needs backup, especially when you need to be focusing on your genius work. Taking a pre #1 step of being very clear on the value of the community, the level of engagement and the outcomes is a perfect way to approach the tough first step into b building your own community. WELL Said and THANK YOU for the Pre Step suggestion!

  • Christie Halmick | Jewels Branch Creative says:March 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Great tips Anastasia. #3 (But Some Employees are not “Customer Facing”) reminded me of a suggestion from Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week book to really empower employees by giving them ownership and decision making authority. Online communities seem like a great place to put this into practice.

  • Tina Pruitt | The Green Juice Coach says:March 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    GREAT POST! Definitely includes a lot of points that should be considered by anyone wanting to start a community on any platform. I also love Stormy’s suggestion above about whether a community is needed at all…nothing worse than a community with a handful of participants and no one wants to really participate for for fear of putting themselves “out there”….PLUS, is the admin work “worth the effort” for a small handful of people….??

    Thanks for all the points you raised….good stuff!
    xo, Tina

  • Anja says:March 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Yes – “Build it and they will come” definitely does not apply to communities :) whether online or offline!
    It takes a lot of involvement and engagement from all parties, and a clear, authentic goal or mission that every member of the community can identify with and feels drawn to.
    Your points are a valuable check list for anyone building or managing a community. Thank you!

  • Jennifer Peek | Creative Business Strategist says:March 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    These are great points, and make me feel more prepared for building a community. Similar to Stormy’s comment, I am stuck at the step of determining what kind of community I want to build and where I want that to be. On a social media platform? Hosted on my own site?

    That said, as I read through these tips, it helped me clarify what my goals are and how the community would actually work. Thinking through all of these beforehand has been a huge help!

  • Kathleen says:March 15, 2012 at 12:47 am

    So let me ask you, Anastasia… by “online community” are you referring to a membership site?

    What I do know is that the word “community” by its definition REQUIRES the level of involvement you are talking about by more than just one. There is no way it can be achieved by one… nor should it be if it is a community. To get community excited about the community is to have its involvement and participation on all levels. Of course if this is a for profit venture then those involved need to be paid… or an exchange can be had.

    I envision a community formed by likeminded solopreneurs where each one’s service/products weave in to support and serve the whole. is an pretty vital community led by Dr. Lissa Rankin. There are many contributors, all the while she is the one who leads it. I like it… and I know she has a staff.

    Thank you, Anastasia! your wisdom and experience here is something I will be seeking in my future growth!

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