Risks and online communities: your 5 biggest threats

by Alison Michalk May 28, 2012


The phrase ‘social media crisis’ strikes fear into the heart of many managers of online communities. But there are other factors that may pose serious risks to all communities – whether they are just starting out, or have successfully established their online presence.

Online communities are a long-term asset for your company or organisation and it’s not easy or cheap, and often not even feasible to try and start over if you mess things up. As community managers we are in a unique position where we’ve been entrusted with building healthy sustainable viable online communities. Understanding and identifying potential threats is in a vital skill. Here’s what we perceive as the top five biggest threats:

#1 Growth

Growth is something all community managers should be focused on, whether building or replenishing your community. But like anything else it needs to be planned and balanced. Too little growth can render a community stagnant, while too much growth too fast can be equally destructive. Rapid growth can upset the delicate ‘ecosystem’ of an online community, causing existing members to feel that their space is under threat. Too many conversations and weaker relationships can impact the strength of your community so chasing numbers should be carried out carefully.

#2 Resourcing

The number one killer to a flourishing online community is inadequate resourcing. It takes time and experience to properly create and foster an online community – it does not happen overnight. The community manager needs to be allocated enough time to not only develop content and monitor what’s going on within the community – but also to focus on the bigger picture. The best community manager for your brand needs to have the confidence to speak with authority (on behalf of the brand) or, failing that, obtain a speedy response from those in the know. There is a risk that a candidate less suitable for the position as CM may not only drop the ball when it comes to the brand – but actively damage the brand’s reputation. Far too many job descriptions of late cover community management, events, PR, journalism, marketing and even SEO. Community management is not a small job that can be ticked off your morning’s to-do list!

#3 Internal issues

Internal high-level support is an obstacle many community managers face. It’s still common for companies & organisation to undervalue the role. Yet a company must embrace social and community efforts on every level. A continued unwillingness on the part of an organisation to take note of user feedback and act on it can cause a feeling of dissatisfaction amongst community members, and also makes the community managers’ role extremely difficult. How can a CM build trust with users if they have little power or control to action the feedback of users?

#4 Unrealistic expectations

It’s essential for goals and targets to be set when creating and nurturing an online community. But harbouring false expectations for a community and pushing it to go places before its ‘ready’ can be a real risk. A truly successful community is one where members are invested and inclined to engage regularly. Simply judging a community by its ‘numbers’ is no real indicator of its success. Communities need to be given time, resources and dedication to thrive – so don’t feel it’s a failure if certain benchmarks aren’t met within an allotted time. Community building is a long-term goal – thinks years not weeks.

#5 Ignoring the data

It’s surprisingly common for Community Managers to know very little about the data their platform wields. They might be familiar with membership numbers but not growth metrics, with posts per day but be completely unfamilar with the performance of different content categories. Community managers should look to data to inform their actions. If you want to learn more about this method of community management we strongly recommend you read the Feverbee blog by Rich Millington who is pioneering this approach.

What do you think poses a threat to your community? Ineffective moderation? Toxic members? A disconnect between the community and the company?