Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn
Oakland, CA

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Tips for Building Trust in an Online Community
By Barbara Bray    June 7, 2010 -- 09:00 PM

There usually is one manager of an online community. The manager can be called a community manager, a team manager, or an eCoach. The members of your community will need to trust you to feel safe in your community. Here are seven tips to ensure a trusting relationship with the members of your community.

1. Personalize your Community

Ask your community members to fill out their profile, add a picture, and share information about themselves. Encourage members to introduce themselves right away in the discussion forum. Personalize all communications you have with each member. If you send out automated emails, use a program that includes their first name at the beginning of the message.

Feature different members or projects weekly. If your community is still small, try to keep track of a few of the people a week and promote what they are doing. If your community is large, it is difficult for one manager to select and feature members. Encourage different members manage a welcoming committee so the community builds on its own.

2. Lead by Example

As the community manager, you set the tone of your community. You are the person who your members look to for guidance. You are modeling what you want your members to do for a healthy virtual community. If you nudge your members to participate, pretty soon they will start nudging each other. It is important to welcome your new members by offering advice and pointing to relevant information. What you want to do is promote the purpose and value of your community through your behavior. Hopefully, the purpose and value will rub off on your members and they will follow your example.

3. Be True to Yourself

Be authentic. Donít try to be someone or something you are not. Your community has figured you out as the leader probably from the time they signed up. They will eventually see through any activities that donít reflect who you are.  Donít lie to your members. Donít tell them that a new feature will be available soon when it will take a lot longer. If you say something that offends a member, and you believe in what you are defending, hold strong in that position you are taking and explain why. You will not be able to please everyone all the time especially if your community scales up fast. 

4. Share What You Learn

Every community has a purpose built around a topic. Whether your community is about cooking, digital storytelling, or home schooling, try and learn as much as you can about the topic. Your members will be more willing to trust someone they perceive is helping them make better decisions. Take the time to understand what your communityís personal challenges and issues are, and attempt to address them yourself or encourage others to provide solutions. Investigate what the community might be promoting and share tips and guides on how best to use it. Dish out advice and showcase your most active members that add value to your community.

5. Learn from Mistakes

Even the best of us makes mistakes and online community managers will make mistakes. Always try to correct your mistake if it involves one member or the entire community. Mistakes usually happen because you are overly tired. The problem with being an online community manager is that the community is open 24/7 and it can be difficult to achieve a balanced life.

So you may get some negative feedback which can be a positive thing for an online community. This is where the community manager can respond to the comments which shows respect and that you care about the community. Find your community evangelists and ask them to jump in to the conversations.

6. Be Consistent

Your community will not trust you if you are not consistent in your actions. You need to treat everyone the same and follow the terms of use that you ask everyone to accept. If you present erratic behavior, your members will not feel safe with you. Remember #2 Lead by Example means that if your behavior is erratic, then your members will be confused.

It is real easy to spend more time with one member over another especially if one of the members is an evangelist for your community. However, if you constantly showcase this one member and forget others, you may be accused of favoritism.

7. Let it Go

Itís not a good idea to beg your members to stay in your community, if they just donít want to be part of your community anymore. There could be a lot of reasons that they want to leave, but, sometimes, it is because they donít visit that often and belong to too many communities. They may not like another member or the purpose of the community.

If someone wants to leave, do not ignore their request. Remove them from your community, and ask them why they want to be removed so you can determine if this is a problem for others in the community and possibly resolve it.

This post was adapted from Social Media Today: How to Build Trust in an Online Community

Building a trusting online community can take weeks maybe months. Trust is vital to the health of your community. Follow the list above to nurture a positive and open environment. 

Categories: "Online Community" "Manager" "Trust" "Community" "Online"

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