Since the start of digital communities, it has been known that they can be powerful beyond measure for brands imploring their use. However, due to their rapid growth, creating the right processes and governance structures can be a serious challenge. To explore digital communities more, I sat down with Lisa Bidder, Customer Solutions Director and former Strategist & Community Manager, to get the inside scoop on the challenges and opportunities brands can find with digital communities.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why you chose to come to Khoros?
Ooh, great question. I didn't choose to come to Khoros, there was no career plan. I got into online communities as a gamer. I’ve been gaming since Chuckie Egg, 1986 I think, I was a little obsessed with it. I was away from it for a while, work, life, being a girl, all got in the way, but got back into it when my children were young, that's when I started using online forums and communities. I wasn't working at the time because the children were young and I found myself volunteering to moderate and administrate, and just very quickly got into [community] managing gaming communities, ended up building my own (XboxGameZone) and found myself, somewhat by accident, consulting others on their communities and how to do it. Long story short, before I knew it I was working in the games industry doing something that I absolutely loved. I’d had a variety of different jobs over the years that paid the bills, but weren’t particularly interesting, it was just work that paid the bills. But there I had a variety of responsibilities, setting up online gaming tournaments, managing the community, and doing some work on their social channels. I was in that role, with a variety of responsibilities for quite a long time when someone I worked with moved to what was then lithium. They knew I’d been looking for something more challenging and said this was the place to be, so I applied for the job and I'm still here because they were right.
What were some of your challenges when you were community managing?
The challenges I experienced probably all circle back to the result of a lack of process in some way, shape, or form. I'll give you two very specific examples that are vastly different, but both came back to a total lack of processes in the organization, the way it was structured and the maturity of the community, and how it existed within the business at that time. One of them, we were experiencing a variety of problems and as I dug in I realised there was absolutely no governance over access and permissions within the community.
So anybody could do anything?
The normal community members could do all of the things that they were supposed to do, this wasn’t true for others. It was a very large organization, there were lots of people within the business, who had a need to use the community as well as a large team of volunteer moderators, but when they would say to someone, hey, can you give me access? Somebody, somewhere in the business who already had administrator access to the entire platform, and so could effectively delete the community in one click, would go and give that person the exact same permissions, full admin! So we ended up with 10s and hundreds of people with very high-level permissions and access in the community to do things they didn't need to do, people were accidentally doing things they didn't intend to do, which created a lot of work, and then some people's accounts were being compromised, and used to do things that disrupted the community, things they shouldn't have ever been able to do. It was a huge problem that really ultimately came down to a lack of processes and governance over the access and permissions of the community platform.
A very different problem we went through, but again, came down to a lack of process, we were having some issues with a particular member of the community. The moderation team had been managing it, but it escalated one weekend when we realised the member was in a mental health crisis. This was about 15 years ago, the world was a different place, people's attitudes to mental health issues were not what they are now, and the awareness around these issues simply didn't exist. But this member was absolutely in the midst of a mental health crisis, they had threatened to take their own life to a moderator. The moderator came to me and some of the other managers and said, hey, what do I do? And we realized that we had no escalation point at all. We didn't know what we were supposed to do. So we kind of scrambled around, made some phone calls to their local emergency services, and really had very little choice but to then sit back and hope that those phone calls had the desired effect. It was a very long few weeks following that, because the user didn't come back to the community for a good few weeks. Nobody knew what happened. And if they were okay. Thankfully, they did come back.
Would you say that having that lack of escalation points or processes to deal with real-world stuff was like a big pitfall that your community was dealing with?
Yes. And I don't think it was an exceptional situation. At the time. I think it was true of many communities 20 years ago that were growing rapidly and becoming a bedrock of large organizations, the speed with which these communities were growing and the reliance the business was increasingly having on them, it escalated at such a rapid pace. I don't think the challenges we faced were unique given the speed at which community was growing. A lot of organizations were finding themselves in a position where the communities were bigger and dealing with these kinds of challenges. But there hadn't been any kind of opportunity to really take a step back and question what processes and governance needed to be in place to support the scale and the scenarios that you find yourself dealing with, the situations drove the creation of the processes.
If there was something that you could have changed about the way that your former Community was managed and run, what would have you changed?
Process and governance 100%. You know, when our teams are launching customers today, what we're often saying is to create this documentation, these processes and policy, we’re telling you to have a crisis plan that we hope you never need. You're maybe gonna question why am I spending this time creating this thing I hope I never need. Hopefully, you never need them, but, there may come a time when you do and it is a great deal less painful to deal with those challenges, if and when they arise if you have done that groundwork. That groundwork saves you as an organization, your members, and your employees, it helps everybody feel in control, and know what they need to do when that problem arises. Focus on addressing the issue rather than having that sudden panic ‘I know we need to do something, but I don't know what we need to do’.
What does Khoros do differently in your experience?
I think that we bring to the table, the blend of an enterprise-level platform, with enterprise-level experience. We know the scenarios you may face, and we hope you never do. But, we can help you plan and build those foundations into your community strategy. So that you can be successful. We know that problems arise. Those problems in themselves aren't really the issue. The challenge is knowing what to do and how to do it when those issues arise, that we bring the expertise to the table that answers those questions, that address those challenges, and crucially, we're not trying to be gatekeeper to that. We're sharing our methodology and transferring that knowledge and expertise so that the brand isn't reliant on us after they've launched. They're able to take control of those challenges when they arise, although they can leverage our support, obviously, if they need it.
What are some of the best and worst ways you've seen a community be used?
When I was a community member, about 20 years ago, one of the community members actually was US based, they’d had some medical problems, found themselves in financial difficulty, and were being threatened with foreclosure on their home. The community actually did some crowdfunding before crowdfunding was a thing. We all collected some money together, and were able to collect enough money to cover a few months of their payments, and hold off the foreclosure. That gave them the time to breathe and actually get themselves back to where they needed to be so they didn't lose their home. So that is definitely the best. I think it brings people together in a way that we often see in the real world, but people often don't expect in an online digital environment.
The worst, I think, if I'm honest, is when brands don't truly understand the power of the community and embrace it. I saw a community user post on a community some years ago, expressing some frustration with a challenge they were having, not an uncommon situation where you contact a brand and you say, I need to solve this problem. You get sent in one direction, and then they send you in another direction. And before you know it, you're going around in circles, so they went to the community and said, hey, this is rubbish. Come on somebody like someone just needs to help me. Can we fix this?
I think it was a really good opportunity where the brand could have said, hey, you know, this isn't great is it let's, let's see how we can solve this for you. Unfortunately, what actually happened is that somebody from the brand posted on the community and said the community is a space for people to share positive stories, so I'm going to lock this thread and if you've got a complaint, please report it on this form. Honestly, I think sometimes when brands know the power of community, they want it to be that positive experience. They sometimes forget that actually, the reason the communities are so powerful for the brand and the users is that everybody embraces the opportunity to be transparent and open about challenges. They become nervous of having those honest conversations, they're fearful sometimes that if we're open and honest, people might say things we don't want to hear. And that fear can lead them to shutting those conversations down.
In short, it’s vital that you build your moderation and governance structures at the same pace as your online community grows. Of course, it’s not the simplest thing to build, and every community is different. Which is why Khoros will support you every step of the way in building your digital space.
For more information about Khoros communities please visit the links below!
Atlas Series: Reward & Recognition
Tips & Tricks to Improve Success Rate
The single most important KPI of your Community
Gamification Best Practices from 3 Leading Brands
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