As a community manager, one of the most important things that I learned is that you have to be accessible. This time, when I talk about being accessible, I’m not talking about making the Web accessible to people with disabilities. I’m talking about being available and easily reachable.
When I was in college, my major had all these great computer labs with all the latest state of the art equipment. The guy in charge of the Networking Lab was my Freshmen orientation teacher. He was telling us about how he was getting ready to select the next set of graduate assistants that would work in the labs and help undergrad students with their home work.
He told us about how he wanted the grad assistants in the labs to be known amongst the undergrads. He’d post photos and schedules of the grad assistants all over the building. He wanted to makes sure that if we ever had a question that we knew who we could ask for help.
I talk to a lot of folks who work at companies that want to build these great customer communities but they setup all these walls so that their customers have to jump through hoops in order to get in touch with them. That is stupid.
You have to be accessible. You can’t form a relationship with someone… You can’t connect with someone if you can’t find each other.
So…you want users to send you feedback about how you can improve your product but you make them fill out this ominous looking contact form. It looks like one of those deep whole in the earth that you can’t see the bottom of. You’re going to put in your message and then never have anyone get in touch with you.
Put your person e-mail address on your Web site. Spam filters have advanced A LOT in the last few years. I hardly ever get spam and you’d have to be really bad at using the Web to not be able to find my e-mail address.
There are some companies that even have a phone number on their Web site, where you can call them and talk to a real person. Shocking…
I put my photo on our company Web site. (click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page)
Travel and go to conferences that your users may be at. Blog about going there. Put a note about it in your company newsletter. When you’re at the conference, Twitter about where you are so that folks can find you easily.
Finally, institute an open door policy. I remember we had these in college in our dorm room. The RA’s wanted us to keep the doors to our rooms open so that folks could stop on by and you’d make more friends. It sounded silly but it worked.
Have an open door policy at your office. Encourage folks to stop by and say hi. It’s easy to know when I am and I’m not at the office. I love having folks over to the office for lunch. We keep our beer fridge pretty well stocked. We have a killer espresso machine. There’s nothing better then being able to sit down and chat with someone in person. After a while, you get tired of sending e-mail.
In closing, it’s funny to me about how much folks want to build community and build relationships with their users but they don’t actually want to be close to anyone. They don’t want to jump in and get their hands dirty. There is no other way to do it.
Community managers often will compare the trade of building community to dating. You’re never going to get to kiss the girl, if all you do is just look through the glass. You have to be willing to go up, say hi, and introduce yourself.
So… go. Put yourself out there. Make relationships. Build community.