Scaling a Community into a Network of Communities

February 16, 2016 — by Sherrie Rohde0



Scaling a Community into a Network of Communities

February 16, 2016 — by Sherrie Rohde0

Scaling a Single Community into a Network of CommunitiesIf you’re managing a rather large community, you might be pondering when, or if, you should break it into micro-communities under a larger umbrella. On #CMGRHangout presents: Scaling a Network of Communities, Annemarie Dooling, Brian Fanzo, David DeWald, David Kyle, Jason Schemmel and I discussed what it looks like to scale a community into a network of communities.

Building the community framework

Standardization is key for scale.
—Brian Fanzo

Community frameworks are important even if not building a network of communities, but when you’re looking to scale this structure becomes essential.

In a previous role, I was tasked with designing community structure for thirty-five communities all structured under one brand with the common element of being chronic health related. As our team was small, we had to look at how to roll these out in an efficient manner and also how to prioritize them based on both adoption as well as our company’s goals with creating the network. Essentially what we did was categorize them under three labels: Full, Basic and Lite (creative, I know) which ended up looking something like this:

  • Full: weekly articles, stories, community discussion boards, weekly newsletters and social media strategy
  • Basic: weekly or bi-weekly articles, occasional stories, bi-weekly newsletters and social media strategy at a reduced frequency
  • Lite: monthly or bi-weekly articles, monthly newsletters and very limited social media strategy

While each new site was started with the same amount of attention, we adjusted our plans and strategy as needed after a set amount of time. In some cases, a condition fell even below lite to abandoned as we realized the need just wasn’t there.

However, often times networks or micro-communities are built as a side-effect of growth. Annemarie shared, “I’ve found that my communities have built the framework of themselves before I even notice them. Especially in news and content where I’ll find that small groups of users are beginning to talk about certain topics and they might not even understand that they’re building the frameworks of a community.”

Brian also shared how VMWare scaled through growth while he was in the community as a member. “As they grew, everything was very standardized,” Brian shared, “you at least knew the framework was the same so you didn’t have to retrain the basics every time you transplanted or moved people.”

No matter how you design it, your framework can help you standardize as you grow.

Expanding Your team

Once you have your community framework in place, it’s time to think about your team’s framework. How can you set your team up for success in understanding the network you’ve put in place?

Brian mentioned the power of using tools to help your team through implementing Evernote and IFTTT so that when his team takes a screenshot with Evernote, it emails him as well, which allows him to promote his team with ease. Annemarie uses a similar method with Trello boards on both troublemakers and awesome members of the community that her team can add screenshots to.

I noticed as my team grew, that a Community Playbook was invaluable. Suddenly I needed to share all the information that existed primarily in my own head, so I started a Google doc to share things like:

  • Our Mission
    • Positioning statement
    • Features and benefits of the community
  • Conditions (essentially a list of our communities and what we were doing for each)
  • Documents (any of our reporting documents, goals, logins, and content calendars)
  • Resources (content idea generator, hashtag research, subject line research, keyword research)
  • Competition (-ish)
  • Situational playbook
    • Suicidal comments
    • Product/service advertisement
    • Requests to stop advertising to an individual
    • Requests to share fundraisers

This playbook enabled our team to act confidently and in the same voice.

No two communities are the same, but if you want to succeed, you must empower your team.

Identifying Priorities

“It’s time to build a new community, or it’s time to prioritize one, when they’re already doing the work themselves and they just need me to build the walls or the platform for them,” Annemarie shared. When she knows that a specific community is a priority, she makes sure that there is a community calendar in place around that community to make sure she has time devoted to that community.

“When a certain topic tends to dominate, that’s when you expand.
—David DeWald

Brian adds, “Having a strategy but knowing it’s agile enough to change or adapt on the fly is valuable.” The reality is, things happen and hot topics arise based on unpredictable news beyond your community or your control, so you must be able to adapt as needed. As Annemarie also noted, sometimes the conversation moves on to a new topic, you just need to find where everyone has moved.

In our network, communities were typically added when there was a desire from the leadership team; however, we were careful to make sure we could adjust our current community priorities to make room for anything new.

As Annemarie shared, make sure you know what your goals are and re-evaluate them as needed.

If you’re thinking about scaling, standardize your framework, empower your team, know your goals and, as David Kyle and others on the panel noted, be sure to listen to your community to find out to prioritize your time or add a new space.

Have you scaled a community into a network? What worked, or didn’t work, for you?

Sherrie Rohde

Community Manager at Magento
As the Community Manager for Magento, Sherrie connects people with resources and with each other, and, since she’s just a bit passionate about the topic, she also co-produces a monthly broadcast for community professionals called #CMGRHangout. An ENFP, Sherrie is obsessed with innovation, terrified of status quo, and motivated by adventure. Reach out on Twitter at @sherrierohde. 