Community management is often a catch-all role for a hundred different skills that need to be employed regularly. Encompassing all of that in a single post is unrealistic, but after being asked about it during the Q&A of a recent webinar that I presented where I gave a short on-the-spot answer, I thought it would be worth revisiting the topic to look at it in more depth.
With that in mind, I thought I’d work on a few posts outlining skillsets that I feel are valuable for community managers to develop. This is the second of those posts – you can read the first one here.
We can all write, right?
While writing is something we learn at a young age, it continues to be a skill that we all develop throughout our lives. With so much of our work taking place online these days (especially right now!) knowing how to communicate effectively in writing when managing a community is essential.
With that in mind, I thought it would be valuable to have a look at how we can use written communication more strategically when communicating with our communities to have the most impact. This kind of writing can occasionally feel slightly manipulative at times, especially when you’re trying to bring people along with a decision that you have already made, but if you take your time to craft your message well and follow my advice here, then you should be able to steer clear of that pitfall.
Start with the Basics
I’m going to get this out of the way at the start – no matter what language you’re writing in; you need to make sure you get your grammar and spelling correct. That may sound obvious, but I’m always surprised by the most basic grammar mistakes that I see in written communication, even from native speakers.
If you generally struggle with this sort of thing, then you don’t have to worry because there are several services that will help you improve your writing as you go – I use Grammarly for my own writing, but I’ve heard great things about Hemingway as well. Not only do these services correct your spelling and grammar while you type, but they also suggest better ways of forming your sentences and tell you what style of writing your content is leaning towards so that you can rephrase things to suit the tone you’re trying to match.
The importance of proper grammar isn’t just to look more professional, but it also removes unnecessary distractions from your content and, most importantly, removes ambiguity from your message. With correct spelling and grammar, people will understand you more clearly and you will be able to communicate far more effectively.
State Your Goal
Anything you post for your community should have a goal – whether you’re providing training, asking for feedback, seeking ideas, sharing a report, or anything else, you’ll always have a goal in mind when you publish your post. The absolute best way to make sure you communicate that goal is by stating it clearly at the start of your post. State it early and make it clear.
Let’s use an example relevant to our current context – say you’re announcing a switch from in-person to online events in your community program. You have made a decision about the platform and tools that you will make available to organisers in your community, and you want to announce that decision, but you also want to make sure that your community members agree with your choices and will feel like they have a say in what decision is being made – this will ensure that they fully buy into it and will make everything run more smoothly. With that in mind, you could start your post off with something like this:
We’re happy to announce that we will be enabling online events in our community program for the foreseeable future. With so many platforms available as options for these events, we have done some research and made a decision about which one we’re going to use, but we need your input! Since local organisers will be making use of these tools, we want to hear from you what you think about our choice, and what features are important to you.
You can then continue with an announcement, further explanations and a request for feedback.
If your goal is perhaps to report on the result of a recent mediation, you could start with an explanation of what the situation was that resulted in a mediation process. Or if you’re publishing some training materials for your community, you can initiate the post with an explanation of the purpose of these particular materials.
Whatever your intention is – it is vital to make sure that it is clear to your community what you are wanting to achieve.
Explain Your Motivations
If your post has started with a clear statement of your goal, then this next step should flow quite naturally. Since your goal statement is aspirational in nature, you need to follow that up by explaining why you’re working towards that goal and motivate your reasoning. Your explanation here should be specific and touch on real-world examples where possible – this will allow your goal to connect with practical situations that affect your community directly.
Continuing with the example above, this could look something like this:
We’re planning on using ABC Platform for live streaming online events in the community. We like this platform because it includes all the features that we need, including participant management, live chat, moderation tools, live caption ingestion, and all the other basics that are helpful from a platform of this type. We believe these features will empower local organisers to host effective and impactful events with ease.
Again – this can be adapted to suit your specific needs and the overall intention of your post. Ultimately, what you need to achieve here is a particular explanation of what you have stated in your goal.
List Important Information
Lists may be simple, but they’re incredibly useful when it comes to providing precise data. Information presented as a list is much easier to parse than a paragraph of text. This won’t be required for every post, but if you’re stating why you have made a particular decision, then a list of the primary reasons would be a great way to go about explaining it. It’s OK (and usually helpful) if this list repeats things you have mentioned in your goal or motivation, as it helps to reinforce what you have already stated and provides more context for your decision.
Continuing with the example we’ve been using; you could carry on the post with a list like this:
The primary features we are looking for in a live stream platform are:
* Ease of use – no complicated UIs that are difficult to navigate
* Keyboard-accessible navigation
* Advanced tools for managing participants in the stream
* The ability for speakers to share their screen
* Live caption ingestion
* Live chat that all attendees can take part in
* Advanced moderation tools for the live chat
We believe that ABC Platform ticks all of those boxes.
This list should adequately sum up your reasoning and explain your decision in a clear, concise, and direct way. After reading the list, readers will have very little doubt about why you made a decision the way you did.
Ask for Specific Feedback
Many posts like this conclude with an open-ended question like “Have any feedback? Let us know in the comments!” If you’re wanting to make a real impact with your writing, however, then this isn’t particularly helpful. While it’s good to ask for feedback from your community, you want to guide that feedback so that it covers the most important areas that could really benefit from community input.
To carry on with the example above, you could wrap up your post with some questions like this:
With those points in mind, let us know your thoughts on the following:
1. Are there any other features we should be looking for in a live streaming platform?
2. Do you believe ABC Platform will meet our needs? Why/why not?
3. If not, is there another platform you would suggest that might be able to meet our needs more fully?
The actual questions you ask here will depend on what kind of feedback you’re looking for, but they must be specific, targeted, and guide your community towards provided useful input on the matter at hand. Open-ended questions, and ones that lead people towards unhelpful topics or on unrelated tangents, are not going to serve you well.
It’s even helpful to ask questions for which you already have the answers. In this example, perhaps through research and prior input from experts, you already have a detailed list of all the features that you need from a live stream platform. This makes the first question entirely unnecessary when it comes to finding out more information, but asking it allows your community to be more actively involved in the decision-making process and gives members a chance to share their expertise. The value that this provides to your community is immense, so don’t be afraid to ask for things even if you already know what the best solution is.
By this stage, you would have a full post together with a goal, expanded motivation, a list of relevant information, and a request for targeted feedback. For easier parsing, you can see how this would flow together in this page I compiled using all of the above snippets. The one thing I haven’t mentioned yet since it isn’t about a specific part of the post is the need to keep things brief and to the point. This serves multiple purposes – it makes the post more comfortable to read, helps to avoid confusion, and prevents you from mentioning irrelevant topics that could derail the subsequent conversation.
Never underestimate the value and power of brevity for impactful writing.
Do you have any other tips for impactful written communication? Or some examples that you think are especially relevant? Please share them here!