What does it take to build a great community?

Welcome, to the first community blog.

Communities bring us closer. They allow us to share, connect and learn.  They create a space that builds trust and when nurtured with compassion and careful planning, create vital support.

I’ve been supporting Jisc’s and our member communities since 2020, watching them evolve from firefighting mode during the pandemic, to becoming embedded in new ways of connecting around our services, products, industry regulation and needs.

With a wonderful variety of topics, sizes and platforms being used, I’m looking forward to sharing our learning and helping avoid some common pitfalls many communities make.

The community reality

The first misconception, is that when you create a community space, your users will automatically come. Unfortunately, it’s rare that a community grows organically and without constant attention at the beginning.

Building and managing a community takes time and it’s not always easy. You need a purpose and commitment from individuals who give it attention.

You need to be prepared to take yourself and the community on a journey.

The community manager

In a nutshell, a community manager is powerhouse.

They are so much more than a facilitator. A community manager is a juggler of different tasks, is passionate and approachable and will have an assortment of technical, industry and human skills under their hat.

Let us delve into the mind of a community manager in a bit more detail.

Image of a cartoon head surrounded by the six key qualities of a community manager

Community managers must be able to balance the following

  • Act as a concierge – ensure newcomers are welcomed and find resolutions to issues
  • Monitor the environment – stay vigilant to inappropriate behaviour and spam
  • Be a gardener – watch over the platform and pick up on themes emerging
  • Have empathy – be aware and understanding of other’s needs
  • Act as a cheerleader – celebrate success and new features
  • Create content – create relevant, useful and accessible information.

Above all, a community manager must listen. Being empathic and understanding creates genuine connections that help remove assumptions.

The more time is spent listening and understanding the community, the stronger connections and foundations will be to enable growth.

What makes a community shine is its people. We can get caught up in planning or worrying about the tech, but what is vital is involving the right people who bring community to life. When we focus on the people, the leading lights, the individuals who are passionate and able to give their time this is where we see real success.

The purpose of a great community

To make our communities a meaningful and worthwhile place, we need to make sure that members can

  • Get answer to questions
  • Find information quickly
  • Encourage altruism; build trust and connections

This might sound simple, but how do we make this a reality?

Turning a community into a reality

Taking a holistic approach to how a community is set up and managed is essential.

Activities can be grouped into four key areas which all need equal attention as one can’t work without the other.

  • Planning and review – what is the community hoping to achieve, what impact will it have and how can we keep track?
  • Engagement – how will we interact with the community and keep traction?
  • Technical – what tools and systems will the community use?
  • Content – what information will keep the community interested and coming back for more?

There are many factors to consider when running a community. What’s important, is recognising that this will be a group effort, harnessing different people’s skills that help the community thrive.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that what it boils down to, is building relationships and creating a space that provides easily accessible help.

This has been a whistle-stop tour of community, but stayed tuned over the coming months when we share more.

We’ll be using this space to inspire more learning, new approaches and encourage you to get involved.

Sign up for email updates about communities and if you have a community that is looking for support, we would love to connect with you and find out more. Let us know about what your education or research community is doing.


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