These days many e-Courses have a forum or community to help increase engagement and provide increased support outside of the course materials. This might be a Facebook Group or it could be a custom-built forum software. But whatever the form your community forum takes – it is your role (as e-Course facilitator) to manage it and maintain good etiquette. And with six years of experience running e-Courses and managing communities, here are my top tips for managing a community forum for your e-Course!
Tips for managing a community forum
Set up the forum
As mentioned, there are a number of ways of setting up and managing a community forum for your e-Course but in my experience, 99% of people are using Facebook. So for this part, I’m going to get Facebook-specific and talk about setting up a Facebook Group.
Here are some things you should take into consideration when setting it up:
- Access settings – I set my groups up to be closed (not secret) so that people can request access but that does mean that people can still search my Facebook Group and get a glimpse at the people who are in it. If privacy is an issue then you can set the group up as secret and manually add participants with their email address.
- Admin approval – If your group is set to closed and people can request access then you will need an admin to approve membership. Make sure this is selected in your settings.
- Group description – Make it clear that your group is a paid (not free) group to help minimise requests from non-members.
Facebook has also added a new feature where you can set up your Facebook Group to have ‘units’ that align to your e-Course modules or topics. This is only available to groups set up as the ‘school or class’ category but is also (potentially) a really cheap way to deliver e-Courses and online programs without a membership site. I have a feeling this will become very popular in the next few months!
Take leadership of the forum
I think it is important to take strong leadership when managing a community forum.
You do this by setting boundaries for your time input, setting community guidelines (including promotion guidelines) and then ensuring that these guidelines and the general culture of the group is maintained.Leadership is action, not position. Click To Tweet
You could also hire a VA to monitor your communities and alert you to posts requiring your attention or even train up a Community Manager to answer questions and support the community as I have done.
Remember forums take up your time but they also add enormous value to participants so you do need to balance the amount of time you spend in them and ensure that this time is put to good use.
Set community guidelines
Community guidelines are an important part of taking leadership of your forum and should establish your expectations of your community, the tone and vibe, the behaviours that are acceptable (including promotional guidelines which we will talk about soon). Community guidelines should be available in your membership site and be linked to in your forum so that they are easy to find.
Some sections you might like to include in your community guidelines:
- Description of the community
- Forum support levels e.g. response times, specific office hours
- Acceptable behaviours e.g. trolling, bullying and negativity
- Community vibe e.g. how do you want people to show up in the forum?
- Legal issues e.g. privacy, plagiarism, intellectual property
Community guidelines are incredibly important in outlining what your community can expect from you and reiterating what you expect from them.
Consider promotional guidelines
As part of your community guidelines, you should also consider where you stand on promotional guidelines within your forum community. If your e-Course in non-business related then promotional guidelines may not be applicable however you still might find people joining who have a business related to your e-Course topic who have done so in order to promote themselves.
I’m a part of many forums where promotions take over and it becomes a pitch fest rather than a valuable community to learn and grow.
There are a number of options when it comes to promotion:
- No rules on promotion
- Promotion on set days only
- Promotion as part of a pinned thread (once a day or once a week)
- No promotion allowed rule
- Other custom rule
When it comes to your promotion guidelines your definition of what constitutes promotion is very important as this is where you will find a lot of confusion occurs but also where misuse takes place.
So you really need to ask yourself:
- What do people need to be able to share in order to learn and achieve the objectives of my program?
- What am I comfortable with people sharing related with their businesses (if applicable)?
Once you set promotion rules – you need to “police” them. Rules or guidelines are only effective if they are enforced. It’s also important to describe the process that you will go through if people do break the guidelines. For example, deleting posts, giving written warnings, suspending from the group for a set period of time or removal from the group and membership site.
And remember: managing a community forum is a great way to support your tribe and continue the learning with them. So get creative and have some fun too!