In honour of Community Manager Appreciation Day (Jan. 23rd), ICUC is dedicating the month of January to Community Management. This month we will be posting one article every day discussing tips, best practices and case studies on the topic. Today we are proud to bring you an exclusive interview with a notable Community Manager: Eboni Williams.
Eboni Williams lives in sunny San Diego California. She owns and manages a women’s forum, Miss Maguire’s Finishing School, a passion project she’s started after years of experience and a plethora of involvement in online communities, specifically forums.
Snoo.ws: Tell us a little bit about your background and the community you manage:
Eboni: I’ve been involved in online communities for about 16 years now (oy vey). Miss Maguire’s Finishing School (MMFS) is a small community; we are a lifestyle, popular culture, and current events forum geared towards women. The membership is made up exclusively of women, although it’s not intentional.
Snoo.ws: When you first got involved in forum culture, did you think it would become such a big part of your life? Is there a clear separation for you?
Eboni: I don’t think there’s a clear separation, no. It is a part of my life and always will be. I’ve met some of my very best friends on internet forums. I have relationships that I formed that has outlasted my “real life” relationships, and have been far more gratifying and positive in my life. I’ve vacationed with these people, I’ve experienced birth, death, and everything in between with friends I’ve met online. To me, there is no such thing as “real life” and “online life”, they are one in the same.
And in response to your first question, I really had no clue how big the internet and forum culture would become. I had my first AOL account in 1995, and it was such a rare, exclusive experience. To see how it has grown and prevalent it has become is mind boggling. I literally can’t remember an existence without the internet and forums, even though I lived the first 17 years of my life without it.
Snoo.ws: Your membership base is from a pre-existing community of military spouses, but the site your run now, MMFS, is more general and focuses on issues all women can relate to. How did you take members from one demographic and make the switch to the community you have now?
Eboni: I wanted to make the board as inclusive as possible, so we deliberately left out anything that would infer a military connection, or even spouses. I wanted the forum to feel comfortable for all women, married, single, divorced, we even have some women who are widowed and some who have no military connection whatsoever.
Since the site was from the beginning supposed to be all inclusive, we didn’t have much of a shift or an adjustment period. We did try to create forums where military matters are discussed, but we would do that for any of the women who represented a large demographic of some sort of group or organization. We have writers, artists, people who are interested in sports, fitness, and of course, fashion and makeup.
Snoo.ws: What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis; how do you deal with them?
Eboni: SPAM is definitely our biggest issue. GoDaddy would be our second biggest. They truly provide an awful hosting experience.
And I’ll be honest, expansion is an issue I’m facing as well. I would love for the board to grow more and to become more active. This would mean attracting a larger group of women who may or may not have differing opinions and ideas; and unfortunately, a fairly large group of members are against this. I appreciate that they like having a forum that is small and exclusive, but sometimes things can get a bit slow and stagnate.
I am afraid that eventually, members will stop visiting the site because we aren’t very active as other forums. So it is definitely something that I need to consider and handle very carefully in the near future.
Snoo.ws: Overall, what have you learned through your experience that’s helped you to become a better Community Manager?
Eboni: I’ve learned that being an active participant on the board, and approaching the forum as a “member” rather than a “leader” or “moderator” has made the experience of running a community much better. I have moderated other communities–both big and small–and it becomes stressful because you’re trying to balance both roles with that flashing “Moderator” icon under your name, and it causes friction and hostility between both members and the moderators.
Snoo.ws: Since your community is so small and tight-knit, there has to be a certain level of intimacy? What’s that like? How do your members come together for each other?
Eboni: It is very fulfilling just seeing how much everyone loves and supports each other, to be frank. We had an incident between a huge group of members that resulted in quite a few of them ignoring each other on the board. It was tough for the rest of us, but at the same time, a relief because we didn’t have to witness the endless bickering and sniping.
One member is going through a very rough period in her life right now, and a member that she didn’t get along with has shown her support and guidance, and you can kind of see the relationship repairing between the two of them. This is awesome to see, because it really does mimic the relationships we have in real life.
You’re not going to always agree with or even like your family members or your friends, but we’re there for each other when it counts. That’s what being a community is all about, and it’s why I never want to see ours fail. It is really one of the best projects I’ve ever taken on, and I don’t regret a single moment of the experience.