COVID effect: Online community managers bearing the brunt of reliance on virtual support

With Australians turning to online communities for support during the pandemic, it has increased the pressure on community managers

Australians have been spending more time in online communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking virtual support and social connection due to lockdowns, according to the Australian Community Managers (ACM) annual industry survey.

Online communities include social media groups, online forums and organisational intranets; however, the increased activity is adding to the toll on those who manage the groups. One third of community professionals reported members were spending significantly more time in online communities and posting more frequently, regardless of the online community topic or purpose.  

“During COVID we’ve seen Australians seek connection and comfort in online communities of all kinds, including new workplace online communities created to support working from anywhere. Community managers have been working hard this year to provide a psychologically safe environment for their members or users to share what they’re going through, escape from the pressure, or collaborate to meet challenges,” said ACM director, Venessa Paech.

The survey claims to be the only benchmarking research captured about online community management in APAC and is supported by industry partner, Higher Logic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, 81 per cent of customers experienced a significant uptick in online community engagement. Since March, there has been a 33 per cent increase in usage and new community members across Higher logic platforms, said Higher Logic country manager, Robert Barnes.

Community managers build and maintain healthy social interaction and engagement around strategic goals or shared purpose. They moderate and manage risk, and support the creation of content and activities that help participants meet their needs.

However, in helping carry this burden for others this year, 30 per cent of Australian community professionals say the pandemic had a negative impact on their own health and wellbeing, creating extra stresses around workload and duty of care, along with the pressure to do more with fewer resources as companies scaled back during lockdown.

According to the report, online community management is a largely invisible discipline - noticeable when it’s not present in an online environment. Yet it is growing in Australia and globally, as people invest in online communities to support customers, partners and remote colleagues.

“Few things impact an organisation externally and internally like community. The business impact on customer loyalty and lower support costs are second only to the internal impact on company culture and communications efficiency. The community management profession makes this all possible with that unique blend of technology, psychology and sociology that drives meaningful engagement,” said Barnes.  

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