Online Communities Turned To For Pandemic Support By Australians

3d low-poly people at street with connections.
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

The peak membership body for people working in online communities in Australia, Australian Community Managers, has reaffirmed in its annual industry survey Australians spent more time than ever in online communities during the pandemic.

Australians are seeking virtual support and social connection in lieu of face-to-face contact during the coronavirus pandemic, through online communities that include social media groups, online forums and organisational intranets.

However, the increased activity and pressure of 2020 is taking its toll on those who manage the groups for Australians, according to online community management benchmarking research by Australian Community Managers (ACM).

One third of community professionals reported their members were spending significantly more time in their online community and posting more frequently, regardless of the online community topic or purpose.

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

“Online communities have long offered a place of belonging, especially for those who may struggle to fit in offline,” ACM director Venessa Paech said in a statement.

“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.”

In addition, at the beginning of the pandemic, 81 per cent of Higher Logic’s customers experienced a significant uptick in online community engagement.

And since March, there has been a 33 per cent increase in usage and new community members across the company.

The impact on community managers

However, the increased use of online communities has taken its toll on those who manage them.

In helping carry this burden for others, 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.

Online community management is a largely invisible discipline, ACM said, which is more noticeable when it is 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,” Higher Logic country manager Robert Barnes said.

“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.”

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.

Australia leads in online health communities

Health and medicine, government, and non-profit remain the top sectors hosting online communities in Australia, according to ACM. Research from the online community industry in North America and Europe suggests Australia leads the world in online communities for therapeutic purposes.

Other findings from the 2020 ACM Survey include:

  • Online community management is a female dominated technology profession (73 per cent)
  • 75 per cent of community professionals are tertiary qualified
  • Online 24 per cent of online community practitioners say their role is understood and valued
  • 30 per cent are using Artificial Intelligence in their practice.

The ACM 2020 Survey is supported by major partner Higher Logic and supporting partners Quiip and Discourse.

Featured image source: iStock/imaginima

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