Community Management:
The Complete Guide

August 2020
Community Management
community management

In today's highly interactive and digitally-connected world, it's strange to think that we can still feel isolated from those who are known to us. With a large segment of people who interact online, in the backdrop, this internet-powered world can feel like it is missing the human touch. This refers to both personal relationships and connections with companies — especially between brands and clients, as well as between companies and their staff.

It also concerns the connection between the customers or audiences of a brand, i.e., peer-to-peer networks. The question is how can people connect under a brand and deliver value mutually. What’s the solution for people who are feeling isolated from others and the businesses they're doing business with?

A branded online community.

A community offers people a sense of belonging and an avenue to connect with other people. Members can interact based on a shared passion and forge valuable networks. And that's why so many companies today are investing in building communities for their clients, staff, and audiences — as part of a strategic initiative known as community management.

Companies create communities — or implement community management techniques across the organization — to build genuine relationships between their clients, supporters, and followers. And if we look inward, communities also connect companies with employees, board members, suppliers, and partners.

When companies invest in communities, they elevate the brand by adding a human component — one that is truly concerned about the people who love, work with, and connect with them.

In this article, we’ll cover the following key topics:

  • Definition of community management
  • Different types of community management
  • Community management strategy
  • Best practices to manage communities
  • Working with community managers

How to define community management?

Community management can be summed up as the collective activity of creating an inclusive community through different forms of interaction with the consumers, staff, and partners of a company. It's how a company leverages opportunities to engage with its customers (in-person and online) to build a network through which all the participants can communicate, share, and evolve.

What is community management’s purpose?

Community management in the present time has become a go-to strategy for many businesses and acknowledged by all forms of brands — but still mostly vague in terms of what it entails. So how can it be unique? Why is your company expected to follow this? Let's discuss some of the key factors that make community management an important element for the success of your brand.

Although there numerous benefits of an online community, given below are the key reasons for building a community:

  • Get reviews and collect ideas through actual discussions with your community members.
  • Offer assistance to audience members, supporters, and clients when they need it.
  • Increase awareness of the brand, services, and product within your domain.
  • Gain insights on your customers and understand what content, goods, services, and assistance they need, expect, and require.
  • Build a platform to facilitate valuable networks between your company and customers.
  • Boost customer satisfaction, lifetime value, and referrals.
  • Offer value of a vibrant community to your clients that amplify your product or services.

Considering that community management has different interpretations across the industry is vital — the above-mentioned benefits are some of the things that a community helps you achieve.

Besides, community management encompasses various types of community management. Let's take a look at these forms of community management to help you decide the one(s) you want to concentrate on at your company.

Different categories of community management

In general, community management can be divided into six categories — some of these take place behind a computer and require no face-to-face contact, and others allow group members to communicate with you and your team in person. The best way to segment different community management forms is the SPACE Model by CMXHub.

SPACE Model for the community management

With the SPACE Model you can explore various forms of community management and gain a deeper understanding of the solutions that would work for you.

Note: This part of the article offers a gist of only six of the different community management styles. We've also added a few examples for each category.

S: Support and customer success

Customer service and performance is the first form of community management. In terms of community management, there are a couple of easy ways to think about customer service and success — a discussion forum, FAQ section, and a community portal.

A forum is a place for questions and answers, a discussion platform with a mutual emphasis on customer care and support. It's a perfect way to link up with your clients. Your customers can talk with each other through a website, ask each other questions, give feedback, or join in a conversation about a new product or service.

Using the platform, you might add links to your FAQ section via your community, so the members can educate themselves and get fast answers to frequently asked questions. You would be able to see the contributions by different members so you can participate and provide support if necessary. This empowers your customers for self-services and saves precious time for your team by deflecting support tickets.

With a software for customer satisfaction, you can create a branded online community or portal for members of your community that is focused on serving your clients. Here your clients can support themselves (and each other), connect with your team members, find any materials they require (e.g., knowledge base), and give feedback.

With community software like Tribe Platform, you can build a branded community, and maintain your company's community forum, your FAQ document, knowledge base as well as long-form blogs. You can configure the whole platform to suit your branding, write and maintain your forum and ask your customers to provide you with suggestions and ways to improve your products and services to better meet their needs.

This form of group management is suitable for businesses that have an extensive product line — like a technology or software firm — so that users may interact with each other about tips, tricks, and problems that they can encounter when using the solutions.

Our online community also helps our customer service team when our customers are looking for help. They either provide a solution on their own, loop in someone from another department, or even get the help delivered by an existing customer.

P: Product ideation, modernization, and feedback

Ideation of solutions, creativity, and feedback are both a constructive and reactive form of community management. It allows you to build a safe space where your consumers and target audience can share their suggestions and opinions about how your products and services can be innovated and improved.

You may ask members of your group to complete surveys or engage in one-to-one discussions for input that you need. Several other forms of user testing can include the community and clients if you want to coordinate them. You can, for example, host a focus group with ten real customers at your office to learn how they think you can offer better products and services after they use and/ or experience it.

This method of community management is perfect for most businesses — asking actual consumers and members of their target audience to get input on where their business is lacking when it comes to solving problems.

A: Acquisition and advocacy

Another form of community management is acquisition and advocacy. This method of community building enables you to be directly engaged with the members who are highly invested with your business including your representatives, clients, and brand evangelists.

Via various methods such as word-of-mouth, affiliate programs, and social media these community members help you develop brand awareness and promote your company, products, and services. A common way for these (very important) individuals to build a group is through an engagement and MVP program such as a brand ambassador strategy. Let us take a look at one example.

Lululemon has created an ambassador and loyalty program at the grassroots level by identifying and recruiting local influencers. These ambassadors work with small communities formed in the stores to bolster the bond between the customer and brand. Furthermore, they help Lululemon offer experiential retail to the customers which is a strong differentiating factor from the competitors.

If you want to attract your best customers by keeping them at the core of your community flywheel, encouraging customer loyalty, growing brand recognition, and creating long-term relationships with your biggest fans, this style of community management is perfect.

C: Content creation

Another form of community management includes designing your members' content and programmings — such as your clients, fans, followers, or employees. Its content and programming may include marketplaces, crowdfunding, user groups, and user-generated content.

For businesses with user-generated content at the center of their products, business model, and other properties, this is a great choice. For example, for companies like Kickstarter the people joining their website and using their platform to launch projects and raise capital is what boosts the value of the company.

Usually, these types of organizations have community teams that work to ensure that all user-generated content is relevant, adhere to company standards, and match the platform’s requirements.

E: External engagement

This is a form of community management that gives a sense of belonging to your clients and supporters and leads to a stronger link to your brand through an online channel that exists beyond your company. Social media management is one of the general forms of outward-facing community engagement.

Look at the Twitter page of Tribe Platform for example — — it is a highly informative and engaging channel that promotes our brand while building a group of followers with similar passion (e.g., community building). We ensure that anyone who interacts and consumes our content is treated as a human being — not simply a number.

This form of social interaction is perfect for businesses looking to boost brand recognition while building one-on-one and one-to-many interactions with all types of fans, consumers, and followers. Virtually every organization has the opportunity, with the aid of social media, to build external interaction.

(I): Internal community management

Last but not least, there is internal community management. Today, businesses are realizing the importance of developing vibrant communities internally — among their staffs, partners, investors, and suppliers. Bolstering these internal relationships provides a sense of belonging and encourages employees to connect, which results in increased productivity in the business and overall satisfaction.

For example, many businesses use platforms such as Tribe to build social intranets where people can have casual conversation and bond socially. This is all the more important for companies that are remorse-first.

This style of community management brings together the internal members, links them to like-minded people, and provides a sense of belonging, encouragement, camaraderie, and organizational inclusion. This helps them support your business better by increasing their knowledge of your goods and services and raising their satisfaction and retention rates.

Nearly any company will engage in this type of community management, as it involves only community building inside the office space and may involve software that you already have or the creation of interest groups among your fellow workers.

So, you've reviewed key community management styles and how they can add value to your company. Now let's cover the forms in which you can start developing a community management plan so that you can begin to enjoy its benefits.

How to develop a plan for managing the community

As you can see, there are many forms of community management that your organization can deploy. Once you zero-in on the goal of your community, you would encounter various ways to implement the community strategy.

For this article, we will explore how to build a branded online community that a company owns.

1. Understand the members

Building a community starts with a clear understanding of the members. So you need to create a member persona and define exactly why they should join your community, their problem, how you’d help them and finally why would keep coming back to the community.

The key factor here is that the brand community is not about the member rather it is all about the members.

2. Set KPIs and business goals

Your online community can be a powerful tool for your company, not only for communicating with customers but for growing word of mouth marketing, creating a brand, and driving leads. As such, you must set metrics to operate within a central framework.

These metrics may be used to decide subjects for debate, monthly themes, and more. Here are a few data points that need to be considered:

Traffic: Measure the traffic to your community site and track whether it is increasing and decreasing over time. Get an understanding of the popular sections of your community?

Engagement: How many people are visiting the site versus actively engaging? Which discussions are most engaged in? This can determine potential issues, content format, and start-up discussions.

Members: How many new members do you acquire every month, and how many become inactive? Is it a consistent month over a month? If there was a sudden increment, what triggered the spike?

3. Promote networking

Your community is just as valuable as your members think it is. Encourage them to network with each other so that your community becomes a place for them to meet and speak, rather than just a group created by your organization.

The more trust the group has, the more likely it is to check back, engage in debates, and remain involved. If the group is large enough, you can even encourage members to start their own Meet-Up groups or even plan a mixer, hosted by your organization, in areas where you have offices.

This gives customers and community members a chance to meet face-to-face and potentially interact with someone in your organization if they can.

4. Initiate discussion

Group members would not, of course, speak to each other — at least not immediately. It's your job, as a community manager, to start conversations and get members to chat. To remain consistent, add discussion points to your weekly or monthly content calendar and decide what the subject of each week's discussion will be.

This helps you to plan extra tools ahead of time, such as a questionnaire or "game" for a group to do. You may also use your prep time to invite other members of your team to join in or host a conversation.

For example, the product manager in your company might post a thread to encourage the members to share their experiences and problems. As members reply to the post, the product manager should reply, engage further, and thank them for the inputs.

This adds a human touch to the brand.

5. Imbibe your brand personality

One of the greatest assets of an online community is the opportunity to humanize your brand and your company by adding personality to your conversation. For instance, you could share the internal happenings of your company and how your team members contribute to the fun culture.

The goal is to have fun while balancing professionalism and communicating as a brand. You must not move far from your brand in terms of narrative and find the right content to be personable.

6. Keep community welcoming

A great way to ensure that there is always something to look forward to in your community is to ensure that you are offering exclusive opportunities regularly. It could be anything from interaction with the leadership team to early access to new features.

7. Narrate a genuine story

Ask customers to share their stories about the use of your product and their job in general. You will slowly develop a broad customer base to use for marketing assets and testimonials. Ask customers to share input from their coworkers, photos, quotations, and any other asset that demonstrates their experience.

8. Follow a process blueprint

A community generates a lot of material that comes from the crowd, from questions raised to shared stories. A company must be able to keep it organized so that the knowledge can be used by people (both internal employees and customers).

For example, popular community problems may point to an overlooked flaw in your service offering or a required update to your product. The more organized you are, the more the whole company gets out of the crowd, making it more important.

Best practices in community management

Based on our first-hand experience of working with top brands and community managers we have compiled a list of best practices that every company should follow.

1. Set the rules and guidelines for the brand community.

When it comes to something relevant to your company, assuming you want it to represent you well and serve as an accurate representation of your brand is likely fair. Your people are no exception. You would also want to set community rules and guidelines for all participants and contributors (including members of your team who run the community).

Depending on your type of community, how you set the rules and guidelines for your community can vary. However, here are some examples of how those guidelines can be created to help you get started.

Develop a written document with your expectations about how you want all participants to interact, act, and contribute. Then when they join, share the document with your team and members of the group.

If you have a forum, FAQ document, or community website, you can make the document open to members there at all times as well. When your group meets in person, review that information face-to-face, and consider circulating a printed copy to set standards.

Offer your team members a method of communicating any big problem within your culture to the right person at your organization so they can handle it properly.

Make sure that your rules and guidelines are modified when appropriate (as is your community

2. Stay in touch with your members.

No matter what form of community you manage, check on its members, your customers, and your team to share the information. If it's connected to your brand ambassador network, forum, or website, it's your responsibility to make sure that everything runs smoothly — that people get the help they need, their questions are answered, and they feel a sense of belonging.

3. Be genuine.

When handling every form of culture you need to be real. When your clients, supporters, followers, and leaders arrive in your culture, they should know immediately that it is yours based on numerous factors such as your branding and voice.

And no matter what form of communication, it's important, to be honest, and real whether you're behind a computer or face-to-face. After all, one of the key reasons why you build a group is to ensure why your members feel respected.

4. Capture the Voice of Customer.

Listening is important since community management involves a great deal of constructive engagement with stakeholders. Whether it's social listening, frequent analysis of your forum and FAQ pages, or reacting to in-person and online reviews, understanding the Voice of Customer is how you'll develop your community to the best of your ability. It also shows your audience and members of your community that you respect their views, consider what they have to say, and care for their experiences.

5. Show compassion.

A big part of maintaining a healthy group is showing the members gratitude. That will help you build trust and brand loyalty between you and your customers. It also shows your members how much you respect their time and loyalty to your brand — remember, some members of your group are most likely already some of your most committed, supportive, and loyal fans, followers, and customers.

You can use the following tactics depending on the type of community you have to ensure you are showing gratitude when necessary. Interact with all new members of the group as soon as they enter-say, "Thank you and welcome! "And ask them what you can do to make this a better experience.

Be aware of who the main contributors to the community are. You can send them brand swags, special privileges, or give them a shout out for being awesome.

Invite your ambassadors and brand supporters to visit your team in your office, and give them a look at your process behind the scenes.

6. Be consistent with your brand communication.

Similar to what we reviewed regarding the value of authenticity, always retaining the voice of your brand is important when it comes to group management. This is a huge part of what makes your community special and guarantees that your community is visible to your members and audience.

No matter how many people the network interacts, make sure that they recognize the brand identity so that they can help you sustain it in all interactions, communication, and content.

One way to make this a smoother process is by connecting your group back to the business goals of your organization and/or partnering with your department of marketing. It will keep your messages and interactions focused and encourage you to maintain your presence in the company.

7. Explore new ways of keeping the community engaged

You want to ensure that your audiences are active — this requires constant iteration of various content formats, engagement techniques, and clear measurement of member activity.

Often try new ways to engage your members, whether it's online or in-person (depending on your community type), to keep your community up to date. You will also involve members as soon as they join in continuing to learn about your community, what they want from you and what made them join your community — this will also help you learn about new ways to connect with them.

At this point, you might wonder how to get all of this work started — where to start with your efforts at your company's community management strategy if you haven't done any field related work before.

A typical first step for organizations to take when initiating their community management plan and strategy is to decide whether they want to employ a community manager or not.

How community managers can help your company

If your company can invest in a community manager, you should consider recruiting a community manager (or even a team) to help you build a thriving community.

What is a community manager?

Community managers are essentially customer representatives, brand advocates, product managers, marketers, storytellers all rolled into one. Depending on the business goal of the community, you will need the support of many community managers with completely different skills.

However, almost every community manager shares some common characteristics, no matter what their position in the domain. A community manager would embody the following:

1. Being available

A good community manager must be dependable, available, and reply within a fair timeframe. A member should never wait for the community manager for a large period.

2. Having a goal

A clear understanding of the business goal, the community goal, and how to achieve the objectives is critical for any successful community manager.

3. Being accountable

Every team member is occupied with different responsibilities. The same goes for a community manager as well. If something goes wrong, the community manager should accept it. If a community manager is not able to respond quickly to others, the manager should be able to reach out, apologize, and see how the member can be helped.

4. Being accessible

It is necessary to remain accessible to the members, maintain openness and integrity. It's about keeping people up-to-date.

5. Being real

Like anything else in life, a community manager should not simply follow the latest trends. A community manager must trust what they are doing. This is about being authentic and managing the above-mentioned key points.

This resource highlighted various facets of community management extensively — now you should have a better understanding of why community management is so important, how it can help your business grow and how you can get started on the plan for your business.

Start building your community

Community management is a relatively new industry, but strong. By implementing a community management strategy at your organization, you will be able to build a safe and secure space to connect with your clients, fans, employees, and supporters to provide input, bond, and learn from each other.

This will help you develop brand loyalty, increase conversions and sales, and add a human side to your brand that they can connect to the customers who contribute most to your success. So start by evaluating your options for styles of community management to integrate into your company, creating a plan, and deciding whether the next hire you need to make is a community manager.

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