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In today's highly interactive and digitally-connected world, it's strange to think that it can seem like we’re 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 companies 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 those who are feeling isolated from people and the brands they're doing business with?
An online community for a brand.
Communities offer people a sense of belonging along with an avenue to connect with other people. Members can interact based on a shared passion and forge valuable networks. And that's the reason a large number of companies today are investing in community building for clients, staff, and audiences. This strategic initiative and the underlying processes are collectively known as community management.
Companies create communities — or implement community management techniques across the organization — to build genuine relationships between their clients, supporters, and audiences. 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 those who love the brand, work, and connect with the brand.
In this article, we’ll cover the following key topics:
- ✓ Definition of community management
- ✓ Different category of Community Management
- ✓ Strategies for community management
- ✓ Best practices to manage communities
- ✓ Working with community managers
How to define community management?
As a term, 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 real-life and digital media) to build a network through which all the participants can communicate, share, and grow a sense of belongingness.
What are the objectives of community management?
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 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.
- ✓ Increase awareness of the brand, services, and product within your domain.
- ✓ Gain insights on customers to understand what goods, services, content, 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 the important ones that a community helps you achieve.
Besides, community management encompasses various practices. Let's take a look at these practices to decide the one(s) you want to concentrate on at your company.
Community management categories
In general, community management can be divided into six categories — a couple of them take place behind a computer and require no real-life contact, and others allow group members to communicate with your company and your employees in the physical world. The SPACE Model by CMXHub is the best way to segment different forms of community management.
SPACE Model for the community management
With this model, you can gain a deeper understanding of the categories of community management and zero in on the solutions that would work for you.
Note: This part of the article offers a gist of only 6 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 category. In terms of community management, the following are a couple of easy methods to handle customer service and success — a discussion forum, FAQ section, and a community portal.
An online 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 clients can talk with peers through a website, ask different questions, give feedback, or join in a conversation about a new solution that you are offering.
Using the platform, you might add links to the FAQ section via your community, so the members can educate themselves and get fast answers to frequently asked questions. You can also see the contributions of different members, participate in conversations, and provide support if necessary. This empowers your customers for self-services and saves precious time for your team by deflecting support tickets.
With software for customer success, a branded online community can be created. You can also launch a portal for members of your community that is focused on serving your clients. Here your clients can get self-service support, help others, 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 online community, FAQs, knowledge base as well as long-form blogs. You can configure the whole platform to suit your brand guidelines, write and maintain your forum. Also, a great channel to collect feedback from the customers and brainstorm with superusers to improve your products and services.
This form of community management is suitable for businesses with an extensive set of products — similar to a technology or software firm — so that users may connect and learn best practices and discuss problems that they encounter when using the products.
At Tribe, 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 innovation, feedback, and ideation
Ideation of solutions, creating novel products, and collecting feedback is both a foresighted and responsive form of community management. This allows you to build a secure online place for your clients and audience so they can post their suggestions and opinions about how your company can be innovated and improved.
You may ask members of your community to give feedback via surveys and engage in one-to-one discussions for inputs that you need. This is one of the ways for user testing where you can include the active members, audiences, and clients. You can, for example, form a focus group of actual customers to understand how they think you can offer better products and services based on their first-hand experience.
This form of community management is perfect for most businesses — asking actual clients and audiences to get inputs on where their business is lacking and how they can create novel solutions.
A: Acquisition and advocacy
This type of community management enables you to directly engage with the members who are highly invested in your company, your representatives, and brand evangelists.
Via various methods such as word-of-mouth, affiliate programs, and social media the members of your community enable you to develop brand awareness and promote your company. The usual method to connect these key individuals and build a community is done through an MVP (Most Valuable Person) program. 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’re looking to attract your most important customers by centralizing them at the core of your community flywheel, boost customer loyalty, grow brand recognition, and create long-term connections with your fans, this style of community management is perfect.
C: Content creation
This community management style includes designing your members' content and programmings. You’d largely focus on your clients, audiences, or employees to create a content program that includes various member segments and drives user-generated content.
For businesses with user-generated content that is deeply ingrained in their products, business blueprint, and other properties, this is a great choice. For instance, in the case of 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, companies like this create robust teams to manage the community and make sure that the user-generated content is relevant, adhere to company standards, and match the platform’s requirements.
E: External engagement
Community management focused on external engagement gives a sense of attachment to your clients and supporters and results in a powerful link to your brand via an online channel that exists beyond your company. Social media management can be considered as a general form 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 based on 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 to build external interaction using popular social networks.
(I): Internal community management
Last but not least, there is internal community management. Today, businesses are realizing the importance of developing vibrant communities to connect their staff, partners, investors, and suppliers. Enabling and nurturing these internal connections provide a sense of attachment. This encourages employees to connect, which results in increased productivity in the business and overall satisfaction.
For instance, businesses use platforms such as Tribe to build social intranets where people can have casual conversations and bond socially. This is all the more important for companies that are remorse-first.
Internal community management forms a stronger bond between the internal members and links them with like-minded people. With improved attachment, members are encouraged to help each other and truly consider themselves a part of the company. This empowers them to support your business better by improving product knowledge and raising their satisfaction rates.
Nearly every company will work on internal communities since it largely requires community engagement using existing collaboration software (or a solution like Tribe) and building various employee groups.
So, you've explored key community management styles and their benefits. Now let's discuss how you can create a practical community management plan to start adding value to your company.
Developing a plan for managing the community
We covered 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. Create guidelines for the brand community.
You would always want a correct and precise portrayal of your business, your values, and your culture. This ensures that your brand is presented flawlessly to your community. Hence you need to craft a community guideline for all the stakeholders -- starting with the internal team to the members.
The way you create and implement your community guideline would change based on the community goals. That said, there are a large number of common elements that a community manager can follow:
To start off, create a document that shows your ideas around how the members would connect, interact, and contribute content. This will change as your community evolves.
Using your community website you can create a specific page listing all the guidelines. Then, you need to introduce the members to the guidelines by prominently displaying it and making it a part of onboarding.
Offer your internal team a way of communication for any major problem in the community to the right people. That way issues can be resolved efficiently.
2. Stay in touch with your members.
Regardless of the type of community you are building, ensure that you are keeping a pulse of the community. That can be done by regularly checking in with your members.
That way you can keep your community relevant for the members and make sure that the community operations are getting executed smoothly. Especially, when the members are looking for help, they should get the right help.
3. Be genuine.
When handling every form of culture you must instill authenticity. When your clients, supporters, followers, and leaders join your community, they should know instantly that it reflects your branding and messaging tone.
It's important to be honest and real whether you're behind a computer or community in the real-world. At the end of the day, you are looking to cultivate a sense of belonging and make the members connected.
4. Capture the Voice of Customer.
Listening is important as community management involves a great deal of constructive engagement with stakeholders. Whether it's social listening, frequent analysis of your discussion forum, or reacting to various feedback, understanding the Voice of Customer will be critical in elevating the value of the community.
Actively listening to the feedback, keeping the members updated, and closing the feedback loop shows that you truly care about the members. This makes your community trustworthy!
5. Show compassion.
A big part of maintaining a healthy community is showing the members gratitude. You can build trust and brand loyalty between you and your community members. It also shows that you respect their time and loyalty to the brand.
Some community members are already some of your most committed, helpful, fans, and customers.
You can use the following tactics based on the style of community you are running to ensure you are showing gratitude when necessary:
Connect with all the new members of the community as soon as they sign up. Thank them and ask them what they are expecting as well as how you can deliver 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 superusers and brand ambassadors to visit your team in your office, and show them how everything works in your company.
6. Be consistent with your brand communication.
We already discussed the value of authenticity and the importance of actively listening to the voice of your customers in your community. This plays a major role in adding uniqueness to your community and keeps the community at the forefront of your stakeholders.
Irrespective of the number of members in your community, make sure that they recognize the brand identity. This way you can build a consistent narrative in all interactions, communication, and content.
A key method to make this a smoother process is to connect your community goals back to the business goals of your organization and/or partner with different departments. It will keep your messages streamlined and encourage you to maintain your brand personality.
7. Keep 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 work with your team as well as superusers to find novel ways to engage your members. Keep your members updated by deploying an omnichannel community engagement strategy.
You will also involve members right after they sign up and keep learning more about your users — the motivation behind joining your community and their expectations from the community.
Now you might wonder how this community initiative can get started — how to kick off the efforts for your company's community management strategy if you haven't done any work in this domain.
A typical first step for organizations to take when initiating their community management strategy is to decide whether they would employ a community manager or not.
How community managers add value
If your company can invest in a community manager, you should consider recruiting a community manager to implement a robust strategy for building a thriving brand community.
Defining the role of the community manager
Community managers are essentially customer representatives, brand advocates, product managers, marketers, storytellers all rolled into one. Based on the business goal of the community, you will need the support of a team of managers with completely different skills.
However, in general, community managers share some common characteristics, no matter what their position is. A community manager would embody the following qualities:
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 clearer understanding of the importance of community management and the way it helps your business grow.
Create your community
Although community management is relatively new, it is can be powerful for driving businesses. By crafting a strategy for a community management strategy for your brand, you will be able to build a safe and secure space to connect with your clients, fans, staff, and supporters to provide input, connect, and learn from each other.
This will result in improved brand loyalty, boost conversions, and new client acquisition, and add a human element to your brand that they can connect to. the customers who contribute most to your success.
So start by evaluating different business goals for your company and where community management can help you achieve those goals. Once you do that you’d be in a better position to decide whether you need to hire a community manager.