Reaching more customers means being a part of the communities they hang out in. Small, local businesses can often take an offline, hands-on approach. However, large companies with a diverse, spread-out customer base have to approach building community differently, and focus on building online communities in the most efficient way possible.As online communities grow, they create value for brands, which must be reinvested into their communities to continue to foster growth. At first, community management may seem tricky, but it can be simple. Once established, a vibrant online community can contribute to the growth of your business and increase brand awareness.
Making the most out of an online community takes ingenuity, dedication, a bit of organization, and the ability to listen.
What Does Community Management Involve?
Managing an online community involves taking on several roles. A community manager needs to foster conversations and growth. They must also work to increase engagement and give members a reason to stay in the community and continue participating.
The following tips reflect tried and true know-how in the world of online community management. Try them yourself to grow a passionate, loyal following of fans who can help grow your brand in more ways than one.
Above all else, a strong community manager should have a schedule that they can rely on for creating posts and uploading content. Visitors and community members won’t have to know that this schedule exists, but they will anticipate the activities and content that come from it.
This form of expectation setting builds a strong community foundation, and ensures that community managers aren’t scrambling for content. A great way to start building a schedule is to select a theme that you can work around. Themed days that appear each week are often helpful in ensuring consistency in your programming. Whether you want to share memories via a throwback Thursday, or establish yourself as a thought leader via #WednesdayWisdom, they can help associate your company with the topics and personality most relevant to your brand and customers. However strong the schedule, flexibility is key, as it’s important to be able to make changes on the fly if necessary.
When fresh content is shared in the community, members will start to build expectations and familiarize themselves with how they should interact with the community. Though they might not always engage, they will at least check your posts regularly.
A site that posts infrequently and without a schedule will lose its readers. The odds that new content will be waiting when they login become so small that members will lose interest and stop logging in. Members will begin to anticipate (even if subconsciously) when fresh content and activities will appear, and they will login regularly to participate.
If a schedule for posts is the foundation, leveraging groups is the first pillar.
Each online community will likely be entirely different from the next, just like different groups of community members will have different interests and desires. In order to accommodate the different interests of the core community, we recommend segmenting audiences through groups. This creates a more robust space for conversation and engagement among members and allows customers to connect with others who share similar interests or other traits. Create activities that are targeted to different groups within your community and will appeal to these target audiences.
An online community with no group networking just won't work. Proper community management will find like-minded groups within communities to engage with and share content. This enhances the experience of its members and adds avenues for attracting new participants.
The second pillar of community management opens up the communication process to become a continuous loop. Nobody likes being talked down to, and many will stop engaging when they feel they are unheard.
Open up communication channels to allow the community to have an impact on where the groups are going and what is being discussed. The whole purpose of creating a community is to interact with your audience, and gathering feedback is an important part of this.
Feedback assists in the creation of targeted content by knowing what the audience wants. Pay special attention to how community members are addressed and match their tone in conversations. Finally, feedback provides an opportunity to give back to strong responders within the community by giving them a spotlight - something that can help build loyalty in community members.
The next two tips go in-depth with how to create a feedback loop that will work for your online community.
Address Your Audience
The tone of your content should be guided by how your audience communicates.
A community wants to feel like a group of peers, and as previously mentioned, not talked down to. Creating posts that use a language unfamiliar or elevated beyond the audience’s level of expertise will drive people away.
Those trying to participate and comment will try to match the tone of the content. Do your best to make the content fit your audience. This will lead to higher engagement and will make it easier to spot trendsetters and leaders within the community.
Once you find these community leaders, the next tip comes naturally.
Spotlight Your Community
Community management doesn't mean community tyranny. The best leaders for your groups will often come from within. While you want to set the tone and keep the topics under control, you also want to know what the audience thinks and feels.
Some of the best content ideas will come from within the community. Taking a moment to spotlight where a piece of content, or a submission to a contest came from, will make the community members feel like they matter.
Don't be afraid to hire from within as well. Much like hiring locally helps a local business, hiring content creators among the community voices shows dedication to the community and your business. You don’t have to “pay” contributors in cash either, sending out branded items or gift cards are an effective way to reward strong participants. Rewarding an online community represents the next step in community management and long-term engagement planning.
Looking for some ideas on community spotlighting? We have that covered over here as well.
Create Quality Content
Now that you have all the ingredients laid out to make a great community, remember to make that community experience enriching.
No matter how strong the community involvement is, it will fade away without interesting content or activities to participate in. Creating quality and creative content is the better way to approach online community management. Anyone can foster a community and encourage growth for their products or services, but just starting it is not enough. Consistent quality is the key.
Quality content will lead a community to new avenues of thought and stronger engagement. As a community manager, you must create content with your audience in mind. Think about their needs and wants, address their concerns and make the content anticipate their next question.
Now that you have the knowledge to get your community running, stay informed on other trends happening in customer participation through co-creative communities. Check out our Marketer’s Guide to Customer Participation to help you.