Branding used to be all about logos, colours, and typefaces, and large enterprises continue to invest huge amounts of money honing them to perfection. After all, these are the critical visual cues that people come to associate with a particular organization, whether it’s a business, a political party, a non-profit, or even just a one-person operation.
In more recent times, we’ve seen a growing emphasis on the role of company culture in brand-building. With the Age of the Consumer, characterised by factors like online reviews and peer-to-peer purchase recommendations, branding has reached a new stage in its evolution. No longer is it all about the organization behind it; it’s about the community that develops around the brand. It’s about the people who become loyal customers and, ultimately, brand advocates. That’s why brands are moving away from social media managers to community managers.
What is a community manager?
A community manager is an individual who leads the way, and it’s become one of the central roles in building a thriving organisation. Brand communities will still form without a dedicated community manager, but they’re more likely to be fragmented and disconnected to the extent they become something separate that the brand has no control over. This disconnect also results in a lack of insights into customer sentiment which, in turn, leads to the brand becoming detached from its customers.
Community management refers to the process of building an authentic group consisting of a brand’s customers, employees, and partners through various touchpoints. These days, most of these interactions take place online in venues like mainstream social media, online forums, and mobile apps. The manager is the person who leads those efforts to connect, share, and grow a brand with its target audience.
Social media managers versus community managers
Social media is often hailed as the ultimate marketing platform and the most effective way to build an online community of engaged followers. Social media managers are therefore tasked with posting content on Facebook and other networks to further a brand’s efforts to connect with its target audience. Together, they form the voice of the brand, but although businesses often have a whole team doing that job, they work as a single entity all posting from a branded account.
A community manager’s job is far more personal. They typically post as a brand ambassador from their own account, individually connecting with prospects and customers as well. In this respect, their role is more about building relationships with their communities, instead of taking the one-to-many approach of conventional social media communications. To that end, they’re more like customers themselves, with each community manager having an individual voice to engage members in both one-to-one and one-to-many conversations.
Both community managers and social media managers work in the marketing department. For smaller organisations, one person might take on both responsibilities. But while there’s some crossover between the two roles, community managers arguably have a more important and wider range of responsibilities, particularly given the rapidly growing importance of branded communities in today’s consumer-focussed era.
What are the key skills of a community manager?
While social media management focusses more on marketing in the traditional sense, albeit with the help of modern digital tools, community management requires a wider range of skills. It’s also a far more people-focussed role that depends heavily on individual personality traits and the ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of people.
Unlike sales teams, community managers are about authenticity and relationships, rather than trying to push sales. In fact, it’s safe to say that a community manager should never focus on the hard sell – that’s a quick road to nowhere in a time when trust and authenticity are the most important factors in brand success.
Here are five top skills every community manager should have:
Skill #1. Empathy for strangers
Naturally, a community manager absolutely has to be a ‘people person’. It’s generally not a job well-suited to introverts. Instead, it’s important to have a thorough grasp of what motivates people to create the right balance of communications and engagement activities. They need to be able to lead by example and motivate others and, to do that, they need a clear picture of their target personas and a deep understanding of how to talk to them as equals.
Skill #2. Conflict resolution
It’s an unfortunate fact that the online world has given a voice to the less desirable elements of society. Trolls and spammers abound in many online communities, and one only has to look at mainstream social media to see no shortage of flame wars. Community managers have to be thick-skinned and prepared for the worst, but they must also assume the best intentions. They can’t afford to be divisive and reactive, particularly among more diverse communities.
Skill #3. Perseverance
Patience is a critical personality trait of any community manager. It’s not just about patience when dealing with problematic community members either; building and nurturing a strong community isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a slow process that nonetheless yields great rewards, but it’s far from easy. Managers need exceptional organisational and project management skills from the beginning.
Skill #4. Passion
It’s much harder to define the role of a community manager than a regular marketing person. After all, you can’t really quantify the value of human relationships. But a community manager must be genuinely passionate about the brand they’re representing in order to be authentic. Just like no one is likely to enjoy reading a book written by someone who hates writing, no one is going to interact meaningfully with someone whose passions aren’t genuine.
Skill #5. Teamwork
For a smaller organisation, building and maintaining a community of engaged members might seem like a singular job. But it’s all the other roles it depends on which make it work. If there isn’t any collaboration between the community manager and other people and departments in the organisation, there’ll be a serious lack of direction. Community managers need to be great team players who can communicate their ideas and insights with everyone internally too.
Goals every community manager should have
Many business leaders get excited about social media, but ask them what their social media marketing goals are, and you’ll often be left with blank stares. Community marketers have an even harder time of trying to explain their goals, because customer relationships aren’t easy to quantify.
Here are seven elements of any successful community strategy:
Goal #1. Raise brand awareness
While social media revolves around awareness, it’s one of many important goals community managers have to think about. Still, it’s one of the most important, since every business wants to spread the word to potential customers. Community managers often do that by encouraging others to get involved.
Goal #2. Improve public perception
Product and pricing are no longer the only drivers of brand success. More than ever, people choose to do business with one company over another because of the community around it. A community manager must be dedicated to improving public perception by offering genuine value to members.
Goal #3. Offer customer support
Customer support is integral to any company, but no longer does it exclusively belong to the realm of a dedicated department. While community managers typically aren’t qualified to offer high-level or technical customer support, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be ready to support members by referring them to the right people where necessary.
Goal #4. Nurture brand advocates
Influencers are the holy grail of modern brand-building. People are far more likely to act upon recommendations from their peers than respond to a hard sell. Community managers should nurture their most influential brand advocates by recognising and rewarding their contributions.
Goal #5. Collect user feedback
Every digital activity generates a wealth of useful digital data, and online communities are no exception. The ability to curate, communicate, and act on feedback from your members is an integral part of your community management strategy.
Goal #6: Drive user acquisition
While brand communities tend to revolve around shared interest groups with smaller member counts than major social media strategies, growing your community is still an essential part of growing your brand. Community managers need to drive user acquisition by nurturing their most valuable members and spreading the good word themselves.
Goal #7. Welcome new users
First impressions count for a lot, so it’s important for any community manager to have a clear process for onboarding new members and making them well comfortable in the group. This could, for example, include an introductory video and a dedicated group for new members to introduce themselves.
Tips for becoming a better community manager
Managing a thriving brand community isn’t easy, and it’s impossible to get everything right on the first try. Community managers need to persevere and adopt an approach of continuous improvement that recognises failure and builds incrementally on success.
Here are 10 tips to help you become a better community manager:
Tip #1. Keep an open mind
As much as community management is challenging, it can also be enormously rewarding. It’s also a constant learning process, so it’s a good idea to keep an open mind. As much as your members will learn from you, you’ll also need to be prepared to learn from them.
Tip #2. Align business and community
In the end, a brand community is still a marketing platform of sorts, with the overarching goal being to grow the business behind it. That’s why you need to keep the brand and its mission in the forefront of your mind.
Tip #3. Show your appreciation
No one likes being ignored, especially if they have legitimate concerns or complaints. To build and nurture a thriving community, you need to reward customer feedback, even if it’s not as flattering as you’d like.
Tip #4. Lead by example
Every community needs its rules and guidelines, but while policies are important, what people really pay attention to is the way community managers interact with their members. Leading by setting the right example is a lot more effective than a list of rules and regulations.
Tip #5. Live authentic
Community management should never involve the hard sell. If it does, it will quickly fall flat on its face as a ruse. You need to be true to yourself by bringing your own personality into the equation, even if that means admitting failure and being radically transparent.
Tip #6. Check in regularly
In an age of constant distraction, even the most successful online communities are never far away from drying up into a digital ghost town. You need to check in regularly and engage with your members by answering their questions and starting conversations of your own.
Tip #7. Maintain brand voice
As a community manager, your ultimate job is to become a valued representative of the brand. While you need to remain authentic, it’s also important that everything you do reflects the voice of the brand and, if it doesn’t, you need to clearly state that that’s the case.
Tip #8. Don’t fear rejection
You can’t be everything to everyone no more than you can expect everyone to agree with your opinion. Even the best community managers make mistakes or have their opinions rejected on occasion; sometimes rigorously so. Embrace it as an opportunity to improve.
Tip #9. Try something new
In today’s fast-paced world, things often change dramatically and without notice. That’s why any community should be approached as a dynamic, living organism. Managers must always be prepared to change course while communicating their intentions with everyone concerned.
Tip #10. Connect with your peers
Building your network is a job that’s never done, but the rewards come in waves if you take the right approach. Connecting with your peers over social media, during in-person events, and at any other opportunity, is a sure-fire way to raise awareness and build trust.
What do you need to get started?
To build an online community, you’re going to need the right technical infrastructure. There’s a wide variety of community platforms available, but chances are you’ll achieve a lot more with a platform of your own rather than relying on a group page on mainstream social media. Better options include branded website forums or, best of all, a white-label social network which you can customise to perfectly suit your needs.