Despite being more connected than ever, thanks to social media and instant messaging, many people are actually experiencing quite the opposite. The average Facebook user now has 338 friends, yet figures like these rarely have any bearing on the reality of human relationships. In fact, there’s a good chance the majority of those people aren’t even acquaintances. There’s a distinct lack of community on these platforms, hence the need for brands to pay close attention to the community management best practices that result in real and meaningful relationships.
Here are 10 ways you can make it happen:
#1. Ask the right questions
The best conversations often start with a question. With traditional outbound marketing, there’s less conversation and more interruption, in which advertisements speak at the audience instead of to them.
Online communities work differently, or at least they should. No one wants to be advertised to in a social gathering, digital or otherwise. Instead, members want to feel valued, which means asking questions that give them the opportunity to provide their feedback and insights. After all, the opinions of your customers are what matter most to the long-term success of a brand.
#2. Put customer success first
Community management best practices revolve around the unique needs and desires of your target audience. That means you need to understand your members and their motivations for participating in your community.
Customer success is the business methodology that puts customers first by taking all possible steps to ensure they achieve their goals when using your product or service. A community can the demands of customer success by providing a way for people to leave suggestions and other feedback and support one another.
#3. Set your rules and guidelines
Naturally, you want your community to reflect positively on your brand, but that shouldn’t mean picking and choosing which opinions you want to hear and which ones you don’t. Communities need rules and guidelines that set the standards for constructive conversation, even if it’s not always flattering.
Of course, you’ll want to keep trolling and spamming to a minimum, issuing immediate bans for more serious offences. But, for the most part, community management should be done on a peer-to-peer basis, which means members should have a role in moderating the community too. This may include flagging inappropriate posts for review and upvoting the most valuable content.
#4. Lead by example
Written rules and guidelines only form a small part of your community management playbook. They serve as a baseline for how you want your members to conduct themselves, but they’re worthless if no one’s aware of them or they’re not properly enforced.
Many community managers make the mistake of leading with authority to police their networks rather than driving constructive conversation. Managers should never be a source of fear, and there’s a lot more to the job than just wielding the ban hammer. They need to set an example for others to follow, which also means their actions should inspire, rather than overrule, others.
#5. Be authentic
In the Age of the Consumer, authenticity is one of the most important things of all. Authenticity is what separates community-based branding and marketing from the outbound advertising tactics of old. It’s about relationships rather than simply putting the brand on a pedestal.
Naturally, you’ll want to paint your brand in a positive light when engaging with your members, but that mustn’t mean compromising authenticity. For example, if a member posts constructive criticism about your brand or its product, you shouldn’t try to hide it. Instead, you should view it as an opportunity to improve.
#6. Publish valuable content
Brand communities revolve around user-generated content, such as guides, general feedback and answers to common questions and concerns. But while members will ultimately drive the creation of content in your community, that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels.
Sharing branded content with your community is a great way to keep the conversation going, particularly during quieter times when your members might be lacking inspiration. Popular examples include showcases of the most upvoted posts and other content from the previous month, livestreams, and online training events.
#7. Don’t neglect in-person events
With much of the emphasis now placed squarely on the digital world, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how important real-world events still are. In fact, it’s safe to say they’re even more important now that many of us spend more time behind the screen than we probably should.
Managers can and should use their online communities to organise and advertise real-world events, such as trade fairs, fan gatherings, and anything else that members are likely to enjoy. Another way to make a more personable impact is to organise live-streaming events, which helps you bridge the gap between digital and physical events.
#8. Recognise valuable contribution
One of the most important community management best practices is showing appreciation for valuable contributions from your members. This helps elevate trust and loyalty and encourage more of the same.
Every thriving brand community has its super users; loyal customers turned brand advocates who have a direct impact on customer success. Be sure to reward them for their participation and dedication. You should always know who your most valuable members and influencers are and be ready to engage with them.
#9. Do more with data
Listening is even more important than talking when you’re a community manager. However, if you have a large and growing community, you can’t reasonably be expected to read every last post word-for-word.
Fortunately, every online activity generates a wealth of useful data, which helps you keep track of your members and learn more about your influencers and advocates. Having the right tools to turn this data into actionable insights will help you continuously improve the overall health of your community.
#10. Use the right platforms
In any conversation about online communities and social media, Facebook is usually the name that first comes to mind. To a lesser extent, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram are also highly popular. But they all share some major drawbacks, the most important being that they’re not your own.
With your own community platform, you get to choose which features you want to include, and you don’t have to leave yourself exposed to potentially troublesome algorithm changes and other updates you never asked for. You also get to preserve your branding, which can make it much easier to engage with your audience on a meaningful level.