If you have customers, then you probably already have a brand community whether you like it or not. People will be talking about you online, leaving feedback on customer review sites or sharing recommendations and warnings alike on social media. Building a brand community of your own provides a direct line of communication between you and your customers, a way to empower brand advocates and an opportunity to reveal insights that can drive your company forward. But that’s only going to happen with professional brand community management.
There’s no denying that setting up and managing your own brand community is a potentially powerful way to market your business, manage your reputation, and tap into a wealth of tribal knowledge that you can feed into the continuous improvement of your offer. Unfortunately, many brand communities fail due to factors like a lack of targeting or too much emphasis on product-related discussion. To minimise member turn-over and maximise engagement, you’ll need a professional community management strategy that fosters a sense of belonging.
What is brand community management?
Contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot more to brand community management than trawling social media all day posting promotional content on Twitter and Facebook. The job is far more involved than that and, fortunately, a lot more exciting. Successful community managers are typically extroverted individuals who build, grow and maintain brand communities through two-way conversation and relationship-building. They’re not marketers in the traditional sense, but their roles are still crucial in any modern digital marketing strategy.
Why brands are building their own communities?
- Leverage collective knowledge to provide cheaper self-service support.
- Increase customer engagement through mutually beneficial relationships.
- Provide a space for customer feedback and product direction.
- Inspire brand advocacy by giving customers a sense of belonging.
- Present updates to keep your regular customers informed.
- Cross-promote your products and services through increased trust
What are the key principles of professional community management?
Without professional community management, your social media accounts and owned community assets will become digital ghost towns. These present a serious liability to brands, since they tend to end up being overtaken by spammers, trolls and other undesirables. That’s why having a community manager who actively engages with customers and fans, rather than tries to sell to them outright, is so important. Community managers aren’t just passionate about the brand they’re representing; they’re also passionate about the success of their customers.
Define your goals
By now, most business leaders have heard about community marketing, but the term itself is something of a misnomer. There’s so much more to brand communities than advertising and failing to recognise that simple fact can leave you in a worse situation than if you don’t have a community at all. Every community needs a sense of purpose, whether it’s a fan page on Facebook, a community forum on your website, a private social network or anything else. It’s imperative that you establish your goals before launching your community.
To leverage your brand community to drive customer success and, in turn, business success, you need to provide a sense of direction. People are less receptive to conventional advertising and sales pitches than ever before, which is why your community management strategy must focus more on relationships. Your goals need to be orientated towards the customer, placing a clear emphasis on their success with your products and/or services.
Some business leaders might look at the above and immediately focus on the cross-promotion of products and services through increased trust, since it’s the one that immediately translates into profit. This is a common mistake, not least because people will start leaving your community in droves if they’re constantly bombarded by nothing but sales pitches and push notifications. Indeed, they’re still important goals, but they cannot stand alone if your community managers aren’t actively listening and responding to members. More often than not, successful communities combine all the above, in which case community managers will serve as a liaison between members and the customer support, research and development and marketing departments.
Establish your community guidelines
Malicious behaviour is an unfortunate yet inevitable side effect of the connected world, which is why every community needs a set of rules and guidelines. One of the most important jobs of your community managers will be to enforce these rules, but that doesn’t mean playing the role of a virtual police officer. Professional brand community management is about inspiring constructive participation. It’s about using diplomacy wherever possible, setting the standards and leading by example. Having a documented set of rules and guidelines is one of the most important steps towards building a healthy and thriving community.
Modern technology presents more opportunities to automate marketing than ever before, and though there’s no denying the value of this approach, it’s can also tempt laziness. However, an online community is about people rather than technology, hence the necessity for a human element. Your community managers, moderators and coordinators need to be visible, actively involved in the conversation and prepared to set a great example. Be sure to humanise your community guidelines to make them approachable and easy to understand and relate to. No one wants to mull over a torrent of industry jargon and legalese or find out that their community moderators are bots rather than actual people.
There are loads of examples and templates you can use as a base for establishing community guidelines, but it’s important that you adapt them to your specific needs and goals. Naturally, you’ll want to prohibit comments that are rude or derogatory, but you’ll likely also want to keep the conversation on-topic. Your guidelines should also serve to reinforce the purpose of your community and its value proposition.
Finally, rules and guidelines are all but worthless if you don’t have a means to enforce them. Professional community management requires a consistent moderation process, which you should also outline in your guidelines if only for the sake of transparency. While outright trolling, spamming or other blatantly malicious behaviour should be chastised immediately with a complete ban, other infractions might be relatively minor and perhaps even unintentional. To ward against these behaviours, you’ll likely need a more lenient policy that begins with a friendly reminder of the rules.
Track the right metrics
Modern technology doesn’t just give companies the means to build online communities, it also provides the tools needed to understand them. Since every digital activity generates data, you can use your member analytics hub to track important metrics pertaining to audience, growth and engagement. Brand community managers can refer to this data to glean valuable insights into how they can improve their communities and tie customer performance to key business-level goals.
Brand communities provide a direct line of sight into your customers’ needs, and by taking the time to learn about your audience, you can better address their needs. Learn where members are in the sales cycle, what sort of background they’re coming from and whether you offer the sort of content they’re looking for. Sometimes, you may find a mismatch between the content you’re sharing with your community and the specific needs of your members. By learning more about your audience, you’ll be able to close that gap and offer greater value.
Another thing to track is community growth. To develop an understanding of community health, managers need to know how many new members are joining every month, what the turn-over rate is, and which type of members are leaving. It’s important to regularly assess the health of your community not just by tracking analytics, but also by asking members for feedback. Once you understand your community traffic, you can start analysing member actions, such as how they engage with your content, which topics are most popular, and what’s lacking that people are requesting.
What is the role of a community manager?
Professional community management will help to ensure the success and wellbeing of your customers. Whether you’re using major social networks, private community platforms, or a combination of the two, you need community managers who can do the following.
- Develop a deep understanding of your brand’s goals and customer need.
- Align business-level goals with community management
- Establish and enforce community rules and guidelines
- Track metrics to identify areas in need of improvement
- Create a flow of engaging and interactive content