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After managing communities online and offline for 10+ years, the most important community management best practices I learned came from road rallying with 4,000 MINI Cooper owners. Who knew?
10 Community Management Best Practices Every Community Manager Should Apply
For the past 7 years, MINI Cooper has organized a road rally for US-based MINI Cooper owners called MINI TAKES THE STATES (MTTS). During the nearly 2-week event, MINI Cooper engages in-person with loyal customers.
Road rallying twice over the past 2 years with MINI Cooper taught me these 10 community management best practices. Any business can apply these and watch their community grow:
1. Get to know your audience.
Before connecting with your community online or in-person, ask yourself:
- Are our community members current, potential, past, or future customers, activists, or fans? If not, who are they?
- What is their passion for our brand’s product, cause, or service(s)? Are they super fans, new members, on the fence about continuing their membership, or in a wait-and-see mode?
- How active in the community are they? Are they hyperactive? Lurkers? Only chime in once in a while?
- Where do they live in? How old are they? What is their combined household income? Do they have children? Grandchildren?
- Why did they become a community member?
- What are their needs, dreams/wishes, passion, and pain points the community meets?
- Are there any other details that would be helpful to know when considering community content?
As a MINI Cooper community member, I was excited to discover who the average MINI Cooper owner was as I set out on my first road rally. I discovered that a handful of things unite us, including:
- Road rallying eight hours a day off the beaten path is our idea of fun.
- We are community focused. For example, we are willing to take off for 2 weeks to enjoy a MINI family reunion.
- We are inclusive. All MINI owners or potential owners are welcome, accepted, and included in activities.
- MINI enthusiasts love adventure. A good time means going fast around the twisties (a road’s twists and turns), enjoying the great outdoors, and taking in the sights. The best? Doing all of this while snapping MINI #selfies.
Local clubs run by MINI owners formed organically prior to MTTS. The clubs organized their own Facebook Groups where they announced meet ups in partnership with local dealerships, such as MINI and Muffins breakfasts. Then, they organized local road rallies (e.g., seeing holiday lights). MINI Cooper already knew its customer’s unifying criteria. But, it took its audience’s dreams and passions into consideration. Then, it watched the local clubs. And voila! They nailed their customer’s needs. And, this led them to create MTTS.
2. Set community guidelines.
To score big in your community, clarity is key. Guidelines are one of the top community management best practices that help you achieve that. When detailing community guidelines consider:
- Your community’s purpose
- Member approval requirements and process
- What is and is not OK to post: appropriate and inappropriate content, images, links, and videos
- When and what type of promotion or solicitation is acceptable or not acceptable
- In what format to share contact information to connect outside of the community
- The way in which you will handle issues that go against the community guidelines
- How community members should handle issues that go against the guidelines that impact them directly
- Regular content community members can expect to see (e.g., Facebook Live broadcasts, daily memes, etc.)
Offline communities and meet-ups require similar but different guidelines. Identifying and making those clear at the outset keeps the entire community on the same page.
For example, when you buy a MINI Cooper, your sales representative at the dealership explains what it means to be a MINI owner. 1) You learn the MINI wave (similar to the peace sign). Any time you pass another MINI on the road, you should say hello using that wave. 2) When you park, you should be next to the nearest possible MINI. Also, back into the parking space with your headlights facing out. 3) MINI stickers—speeding tickets—equals greater horsepower, so don’t get down if you get caught. 4) Since MINIs are friendly, take your MINI to meet other MINIs. This means attend MINI meet-ups.
One of the most important community management best practices is clarity And, clear guidelines help your community unite. So, be sure to consider them at the outset of your community development.
3. Set up online spaces to facilitate connection.
Create an emotional tie to your brand by giving members ways to get to know each other. Social media and online apps make connecting community members easy. When thinking about how to connect your community, ask yourself: “Where would my customers most like to engage: online, offline, or both?” And, “How can I create online/offline spaces for them to virtually connect or meet up in person?”
For example, MINI Cooper set up a Facebook Group and developed phone apps just for MTTS members. This, one of the most important of all the community management best practices, benefitted the community in the following ways:
- Road rally participants got to know each other before the event. The in-person event was all the more fun when we saw people we “knew” from the online group.
- Community members could plan one-off events during down time. For example, several of us stayed at the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island during the 2016 MTTS. One of the MINI owners from that area made a dinner reservation and invited all of us to attend. This was a great way to get to know other MINI enthusiasts while enjoying a fun and tasty local hot spot.
- MINI Cooper shared important event information with us in easily accessible ways (e.g., the daily driving instructions and itineraries via the online app).
Giving your community places to connect leads to increased loyalty.
4. Create the WOW! factor by producing events that make customers feel special.
When you identify your audience’s unique differentiating criteria, you can create moments—online or offline—that meet their needs and tap into their passion. To do this, ask yourself: “What can we, as a brand, do online or offline that will WOW! our customers?”
As a brand, MINI Cooper went the extra mile, literally, by organizing an event that brought their super fans together. A lot of effort went into planning the itinerary, setting up sponsors, clearly communicating with MTTS participants, organizing surprise-and-delight moments and other larger parties, and giving out branded swag. Additionally, they made the road rally about more than driving when they enlisted the drivers’ help in giving back by raising funds for Feeding America. This effort wasn’t lost on MINI Cooper enthusiasts.
As just one example, a Facebook Group member needed to replace his MINI Cooper (it had lived a full life). He voiced in the Facebook Group that he was thinking of getting a different brand of car for his new purchase. The community rallied, reminding him of the MINI Cooper benefits and how any other brand wouldn’t come with the same family. Furthermore, they said they would miss him at this year’s MTTS. After thinking about it for 1 day, he bought a brand new MINI Cooper and joined MTTS for his second time this year. He’s so glad he did.
5. Be organized.
Community management best practices aren’t rocket science. Being organized, for example, is simple but sometimes overlooked. Yet, when added to the plans, it’s a great way to help loyal fans stay focused on your brand. Ask yourself these questions at the outset of your planning:
- Have I clearly communicated the community’s/event’s purpose?
- For events, have I shared the logistics information: date, time, location, route, etc.?
- Do community/event participants know where and how to sign up and how much the event costs?
- Have I created an online group where members can connect? If so, do participants know how to join?
- Is everyone clear of the guidelines?
- Do people have access to simple and easy-to-access plans? For online communities, are they aware of regular content or activities? For offline events, do they know the event’s agenda, daily itineraries, and activity details?
- If I hope to see an increase in social media shares and follows, have we made all the account information available? And, have we promoted incentives to drive user-generated content?
- Have we ordered swag, determined how attendees will qualify to receive it, and communicated that to them?
- Do we have team members onboard to help discover, develop, and engage with attendees in person and online? How will they do so? Who is handling what role both in person and online?
- Do I want feedback on community events and activity? If so, have I created a survey or other mechanism to gather input? How will I advertise and motivate people to take the survey? How will I process and report out on the data?
- If I need to provide proof of ROI to my client(s) or boss(es), have I prepared for metrics tracking and reporting?
Learn more about the importance and keys to Talking Metrics Before Tactics in this post.
MINI Cooper left no stone unturned when it came to event organization. From the initial announcement, the website launch, and opening up the Facebook community to making the app available, giving us event and daily itineraries both in an online app made possible by Mapquest and in written format as a back up, and providing myriad ways in-person to help us connect as a community, they created an event road rally-ers immediately wanted to sign up for again just to enjoy a repeat experience. Talk about ROI!
6. Encourage super fans to meet up during surprise-and-delight moments.
Surprise-and-delight moments benefit both online and in-person community members. To give your customers a break from regular online and offline activities and WOW! them, ask yourself: “What can we, as a brand, do online or offline and in smaller ways that will surprise and delight our customers—something they aren’t expecting but that would meet their needs?”
For example, in MTTS 2016, MINI Cooper partnered with the state of South Dakota to help drivers better enjoy the state’s sights. Together, they put together a fun social media scavenger hunt. We visited specific parts of the state and shared on social media to win prizes. Additionally, they gave all community members free entrance to Mount Rushmore where we kicked off our last day before moving west to Wyoming. These moments were unexpected and definitely delighted our community.
7. Reward enthusiasts with prizes and special offers.
“I don’t love winning prizes or getting special offers,” said no one ever. Rewarding enthusiasts with prizes and special offers gives you a chance to:
- Surprise and delight them even more by rewarding their participation with randomly generated prizes. You can do this either in online groups through giveaways or at in-person events through raffles.
- Drive product sampling when the prizing is brand product.
- Raise new product awareness.
- Increase purchases when special offers include time-sensitive product discounts.
- Generate impressions when prizing or special offers is contingent on social sharing.
Each MTTS morning started with a Rise and Rally event where all participating MINI Cooper owners gathered at a local spot, like at the home of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. MINI Cooper and its many sponsors donated prizes and had raffles. All entrants had to do was show up, get a raffle ticket, and listen for the announcer to shout out their number. This was a great way for MINI Cooper to reward its participants. One prize this year was drive time on a race track prepared just for MINI Coopers in Keystone, Colorado. Winners got to drive one of many new MINI models and compete for additional prizes based on their racing times. Talk about a fun way to product sample!
8. Discover, develop, and engage with loyal customers.
Whether you are interacting online or in person with your customers, one of the most important community-management tips is to engage with them.
First, you need to discover who they are. Customers often self identify in the following ways:
- In social shares, detailing their experiences while sharing branded pictures
- On social threads (like on your brand’s Facebook Page), responding to comments you or other community members share
- In person, approaching you to gush or give feedback about your product, cause, or service(s)
In what ways and how often they engage lets you know whether they are loyal customers or not. Either way, take advantage of every customer interaction to engage. See their communication, both positive and negative, as an opportunity to strengthen relationships and build even more loyal fans.
On MTTS, MINI Cooper had many brand representatives available to answer questions, connect with customers, and engage with us at the daily activities. By attending the event, customers felt they connected not only with other drivers, but also with MINI Cooper the company. The only real suggestion I’d have in this area would be for MINI to have one primary community manager who engaged both online and offline and who could be the real face to the company. In this way, community members could feel more of a direct connection to the brand.
9. Elicit conversation and feedback.
One way to discover your customers is to post comments online or engage with them in person in ways that elicit conversation. Do this in the following ways:
- Ask questions.
- Host a book club, allowing customers a chance to share their opinions.
- Post interviews, giving community members a chance to weigh in on the subject.
- Share a statement followed by a question, asking whether followers agree or disagree.
- Solicit feedback.
One of the top community management tips to keep in mind? Make sure to respond to everyone’s comments. Not only does this help break through social media algorithms, but it makes people feel heard and more like a more valuable customer—both online and offline. For example, I appreciated when MINI left a comment on one of my social media posts. I went out of my way during the road rally to let my followers know about MINI’s awesomeness. So, having them leave a comment only validated for my followers what I was already saying about them and their amazing engagement and community focus.
10. Highlight brand-related, user-generated content.
People love to see their name in lights. The same holds true for their social media content. When you have super fans that go the distance in shouting out your brand online, reward them by spotlighting their content. Do this in the following ways:
- Comment on, like, share, or otherwise engage with their social media posts that mention your brand.
- Highlight their blog or social media posts on your brand’s Facebook page, thanking them for mentioning your brand.
- Mention them as a valued customer in your newsletter, shouting out the post they shared.
- Pin their content on your brand’s boards.
During MTTS both years, MINI Cooper did a phenomenal job of engaging in person and online with road rally-ers. This caused participants to pay attention to their accounts and increase social sharing, including the brand’s hashtag and IDs. One area where MINI could do a little better in this area? It could recognize its community more by sharing their pictures and stories online instead of sharing just their own pictures and videos. In this way, they’d highlight those that went to the effort to promote them and that captured great shots. One idea would be to have a highlight of the day on Instagram with pushes to Facebook and Twitter. Whoever gets their picture or video shared/highlighted, gets a prize.
Wrapping It All Up
Brands can learn a lot of key community management tips from MINI Cooper’s MTTS in-person event. In short, identify your community-building goals. Then, get to know your audience. Set guidelines. Create online spaces to facilitate connection. From there, bring the WOW! factor by producing events that make community members feel special. Be organized. Create surprise-and-delight moments. Reward enthusiasts with prizes and special offers. Discover, develop, and engage with loyal customers. And, elicit conversation and feedback. Finally, highlight brand-related, user-generated content.
What are your brand’s top community management best practices?
This post has been modified from the originally published article on ForwardInfluence.com.