Knowing how to build a successful online community isn’t rocket science. But, it does take trial and error and consistency.
This post is the second in a four-part series on Community Management. If you have arrived at community management 201 without reading our previous post, please check it out before moving forward: Community Management 101: How to Create a Solid Foundation.
The Case for Community
Years ago, I spearheaded the fundraising committee for my son’s elementary school. Many interested parents joined the committee. We were complete strangers connected only by our passion for our children’s education. And just like that, our community took root.
We met regularly. First, we set goals and made plans. To begin, we took on raising funds to outfit our brand new school’s library since it did not have books. To do that, we planned a carnival with a silent auction. As a result, the school year kicked off with a fully stocked library.
When determining how to build a successful online community, all you have to do is reflect on the successful offline communities in which we’ve been involved. I’m convinced that when passionate people connect, great things can happen. And great doesn’t always mean raising funds. Whether it’s chatting with customers, listening to your fans, getting feedback on critical areas of improvement, or sharing funny cat memes you’ll all laugh about, community drives emotional ties to brands’ products, causes, and services.
9 Steps on How to Build a Successful Online Community
Community management 201 is all learning how to build a successful online community. So, check out these nine steps to move from building a foundation to creating and growing your community:
1. Be authentic.
Building strong community relationships is about being real. Community management and social media marketing go hand in glove. In social media marketing, brands push advertising and other promotional or important brand-related information to consumers. In contrast, community management focuses on building relationships directly with community members.
Where social media marketing’s communication primarily comes from the brand, community managers present a face to fans and connect directly with them. As a result, a brand can both promote and connect with enthusiastic community members be they consumers, activists, volunteers, etc. In fact, the combined effort instills trust and brand excitement. Ultimately, it leads to loyalty and conversion.
When creating content and visuals, sharing it, responding to community members, or meeting up with them online or offline, ask yourself: “Am I being real?”
2. Choose communication mediums that align with your goals and strategy.
The strongest communities communicate. Consider the following types of communication when determining how you will connect with your community members:
- Mass outreach: blog posts, social media posts
- Direct outreach: direct messages, newsletters (email or snail mail), private messages, text messages
- Visuals: animated images (GIFs), static images, videos
Tip! Before creating content and visuals, go back to community management 101 and triple confirm that your chosen medium aligns with your communication-management strategy and guidelines.
3. Create content and visuals.
Using the strategy you set in community management 101 and the answers to the questions above, create content and visuals. Consider including the following ideas in your communication:
- Announcing events, news, or other hot topics
- Asking questions to solicit engagement
- Calling out days of the year (for example, National Nutella Day)
- Celebrating key dates: brand’s anniversary, member’s birthdays, etc.
- Educating members via short- or long-form content, infographics, trend reports, etc.
- Featuring memes relevant to your community
- Highlighting community members
- Reposting awesome user-generated content
- Sharing quotes
- Soliciting stories and testimonials
- Spotlighting trending topics
- Using humor
- WOWing members with visuals that match your community’s vibe
4. Publish content according to your editorial calendar.
If you haven’t already, choose a social media calendaring system. Now, set it up. Then, educate yourself on how to use the tools and maximize its benefits. Finally, start adding the content and visuals you created. As you test the process, you may prefer one system over another: manual calendaring, automated tools, or a hybrid approach. Go with whatever works best for you and your team.
5. Prepare in advance for communication mishaps.
All the testing in the world won’t eliminate communication missteps. Get ahead of the game by determining now how you’ll handle them.
This article, Top 9 Things to Do When You Screw Up an Email Marketing Campaign, is a great resource for preparing for community communication errors, even those outside of email marketing campaigns.
Creating a community management crises plan will help you respond to issues quickly and professionally. As a result, you’ll build instead of erode trust with your community.
6. Monitor your community’s conversation.
A community manager’s main responsibility (and/or those of his or her team members) is to watch and listen. Monitoring your community’s conversation helps you assess the following:
- Community members’ passions and preferences (what they like and don’t like in regards to your shares)
- The time sensitive nature of their questions
- Their needs
- Urgent issues that require resolution
- Your super fans (possibly people who should be formal or informal team members)
The more you observe and assess, the better you can meet your community’s needs. As a result, you’ll enjoy a stronger community.
7. Respond immediately to urgent issues.
Community members appreciate responsiveness. And, in this fast-paced, social-media-driven world, chatting with people real-time is what community members expect. Therefore, have a plan and resources in place to address time-sensitive questions and urgent issues immediately to avoid having them escalate.
8. Track results.
Learn your metrics tool’s ins and outs. In the beginning of your community management practices, track frequently and for every possible metric. Then, capture the data in a central location so you can analyze your progress. For example, if you are tracking weekly, capture the data in a spreadsheet that shows week-over-week results. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. So, be sure to track regularly.
9. Modify tactics based on results.
When referring to your metrics tool, watch for trends. Then, analyze the data. Finally, modify tactics to see if the tweaks improve your results.
Community management is an ever-changing practice. Algorithms change often. API is public one day and private the next. Then, new tools come on the market all the time or improve with new technology. Therefore, being on top of the trends, tracking regularly, watching results, and modifying accordingly is the best way to ensure your community communication drives connection.
Wrapping It All Up
In this post, we learned the importance of authenticity and it being the underlying attitude to all content and visuals, including responses. From there, we talked about communication mediums, content, and visuals, including publishing to an editorial calendar. After that, we discussed plans for communication mishaps. Then, we talked about community connection practices such as monitoring and responsiveness. Finally, we discussed tracking and modifying based on metrics.
Once you have an active and engaged community that is talking to you, the brand, and talking to each other, you are ready to dive deeper into community management.
In our next two posts in this series, we discuss specific tactics you can apply to drive greater community engagement, including in-person events. Additionally, we’ll wrap it all up with a post on how to grow your community.
What are your top community management tips?
This post was originally featured over on the Forward Influence blog as part of a 4-part series on community management.