Community management: 8 steps for connecting with your customers

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Whether you own a B2B or B2C organization, strong customer relationships are imperative. Engaged customers stick around longer, create valuable content, and may even contribute product ideas. But meaningful interactions and brand super users don’t happen overnight. The best way to foster that two-way relationship is through active community management.

This post offers eight ways to kickstart a community, centered around your product or service. If you’re new to community management or just looking to improve your process, start with these steps.

What is community management? 

Community management is about building an online and offline ecosystem that encourages customers to engage with your brand. Depending on your business type, your community management strategy might draw in developers, partners, vendors, and employees. 

Marketing and customer service both come into play when crafting a community management strategy. Successful brands realize that in a user-focused community, the business's voice isn’t always the loudest. This isn’t a promotional space—it’s a hub. The ultimate goal is to bring individuals together to engage in dialogue in a space that your business provides. 

According to Chad Neufeld, Senior Marketing Manager of Chaordix, “If individuals are not connecting with one another, starting conversations, and voicing their opinions, if a brand or organization is simply broadcasting their views, then I would argue that a community does not exist at all.” 

When customers are simply reacting to your posts, it’s not a community yet. You’ll lay the groundwork by providing structure and relevant resources to your members. With time, they should begin to carry the conversation and contribute their own user-generated content.

Community management vs. social media management

Community management and social media management are often used interchangeably. There’s a lot of crossover between the roles of community managers and social media managers. 

Employees in both positions represent the brand’s voice and speak directly to the customers through the company’s social media accounts. Both managers ultimately create a more personable, lively brand and attract new followers.

However, social media is only one tool used by community managers to connect with their audience. Community managers focus on the bigger picture—developing community trust, serving as a helpful resource, welcoming new customers, and nurturing relationships. They utilize networking events, giveaways, community forums, email newsletters, surveys, contests, and more.

Why does community management matter?

Many modern business models, funding methods, and marketing strategies depend on robust online communities. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, user-generated content, open source software models, online marketplaces—it all begins with community. Good community management is particularly important for ecommerce businesses whose interactions are largely virtual.

There are many benefits to investing in your community. Through your community, you can:

  • Receive ongoing product feedback
  • Get fresh ideas for new products
  • Provide personalized customer service
  • Build greater brand awareness 
  • Create a steady source of leads
  • Improve customer retention
  • Extend your customer lifetime value
  • Encourage and host user-generated content
  • Earn loyal fans and brand evangelists

Now that you know what community management is, let’s discuss how to do it effectively.

8 steps for better community management

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Follow the steps below to select your platforms, drive audience growth, and spur high-quality content and conversations that keep your community engaged.

1. Define your community, mission, and goals early

Your team members and stakeholders need to identify the principal goals of your community management plan. Is the main objective to drive more traffic to your website? Understand pain points sooner? Help users get the most out of your product? 

Defining business priorities helps you sharpen your focus and avoid wasting resources. The SPACE model is a popular way to anticipate these community trends and respond proactively. It encompasses the different aspects of managing your target audience:

  • Support: Answering questions and providing solutions
  • Product: Receiving feedback, requests, and ideas
  • Acquisition: Driving lead generation, sales, and customer loyalty
  • Contribution: Educating, informing, and inspiring the community
  • Engagement: Connecting consumers with common interests 

As you narrow down your strategy, carve out smaller efforts that focus on winning early users. When prospective community members see examples of real-time interactions, it’s a signal that your two-way relationship adds real value.

2. Quantify and measure success

Measuring something like community engagement and effectiveness is a challenge. Without unified data, it can be difficult to tie your community management efforts to revenue and retention results. 

Before you start implementing your plan, define what constitutes success. This includes the metrics and tools you’ll reference, and how often this data will be assessed. Here are some common community metrics: 

  • Online: Number of monthly active users, landing page view count, number of new member signups, number of daily active users, amount of new user-generated content
  • In-person: Number of event attendees, ratings for attendee satisfaction, number of demo signups, number of events each quarter 

A customer relationship management (CRM) system can automate much of your data analysis and synchronization. 

3. Choose the right social networks

Half of the world’s population uses social media to talk, share, and learn. That makes it a natural platform to reach your customers. Most businesses use a combination of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to communicate and provide customer care. Twitter is even referred to as “the new 1-800 number” because so many businesses use tweets to handle customer complaints. 

Use your market research and specific historical data to decide which platforms will support your goals. Dive into social media demographics to see where your customers go to discuss relevant topics. Hashtags provide a conversation entry-point for any community manager. You can also set up Google Alerts to notify your team when related keywords are used on any site.

Keep in mind that exclusively using social channels for community management can be risky. These tools may have outages or down times. Features and information access may evolve or be removed entirely. To avoid losses, diversify your strategy and back up your data.

4. Own your community platform when possible

Social platforms are an accessible way to spark conversations. But as we’ve described above, it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. 

Content management systems, like WordPress and Drupal, have plugins that let you add community forums directly to your website. You can also add modules for FAQs, Q&A sections, live chat, and more. Social media plugins that pull in a company’s Twitter and Facebook feeds are also popular. Community software, like vBulletin, specifically adds these functions. 

Although social media offers an advantage to young businesses with low web traffic, these brands still need a long-term strategy. By facilitating the community discussion on your website, you’re automatically growing your audience. 

5. Go beyond the online community

Offline interactions also offer opportunities to strengthen customer relationships. A B2B business could host industry networking events and conferences to bring the community together in a powerful way. 

B2C businesses, on the other hand, might favor social activities, pop-up events, and workshops. Let’s look at a few examples of companies that see the value of in-person community experiences:

  • Apple: On the Today at Apple webpage, consumers can find free local workshops covering how to use Apple hardware and software. Classes are offered at Apple stores for all ages. 
  • Duolingo: Duolingo Events let language learners find conversation groups in their area. They simply type in their zip code and tap into the community.
  • Capital One: Capital One Cafes took offline community engagement to its logical conclusion. The combination cafes and banks gives customers a comfortable environment to meet, ask questions, and do business.

If you don’t have the resources to host physical events, consider letting volunteers run the meetup, like Duolingo. If your target community is already active, consider sponsoring an event to create a similar effect. Platforms like Eventbrite, Meetup, and Facebook events are all user-friendly. 

6. Employ a dedicated community manager

One of the best ways to humanize your brand and get on the ground with customers is to designate a community manager. This role is part customer service representative, part expert, part fanatic, and part moderator, which means this individual needs to be a quick thinker who comes across as genuine and tactful. 

The community manager’s value comes from their undivided attention on your customer base. As the team member with the most one-to-one interactions, they can offer unique insights. This might include opportunities to add features, clarify language, refresh your marketing, or expand into a new market. 

7. Let the community dictate the content

When it comes to managing a community, the number one goal is to add value. Besides offering a top-quality product or service, most businesses do this by publishing original content.

There’s no shortage of content marketing pieces to offer your customer base. Webinars, podcasts, and how-to articles all drive engagement. As you develop content, however, recall your community management plan. Posting in-depth feature tutorials and gated content, for instance, isn’t an effective strategy for attracting new customers. 

Perhaps your customer base of restaurant owners typically likes Facebook news about minimum wage reforms. Adding legal updates to your email newsletter shows you have your finger on the pulse of your consumer. 

8. Reward community members for engagement

According to a 2020 report, 72% of community managers say customer retention is their main goal. Rewarding contributions and incentivizing activity are go-to methods for extending customer lifespan. Try using these rewards to motivate your members: 

  • Community badges, awards, points
  • Gift cards
  • Exclusive event invitations
  • Business “swag” 
  • Free courses or lessons
  • Trip giveaways

Although rewards are nice, don’t doubt the power of recognition and acknowledgment. A retweet from your brand could do the trick for super users or budding brand advocates.

Community building for business success

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Community management is an opportunity to “show, not tell” your customers that you run a user-centric business. 

Successful community brands meet customers where they are, offline and online, to deliver fast customer support and relevant content. Community managers enrich the experience further by lending a face and voice to your brand.

These interactions grow your user base, draw in new members, and spread awareness of your product or service. And when it comes to building a strong community, what matters most is that you get the ball rolling.

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