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Community Management: What It Is and How to Create a Profitable Strategy

community management

Community management is often used interchangeably with social media management. And while it’s definitely a key part of any social media strategy, managing your community becomes more and more important as your customer base grows.

Community management, at its core, is about relationships and how your brand seizes opportunities to interact with your community in public online spaces.

And if you hope to build a long-term business with a strong brand, it’s something you’ll want to invest in.

What is community management?

Community management is the fostering and management of brand loyalists and patrons of your business at any number of social websites or apps. “Community” might suggest a single location, but in reality, your community is spread out all over the internet.

Why is community management important?

More efficient customer service

If you think community management won’t have a big impact because it’s limited to small-scale interactions, that's not the case. Customer service today is a public affair. Customers aren’t expressing their concerns through private call centers—rather, they are letting it all out on social media.

Your community could be on:

A single angry customer has a voice that carries to others, whether it’s through word of mouth, sharing screenshots, or the trail of comments they leave behind online. But the same goes for your happy customers, and community management helps you create more of those.

Brands that don’t have a community management plan miss out on opportunities to:

  • Manage customer complaints
  • Turn customers into loyal fans
  • Win over influencers and prospective customers
  • Network with other brands and partner with them
  • Get valuable, raw product feedback
  • Be the coolest voice in a comments section
Community management brings your brand to life online—like it’s a real person with a real personality behind real interactions.

Higher brand engagement

"Building an active community is like pouring rocket fuel on your brand strategy," says David Broderick, Community Manager at Traffic Think Tank. Community can bring people together, online and offline, and builds a sense of belonging amongst its members. 

David explains that, "Traffic Think Tank members ask me if they can pay us for our swag. We’ve had members meet in our community and go on to start businesses together. And at nearly every major SEO conference, Traffic Think Tank members have arranged a dinner with each other to meet in real life."

"I’ve never known anything else that comes close to driving that kind of brand engagement," he adds. "And that all comes from creating a community that delivers value to members every week in the form of kickstarting interesting discussions and creating content that’s laser-focussed around solving your members’ most pressing problems."

I’ve never known anything else that comes close to driving that kind of brand engagement.

The basics of online community management

Managing a community can seem confusing at first. So, let’s make it simple by breaking down community management into 4 parts:

  • Monitoring: Listening in on and tracking conversations that relate to your brand.
  • Engaging: Keeping conversations alive and proactively engaging with customers, prospects, and influencers.
  • Moderating: Weeding out comments and conversations that don’t add value, and troubleshooting customer complaints.
  • Measuring: Analyzing how your brand is perceived and getting real, unfiltered feedback.

Monitoring: Always be listening

Community management wouldn't be possible without an ongoing social listening effort: monitoring the internet for conversations that matter to your brand. Every once in a while, amidst all the noise, you’ll catch opportunities as small as turning a customer’s complaint into a public compliment or as big as starting a viral hashtag.

Not all relevant mentions will tag your brand directly on social media. Sometimes customers will mention you in other ways (misspellings, by product, etc.) or in places like blog comments or forums that aren’t as easy to find. 

You can set up Google Alerts or Mention to keep tabs on mentions that relate to your brand online. 

mention

You can also search on many social networks for specific keywords or the most popular hashtags to find public posts that reflect a certain sentiment or demand for your product that you might want to act on.

Engaging: Spark and spur conversations

Everything from the Facebook banner you create to each online comment you make leaves a digital footprint. The more positive comments you and your community generate, the stronger your brand. That’s why it’s important to not just start these conversations but also to keep them alive, especially since many social media algorithms use engagement signals like comments to determine what to show in our news feeds.

It might be tempting to automate your engagement on social networks with a bot that likes and comments on your behalf, but you’ll get to a point where it starts to do more harm than good for your brand. In today’s automation-saturated internet, you need to prove there’s a thinking and feeling human behind your brand to actually connect with customers.

Instead, monitor your social channels daily and find opportunities to:

  • Address complaints
  • Thank happy customers
  • Talk to people who might like your products. 

Be human. Avoid copying and pasting responses all the time, and allow conversations to happen organically.

If the channel you’re on gives you access to a large audience or you’re speaking to someone with a sizable following, it might even be worth it to go the extra mile. Surprise and delight people with your responses, and you’ll find you might be able to gather a crowd around what you thought was a one-to-one interaction.

If you have t-shirts or other swag you can send out, it’s a good way to show appreciation offline, especially to influencers. Who knows—maybe they’ll even snap a picture to share online.

Keep in mind that not every mention will warrant a response. But if you see an opportunity to delight customers and build upon your brand’s reputation, go for it.

Moderating: protect your reputation

Another important function of community management is managing your reputation online. This involves keeping your social profiles clean from spam and ensuring that any negative feedback is addressed.

To start with, hide spam that detracts from the quality of your comment section. Avoid hiding or deleting sensitive comments, because that could be misinterpreted as censorship or deception, and cause a much bigger problem for how your brand is perceived. However, you should hide offensive and overtly promotional comments that might distract or confuse your community.

Of course, we can’t talk about moderation without talking about customer complaints.

Customer complaints are almost unavoidable, and people tend to vent their frustrations online, which can be both good and bad for brands. If it’s a common question that you can quickly address, keep your answer public so others with similar concerns can see it.

But if the complaint is personal or the following conversation is complicated, take it over to a private chat, but try to keep it to the same channel.

For example, if the complaint is aired on Facebook, take it to Facebook Messenger. If it’s on Twitter, invite the person to direct message you with details. Some brands will ask a customer to email them or call support after they make a complaint on social media. This just makes it even more frustrating for an already-unhappy customer.

Airlines, in particular, get a lot of complaints, like this example from British Airways’ Twitter page, and have a particularly tough time with moderation. You can see how British Airways moves the conversation to a private channel.

british airways community management

It’s a nice touch to also include a name or your initials at the end of your customer service comments to show there’s a human on the other end.

Even if you can’t solve a customer's problem, show them that you’re listening. It’s a bad look for a brand to ignore customer complaints.

If you’re in the middle of a controversy and you need to manage a crisis that’s resulted in a flood of negative comments (e.g., something went wrong with your last batch of orders), consider writing a well-thought-out message that’s broadcast to your entire audience, outlining your stance and any steps you’ve taken to fix the problem. Everybody makes mistakes.

Measuring: Get feedback from your community

Through all the actions we’ve covered so far, you’ll get a sense of how your community perceives your brand, where you can improve, and even products you can add.

But one of the challenges with community management is limited resources.

Conversations can happen anywhere online, but you can’t be everywhere online.

Figure out which channels your community is the most active on and where you’re most likely to satisfy your main objectives, whether it’s building brand awareness, driving traffic, or maintaining your reputation. Those are the channels you should prioritize.

You can also conduct sentiment analysis to see how people generally feel about your brand.

Keep in mind, however, that sentiment analysis tools don’t 100% reflect the complexity of language and how the internet feels about a topic. They do offer a good place to start though.

You can also get product development insights either on an ongoing basis, listening to what customers tell you, or by asking for it directly through social media or in relevant communities on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or in a Facebook group.

What is the difference between social media management and community management?

It’s important to understand the difference between community management and social media marketing, because they each have their own priorities.

  • Social media marketing is the production and distribution of social content to reach new customers and communicate with your current ones. Here, you might be focused on things like reach, engagement, and how much traffic a post drives to your site.
  • Community management is what happens after and beyond your social media publishing. It’s part customer service, part listening to the internet, and part being active in discussions that relate to your brand.

Where social media marketing broadcasts a message from one to many, community management often starts on a smaller, more intimate scale. But it can build your brand’s presence in places both on and outside your social media pages.

How to create a community management strategy

A community management strategy can help your brand build a more loyal customer base and maintain your online reputation. By gathering happy customers in one space and nurturing them repeatedly, you’re helping foster those relationships and keep them coming back.

But to create a successful community management strategy, you need to know what you’re hoping to get out of it, who your audience is, and how to properly engage them.

Let’s walk through our five-step guide to community management for your brand:

  1. Set your goals and objectives 
  2. Understand your audience
  3. Create engaging content 
  4. Invest in the right tools
  5. Measure your success

1. Set your goals and objectives

Consider what kind of outcome you’re looking for with your brand community. Do you want to reward happy customers with exclusive deals and sales? Do you want to provide support, tutorials, and use cases for a more complex product or service? Do you want to create a loyal group of customers?

The first step in any strategy is pinpointing your objectives so that you know what metrics to keep track of. Some of the most common community management goals include:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Improve public perception
  • Build brand advocacy
  • Increase word-of-mouth marketing
  • Improve customer support
  • Educate your audience
  • Collect customer feedback
  • Ramp up sales and subscriptions
  • Improve customer retention

Decide what you’re hoping to get out of your customer community and build it around that goal/objective.

2. Understand your audience

Building a successful community requires having a good understanding about who your target audience is. This is because you need to build your community in an area where your ideal customer spends time.

So for example, if you’re targeting middle-aged men and women, creating a Facebook group might be a great place for your online community.

To start digging into who your main audience is, check out your Google Analytics data to find some basic demographics, like the most common age range and gender.

audience demographics

You can also build out a customer persona that lists your ideal customers’ interests, where they’re most likely to spend their time online, the types of websites and social media platforms they use, and more.

Use this information to help guide your community management strategy.

3. Create engaging content

Next, you’ll need to create content that engages your community members. This might start as public social media content that you share on your company’s Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram pages to start engaging your followers.

Community management may mean building a separate community of your most engaged customers, but it starts with engaging and interacting with your audience as they discover your website, online store, social media accounts, and more. So create engaging content, pay attention to the most popular content, and create more of it.

You’ll also want to ensure your marketing team responds to any customer message or mention so that your online reputation stays intact and customers are satisfied with your team’s support.

As we mentioned, after you’ve built an engaged audience, you might consider creating a completely separate online community for your most loyal customers and fans to join.

For example, Peak Freelance is a Slack community for freelance writers that also works as a way to promote its job board and other product/service offerings. It consistently creates engaging content to get its community talking, but as it grows, the community begins to engage itself.

slack community

Consider creating a separate online community for your most loyal customers and fans to join. 

If you choose to create a Facebook group, come up with ways to keep your group members interacting with your brand and each other. Post daily prompts, ask questions for members to answer, and encourage members to post their own questions or announcements.

4. Invest in the right tools

Keeping up with all online mentions of your business might require the use of community management tools. With a tool like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, or Grytic, you’re able to get a bird’s-eye view of your community and the people talking about your brand.

Here’s an example of what Sprout Social’s interface looks like when viewing all of a brand’s social media mentions:

sprout social

Tools like Sprout Social and Hootsuite allow you to manage all mentions of your brand in one single messaging dashboard. Tools like Grytics make it easier for brands to create and manage an online community in, say, a Facebook group.

Find the tools that make sense for your strategy and allocate some of your marketing budget toward them to make sure you create a successful community management strategy.

5. Measure your success

Finally, you want to keep an eye on your success to make sure your strategy is working. Think back to the goals and objectives you created at the beginning of this tutorial and pay attention to the pertaining metrics.

For example, if you want to increase brand awareness, pay attention to things like your website traffic, the number of followers you have on social media, and the number of online mentions you’re seeing. If you want to build brand advocates, keep an eye on your separate community growth and consider creating an affiliate program for those advocates.

You’ll also want to track your online sales or signups. You can easily do so in Shopify’s analytics dashboard and see if you’re starting to generate even more sales—especially from returning customers.

Hiring a community manager

It's worth having one person dedicated to handling community management (unless your company is at a size where it needs to scale). This ensures consistency across all your conversations and familiarity with your audience.

What is a community manager?

A community manager runs your community management strategy. They are the liaison between your business and its audience. Community managers moderate the group, providing support, content, and engagement that builds trust amongst members. 

You can be your own community manager at the start, but if you’re a one-person operation and your business is experiencing a lot of growth and attention, it's worth hiring someone to take this task on.

Top community management skills

If you decide to hand this responsibility off, you need to make sure the person you hire has the following traits:

  • Strong communication and social networking skills
  • Empathy, patience, and tact (always important for customer service)
  • Creativity, a sense of humor, and the ability to adapt to your brand’s voice
  • The ability to sift through social data to find opportunities and insight
  • Familiarity with your social media channels of interest and tools like Hootsuite
  • Basic content marketing and content creation experience 
  • An understanding of your niche or the curiosity to thoroughly learn about it

Above all, this needs to be someone you can trust, as they will, in many ways, be the voice and ambassador of your brand online.

Where to find community managers

Upwork

Upwork is a good place to find freelance community managers for your brand. You can post a project on the platform that shows what you’re hiring for and the skills or qualifications required. Out of more than 4,380 client reviews, clients using Upwork rate community managers as a 4.7/5.

community managers upwork

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is another great platform for hiring a community manager or even joining a community management group. You can search for community managers from around the world open to job opportunities, or post a job for free

posting job ad on linkedin

Community Club

Community Club is the community for community builders. It has over 4,000 people in the group, so you know you’ll find some community management experts there. 

community club

Even if you’re not part of the community, Community Club lets you submit jobs to its job board. The brand also offers community-led growth services through Commsor, where you can hire help to develop and execute a successful community strategy. 

Community management is a full-time job—you can’t just turn it on and off.

Community management best practices

Whether it’s your first or fifth community role, keep the following best practices in mind:

    • Set community guidelines and rules. If you’re running a private community on Facebook or Slack, give members clear policies to follow. Create a document that outlines how people should behave and require new members to read it upon joining.
    • Drive people to your website when it makes sense, with links to your content or products, and be sure to track them. Follow the 80/20 rule (give value 80% of the time, and ask them to check out what you’re doing 20% of the time).
    • Link back to your site and briefly explain what you do in the bio of all of your online profiles.
    • Keep your brand's personality consistent, but adapt your conversation style based on the channel (just like real people do). Don’t be afraid to have a sense of humor.
    • Directly encourage happy customers to share pictures of your product (a great way to get user-generated content under a branded hashtag).
    • Be proactive about engaging with your community, not just reactive. Incorporate community engagement posts into your social media publishing—content, contests, challenges, or questions that encourage people to leave comments.
      • Think of new ways to engage with members. Today, you can go beyond the standard Slack or Discord group. Consider trying a digital meet-up in a metaverse like Decentraland. That way, everyone can get together and interact versus sending texts or getting on Zoom calls. 

        Build up your community to build up your business

        Finding or starting conversations and growing your community is a must for lasting businesses, and increases in importance and impact as your business grows.

        Good community management presents your brand to the world as a likeable, knowledgable personality that others can’t help but want to engage with, and it surfaces opportunities to fuel positive discussions about and around your products.

        Invest in a strong community and you’ll build a loyal fan base that will advocate on behalf of your brand and even come to your rescue when you need it.

        Community management FAQ

        What is community management and what are some examples?

        Community management refers to how brands build engaged audiences around their products and services online. One example is Peak Freelance, which is a membership community that offers freelancers a private Slack group, tools to manage their business, and exclusive content found only in the group.

        What is the role of community management?

        The role of community management is to build and maintain a brand’s audience, both online and offline. Community managers are responsible for engaging members through various channels like social media, Discord, Slack, and in-person meet-ups to interact with people and build relationships.

        What is included in community management?

        • Setting community policies and guidelines
        • Regularly engaging with members 
        • Maintaining a consistent and authentic brand image
        • Taking feedback from community members 
        • Showing appreciation to followers
        • Finding new ways to engage with the community 
        • Creating brand ambassadors
        • Building brand loyalty

        What are the most important skills for community managers?

        • Communication
        • Project management
        • Organization
        • Interpersonal skills
        • Analytics 
        • Market research
        • Adaptability
        • Domain knowledge