Strong customer relationships can make your business a success, boosting customer retention and the emotional connection between them and your brand. One of the easiest and most efficient ways to build this relationship is to create and maintain an online community.

This community becomes a place where you can interact with customers on a regular basis, encouraging discussions and asking questions. As the community grows, your goal may be to drive leads, upsells and referrals as well.

However, a flourishing community doesn’t just grow overnight. As a community manager, you have to set metrics, monitor conversations, and organize the data you’re receiving, all of which helps you run and grow a successful brand community.

If you’re new to community management, here’s what you need to know to be successful.

Set Metrics for Success

Your online community can be a valuable tool for your business, not just for engaging with customers but for increasing word of mouth marketing, building a brand, and driving leads. As such, it’s important that you set metrics so you’re working within a focused framework.

These metrics can be used to dictate discussion topics, monthly themes, and more. Here are a few data points to consider:

  • Traffic: If your online community is on your website, consider traffic to the community. Do you see growth over time? Where is the traffic coming from?

  • Engagement: How many people are coming to the community versus actually engaging? Which discussions are they engaging in most? This may dictate future questions, content and discussion starters.

  • Members: How many new members do you gain every month and how many do you lose? Is this consistent month over month? If there was a spike, what caused it

Introduce Guidelines

Community guidelines are important for keeping the conversation positive, effective and on-track. Include basics like: be respectful to everyone in the community, keep negative or critical comments to yourself, and don’t share private information—refer to direct messaging for that. For an example, check out Telstra’s community guidelines. Add anything else you think is important or specific to your brand. Note that these guidelines don’t have to be long or complicated—in fact, the less complicated, the easier they are to follow and abide by.

Don’t forget to create a specific web page for the guidelines, with its own unique link. This makes it easier to share to new members or every once in a while if an issue arises.

Monitor Closely

Despite having guidelines, there may still be times when you need to remove a comment or address an issue. As such, it’s important that you closely monitor the community seven days a week, unless conversation halts on the weekends.

If you do have to remove a comment, you may consider addressing the group about it, or simply reaching out that person specifically to explain why. When addressing the group, re-share the URL to the guidelines so everyone can get a refresher on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Encourage Networking

Your community is only as valuable as your members think it is. Encourage them to network with one another so your community becomes a place for them to meet and talk, rather than just a group created by your company. The more value they get from your community, the more likely they are to check back, participate in discussions and stay involved.

If the group is large enough, you can even encourage members to start their own Meet-Up groups or even plan mixers, hosted by your organization, in areas where you have offices. This gives customers and community members a chance to meet face-to-face, and potentially interact with someone in your organization if the latter is possible as well.

Initiate Discussion

Community members won’t talk amongst one another naturally—at least not right away. It’s your job, as the community manager, to initiate discussions and get members talking.

To stay consistent, add discussion points to your weekly or monthly content calendar, determining ahead of time what each week’s discussion topic will be. This allows you to prepare extra resources ahead of time, like a poll or “activity” for the group to do.

You can also use your prep time to ask other members of your team to join or host a discussion. For example:

“Hi everyone! My name is John Smith, I’m the CTO at Digital Marketing Product and I want to ask today about your experience working with X featuring within our tool.”

As people respond, your CTO should reply, answer questions, and thank community members for their feedback. Remind the “guest” (your team member) to keep it fun and friendly and to show a little personality.

Add Personality to the Conversation

One of the greatest assets of an online community is the ability to humanize your brand and your business by bringing personality to the conversation. “Let the fun, vibrant culture of your team shine through when you engage with your community,” says Erica Bell, Senior Community Manager for Rational Interaction.

The goal is to have fun while staying professional and speaking from the perspective of your organization and brand. Bell explains, “While you don't want to over-share or stray too far from your brand's tone, there are ways to be personable! Look to find a balance between your brand's true personality and the people that create it, and its outward tone.”

To do that, set guidelines for yourself: “Find the key two or three areas where you have room to play and be personable. At the end of the day, social media is where two people can have a conversation and it's time we embrace that from a brand perspective,” says Bell.

Host Regular Video “Conferences” or Webinars

We live in a digital world, but people still crave human interaction. Connecting with community members in this format is good for you too: “Live interaction allows for the invaluable opportunity to connect and engage. It humanizes you, and makes you easier to relate to. On the client side, this is important for building trust loyalty,” according to Why Live Interaction is Still Required in the Increasingly Digital Workplace.

Host a monthly video call with your community members about a specific topic related to your business. For example, in the community for a digital marketing tool, you might do a new product feature Q&A for one month and a tutorial for boosting email subscribers the next.

Keep Community “Warm”

Every business has a bottom line, and your community is a great way to contribute to that. The goal is to keep everyone “warm.” To do that, you need to give them exclusive opportunities, from coupons and discounts to freebies and product demos—the key is to drive leads directly and indirectly.

Indirectly—offering something to someone else while still showing value:

“We’re giving everyone in our community one free guest pass this month—if there’s someone you think would love our tool as much as you do, let us know. We’ll give them 2-weeks free to test it for themselves.”

Directly—turning community members into leads.

Cultivate Stories

Ask customers to tell their stories, both about using your product and their work in general. Slowly, you’ll build a large customer story base to use for marketing assets and testimonials. Ask customers to share feedback from their co-workers, images, quotes and any other asset that illustrates their experience.

Stay Organized

You’re managing a lot of information that’s coming out of the community, from questions asked to stories shared. Your job as the manager of the community is to keep it all organized so your company can use that information. For example, common community questions could point to an unnoticed flaw with your service offering or a necessary upgrade to your product. The more organized you are, the more the entire organization will get out of the community, making it more valuable.

Use these tips to turn your online community into a valuable tool that drives leads, nurtures customers and enriches the experience of working with your organization.

Develop a detailed understanding of key social media specialisms including content marketing, and platforms on which you can promote your content.

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