The Ultimate Guide to Community Management

pink and blue door frames for community management
pink and blue door frames for community management

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." 

This African proverb beautifully encompasses the essence of community, not just in the real world but in the digital world too. One of the keys to success for brands today is ensuring that they are continually engaging and nurturing their online community.

However, engaging with your community on social media can be a challenge if you don't know how to go about it. Community management is more than just turning your followers into loyal customers; it's about building a community that is so strong around your brand that it can help increase sales on your behalf and increase interaction between you and the community they form part of.

What is community management and how can community managers use their skills to effectively manage an online community? In this guide, we’ll be looking at the essential qualities it takes to build and manage a community. With the help of PEPKOR's Digital Brand Manager, Monica McLoughlin, we'll unpack this further, looking at the different types of online communities that exist, what online communities can do for a brand, and how you can manage your online community to a point where you have a thriving audience that positively engages with your brand. 

Read on and step up your social media management game!

Table of Contents

What Is an Online Community?

You might already be a part of an online community, without you even realising it. From a LinkedIn, WhatsApp, or Facebook group to the 'Beyhive' or 'Beliebers', an online community essentially is a group of people who share a common interest, and use the internet or social media to interact with one another around this common interest. 

community management

Also known as a social community or virtual community, one might think that online communities are the same as social networks, but this isn't the case. What holds community members together is the common interest that they have (like a cause, topic, or celebrity); a social network, on the other hand, is held together by pre-established relationships

With a number of interests in the world, you're bound to encounter different online communities but all of them tend to have their own way of interaction so if you are not familiar with the community, it might require some skill to interact with members and you'll need a strategy to make sure that you engage authentically. This is where community managers come into play, but first, let's take a look at the different online communities that already exist in our digital world. 

What Are the Common Types of Communities?

According to Media Update, there are 4 types of online communities that marketers and community managers should consider for business needs:

  • Social Communities: This refers to "groups of people who have common interests on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram." 
  • Support Communities: These are comprised of "members who share tips about products with other customers, assisting brands to minimise customer support costs."
  • Advocate Communities: This refers to online communities that "allow brands to exploit their most trusted customers by sharing testimonials or positive views."
  • Insight Communities: These "consist of a targeted group of customers who maintain a long-term and positive relationship with brands."

There is no such thing as "one-size fits all" when it comes to online communities, even though some communities may have similar characteristics. Brands will need to think carefully when choosing the type of online community they want to be associated with as each bring their own unique traits to a brand. 

What Is Online Community Management in Social Media?

Shopify puts it rather aptly when describing what community management on social media is: "it's 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."

With digital communication tools and social media platforms becoming more accessible each day to a number of people globally, it is also becoming more necessary for brands to stay connected with their online audience and social media is quickly becoming the platform for brands to do this. 

Why Is Online Community Management Important in Social Media?

For PEPKOR, South Africa's largest single brand retailer, their aim is to "surprise and delight customers" and being on digital platforms today means making sure that PEPKOR is able to communicate directly to customers and respond to their needs as swiftly and satisfactory as possible. 

iphone illustration with social media speech bubbles

Every social media platform is different, and while it might be easy to think that a one-size-fits-all strategy will work when it comes to online community management, this may not be the case, and adjusting your strategy accordingly is important, according to PEPKOR's Digital Brand Manager, Monica McLoughlin. 

Twitter is a platform known to be used for customer service and responding to queries quickly, while Facebook and Instagram are great for promoting products and services by paid or organic media. However, while it is important to note that each platform is different, you should treat your online community equally. 

From our community management side, we treat our customers equally and make sure that we respond to all queries that come through.

How to Measure the Success of Community Management Strategies

When it comes to measuring success, it's true when they say that "you can only manage what you measure." In essence, if you’re measuring the performance of a particular strategy, you'll have a better understanding of what needs to be improved. Without these measurements, you won't know what you need to work on or what you need to do more of. 

At PEPKOR, Meltwater's Social Media Engagement Platform plays an important role in its community management strategy. With a number of brands that fall under PEPKOR, there is a lot to monitor when it comes to queries that come through the tool. However, the community managers tag each query according to the brand that it is associated with. This gives PEPKOR the ability to see which brands are getting more queries. And by using Sentiment Tagging, the team can report on whether negative comments have increased or decreased over a certain period of time for the individual brands. 

By using the tagging system on Meltwater and viewing popularity on feedback, we've really been able to resolve a lot of customer queries, and in turn, empower our customers to be able to use the Stock-on-Hand functionality on our website to find the items they're looking for.  

- Monica McLoughlin, Digital Brand Manager at PEPKOR

As a community manager, you’ve probably realised that community management involves a number of elements, such as good people and communication skills, quick thinking, and delivering good customer service. 

Measuring your online community strategies is vital in showing the value that your community has on your brand. Engagement metrics are good to measure if you want to see how active your community is with the content that you share with them, so you'll want to measure these metrics on a regular basis. For more on metrics, read our post that lists 50 Metrics to Measure.

Why Are Online Communities Valuable for Brands?

Naturally, online communities are highly engaging and beneficial to the members of that community. However, they can be just as valuable for brands and businesses. 

If you are thinking about starting your own online community, or nurturing the current community you already have, here are the benefits you can reap: 

Brand Advocacy

Online communities are one of the best methods of building brand loyalty. This is important to note because only 1 in 3 consumers believe that they can trust the brands that they buy. When your brand offers valuable products, customers will want to buy from you continuously and tell those within their circle to do the same.

And these recommendations from your brand advocates aren't something to be taken lightly. A study from HubSpot found that 81% of customers say that they are more likely to trust advice from peers over advice from brands and businesses. 

The point? Brand advocates can be one of your strongest marketing assets and if you can cultivate an online community that is made up of your brand advocates, you not only save marketing costs by having your audience talk about your brand organically, but you increase truth within your brand. And a trusted brand is a successful brand. For more on the importance of brand advocacy, read through our blog post on what brand advocacy is and why it's important. 

Customer Service

Critical to community management, and businesses overall, is the ability to provide good customer service. Interacting and retaining customers, especially when faced with a challenge or crisis, means making sure that there are multiple ways of reaching out to you. 

reputation management five star customer score

One of the most convenient channels for your consumers to reach out to you for customer service is through social media. Gone are the days where customers had to call a telephone number to get customer service from a business. Now, it's all primarily done online. 

Ensuring that your customers can reach you and that you have community managers to assist them when they need is critical to good customer service. This form of community management helps you stay connected, contactable, and transparent with your customers.

User-generated content

User-generated content is a great way to enhance your own content marketing strategy while strengthening your brand’s online community simultaneously. Using content that was created by your community can help increase your brand’s value and build stronger relationships between your brand and your community.

Asos user-generated content

Whether the user-generated content is customer reviews, viral videos that showcase your product, or high-quality images that highlight your services, this is all content that you can use, and share, to gain more interactions within your community.

What Are the Responsibilities of an Online Community Manager?

Ensuring that your community management methods are in line with your brand’s business goals and objectives, you need to create a social media community management strategy that will facilitate the implementation of community management across social channels, and this is where community managers come into play. 

A community manager is tasked with growing and engaging with a brand's online community by participating in discussions, finding new ways to interact with their community as well as listening and responding to customer queries.  

At PEPKOR, their community managers have been equipped to be able to resolve customer queries offline, with the aim of ensuring that all customer complaints and queries are responded to. This is a vital part of being a community manager on social media — making sure that you acknowledge the customer and the query that they are bringing to you. 

3 Tips to Creating an Engaged Online Community

Acknowledge the customer

No one likes feeling ignored, especially when they are approaching you with a complaint or query. When community managers are approached with a query, Monica shared in our conversation that she advises that you immediately acknowledge the customer. It really does go a long way when you make your customer seen and heard. 

As soon as you acknowledge a customer, and their complaint immediately, they are grateful for that.

- Monica McLoughlin, Digital Brand Manager at PEPKOR

Be consistent in your communication with customers

It's one thing to acknowledge a customer's query, but as a community manager, you cannot leave it at that. You need to provide feedback on their query, and even if you don't have feedback, let your customer know that you are actively working on their query and you'll get back to them once you have more information.

Be authentic and genuine

When managing your online community, make sure that you maintain your brand's tonality and engage with them authentically, even if you are dealing with bad news. Your interactions need to sound genuine and real instead of robotic or systematic. Consistency is key when communicating with your online community but above all, be genuine in your communication too. 

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