People! Let’s talk about the moving mechanism behind the community. It may sound excessive to say that community is about people, because we all know it to be true. But focusing on all of the important players is essential once the community’s values, goals and subsequent activities, which need to be taken in order to achieve the goals, are ironed out. In the context of this piece, we’ll be talking about people specific to their roles, influence and responsibilities in building a vibrant community.
Think about community as a mini-society. Society usually has formal leaders, informal leaders, active and passive members. In order for society to thrive, a competent leader must be elected. A leader that will speak to the needs of the society, and take necessary actions to make its members happy.
Society also has informal leaders; it is important to identify why they are popular and how to collaborate with them. If the formal leader is not strong and compelling enough, the community will not listen to them -- it’s a time of anarchy. Society without a strong leader has no direction. Society either goes wild or slowly ceases to exist.
This is exactly what’s happening with communities.
It is imperative that community leaders understand how to manage and guide the momentum and communication in order for the community to grow and thrive. I often call this “leveraging the power of the crowd,” and that means a lot more than just your direct team or your most active supporters. It means understanding all of the players, just like in a society, and how they contribute or what levers you can use with each.
The Community Manager facilitates day-to-day activity and engagement within the community. If not moderated or directed properly, the connectivity and conversation can veer off track or, even worse, stop altogether.
There are several other players with crucial roles within the community, players who can heavily influence the community’s direction, and as a result, the bottom line.
Employee engagement is crucial in sustaining a strong community. The goal is to have passionate team members that have a shared vision and feel personal ownership towards meeting the community objectives defined by the community manager (and ideally the executive team). This also means going past the usual suspects that always volunteer to help or those on your direct team who may be expected to do so. I like to use my community building skills to building bridges throughout the org and get colleagues across the org involved.
One way of cultivating this ownership is actually quite simple: ask employees for their opinions and listen to their feedback. Also, ask what their own goals and initiatives are to see if anything they’re accountable for can be achieved through the community. Team members are much more likely to feel a sense of ownership if their ideas are being taken seriously. And you’re helping them to achieve goals they’re accountable for outside of your own.
The executives are leaders, and their disapproval can have a ripple effect through the ranks of employees and undermine the development of or the ownership in employees.
In order to sell the benefits of community development to the executives, metrics showing the positive effects of the community need to be provided. Numbers speak louder than words. But making sure you know which numbers matter to whom/why/how you both impact them and report on them is essential! I always like to correlate the business goals and their benchmarks and metrics to those of Marketing/Communications and then how community contributes to and impacts both.
Or at least that’s the aim for many of you -- to have current customers or prospective customers interested enough in what you bring to the table to engage in the community. And if your customers are not involved at all, then it may be time to invest in some old school journalistic detective work to interview customers and find out why.
However, it is important to remember, customers and audience are not one in the same. A customer is an individual buying a company’s product or service. An audience is a collective group of stakeholders: customers, employees, partners, and so forth. Any one of these groups could and should be part of your community. Customers already have a relationship with the company through its product or service. Engaging them as the active participants in the community is an important goal for the company.
But often creating a formal ambassador program can help to jump-start this momentum, as it did for me when I was building community at Crunch Fitness, and became a cornerstone to our approach. And as with several of the startups I’ve worked with more recently, sometimes it simply makes sense to compensate influencers who can bring the audience you want along for the ride.
Regardless of your chosen approach, identifying the outspoken champions (or informal leaders) already in the community is clutch. Build relationships with these champions, learn what they care about, and adapt business practices to show that their concerns are being heard.
Collaboration with the informal leaders or champions through the incentive programs and public recognition helps in community development and engagement. They become a valuable resource in addition to the formal manager and employees that help drive the value.
As the community grows, it’s very important to manage the direction, and keep the connection with the growing audience. Even though the community is being created by a brand or organization, it is being built around the common interests of the above mentioned participants.
As the ideas and conversations flow, eventually they may lead away from the original community goals. Especially when the community flourishes and the community manager no longer has the capacity to manage it by themselves. This is a situation of the anarchy, that I mentioned earlier. Anarchy is the antithesis of a healthy community. But, it is better to have a community that is growing too large, than one that is wasting away. Planning the resources and lobbying the interests of the community as the value-driven strategy for the company is ultimately the responsibility of the community’s supreme leader, the community manager.