Due to its newness in our business lexicon, "online community management" is a term that is often met by feelings of confusion. Most business people don't have much experience with online community strategies.
Research often reports online communities strategies amongst the most effective marketing and customer relationship strategies, while it is also one of the most underutilized approaches.
However, with proper resource planning. learning how to launch, plan, and grow your community doesn't have to be so scary.
So, take a deep breath and read on. It's really just like learning anything else in business. It's a process with best practices and tips to make it easy.
What Does it Mean to Manage an Online Community?
The role of an online community manager is often cloudy, especially in communities that are just getting started. However, defining this role is one of the first steps to leading a successful private online community.
A community manager is:
A Content Manager: They keep track of a large content calendar that includes everything from blog posts to videos to comments. They are constantly looking to create new and relevant content, while also highlighting the content of other members and valuable information generated by the industry at large.
Data Analyst: They keep track of important metrics around your members and their behavior. They scan data points across the online community to see what is and isn't working in order to make adjustments.
Copy Writer and Moderator: They create original content and keep an eye out for inaccurate content. They are checking their own work, as well as any contributors of the community. Making sure that all of the content makes sense to its viewers.
Technical Support: Depending on your products and services, your community managers may have to take a page or two from the support team. Customers may ask questions in the community around the more technical uses of your products. It is often community managers' responsibility to field those questions or find someone that can.
The best community managers are very successful multi-taskers. The role will shift depending on the community type (customers, prospects, partners, etc.), the community maturity, and your company's online community strategy.
Defining community management is just the start. Once you have defined the role of your online community manager, you're on your way to creating an active customer community. However, if you're new to leveraging your community to grow your business, the view from here may be daunting.
To help you out, here are six key guidelines from the interview for those who are new to private online community strategies.
Tips for Building an Online Community that Thrives
Tip #1) Focus On The Quality of Members, Not the Quantity.
Having a million users in an online community sounds like it should be every community's dream. However, if the goal is an engaged community, that may not ring true. The quality of your community hinges on the engagement opportunities.
We've seen communities of 100 make bigger splashes than those of 10,000. Successful online communities are fueled by a strong level of passion around one centralized topic or product. Don't get hung up of the vanity metrics.
Tip #2) Just Because You Build It Doesn't Mean They Will Come.
Who wouldn't love an online community that just one day after launch had hundreds of members commenting and actively contributing to discussion forums? It'd be nice, but it is simply not the case.
You can't expect to simply launch an online community and have instant engagement. It takes months of seeding content and sourcing discussions. Stay patient and focus on building value.
Tip #3) Don't Start The Wrong Conversation.
Choosing the right topic for your online community is often the first step in the online community planning process.
If you choose a topic that is too vague, your members may be left without a sense of comradery with other members. If you choose a topic that already has a strong community in your industry, you may not be able to capture enough market share to make your community viable. Lastly, if you choose a topic that fits an audience that has no interest in your topic, you may be left with an empty community.
Choose a topic that is just broad enough to have an audience, but with a clever spin that narrows the field from conversations that already exist.
Tip #4) You Need To Invest More Than Money.
When you create a community of customer, partners, or prospects, the investment is often not measured in dollar signs. We're talking about investing your time.
Community management usually demands more than just one person's time. To grow a sustainable online community that is valuable to your target audience, you need a team of people from all parts of your company taking an interest. For instance, you need people to maintain a content calendar that is consistent, provides answers to your members, and above all is achievable.
Tip #5) It's Not All About Your Organization.
The ideal ratio for content would be 90 percent your members' contributions and 10 percent your staff. However, getting to this point may take some time.
When you first launch, this metric will be skewed heavily toward company-generated content. However, these early community management tasks shouldn't deter you from working towards this percentage.
Eventually, you should have a list of key members that are welcoming new members, contributing new content and answering the questions of other users.
Tip #6) Creating an Active Online Community is Only Half of the Equation
Once you create an active, sustainable community online, you can collect the data in your online community and use it to make better business decisions.
Traditionally, companies were analyzing only the transactional and demographic data of their customers. Collecting the data in your online community allows you to factor in the behavioral data of your customers. What questions do they have? What products do they want to see improvements from? What additional products can you sell them?
Identify revenue opportunities, validate your product road map, and other business decisions around your online community data for greater successes.