Community management is one of the hottest topics in the marketing industry. However, businesses, mainly medium and large ones, struggle to scale and automate day to day activities and, most importantly, maintaining community growth.
Social media community management is about interacting with your customers in a way that fosters loyalty and advocacy. Engaging in social business with this focus requires very different thinking than social media marketing. Here we will discuss how to get started with effective community management and how to automate the growth.
Benefits of effective community management and is it worth it?
Businesses who’ve managed to build effective and engaging communities around their brand enjoy the following benefits:
- Decreased customer support costs
- Have a united group of active and loyal users/clients
- More engagement with your brand
- Better customer experience
Loyal communities spread goodwill about your brand through word of mouth and personal recommendations and give you helpful feedback on properties, quality, and service free of charge. If you want to have a support group for your business, managing a community is the ultimate marketing channel.
Important: Although building a loyal community drives results, for 90% of all businesses, the channel incurs negative ROI. Sometimes, financially it makes more sense to work together with existing communities. This way, your team saves a big budget since you don’t need to attract customers from a narrow target audience.
You shouldn’t launch a community to have one because it’s the trendy thing to do or your social media competitors have one. Be crystal clear on purpose on why you want a community.
Crafting community development strategy
Investing human and financial resources into building a community without defined goals you are pursuing will most likely drive negative results.
What is the end goal? What results do you expect? How will the community help your business? Is it possible to achieve the above with other, more familiar marketing channels?
Note that the primary purpose of the strategy document is to guide two groups of stakeholders: top management, aka decision-makers, and the team, aka doers. KPIs will allow management to evaluate progress, whereas community managers will be motivated to achieve desired results.
Community development strategy should answer the following questions:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to go?
- How do we go there?
- What will help us along the way? How are we going to use this?
- What can stop us? How do we avoid it / how do we solve problems?
- What resources do we need to get there?
- How long will it take for us to get there?
- What key people/influencers will help us (here are the descriptions of the stakeholders)?
- What are the key events we will hold?
The crafted strategy should outline KPIs that will help you measure and evaluate the results, both monthly and long-term 1-2 years.
Of course, you need to take into account the plans of other departments or areas. Although no one will tell you the exact timeframe, making a strategy without fitting it into the general development plan of the company is a recipe for disaster.
Offline and online communities develop a standard lifecycle. The path acts as a map and tells you where your community is now and where it needs to go next. It pretty much dictates your actions required on each stage.
Pursuing the result (aka benefits explained above) is often confused with the process.
Community development is a process of starting small and growing gradually. For example, in the early stages, you need to focus on particular things. If organisations don’t acknowledge the community lifecycle, they have no way of establishing realistic expectations for their community strategy. Many online communities are killed before they have had the opportunity to be a success. If you try to take a shortcut, you will focus on the wrong metrics and not correctly develop the community for the long term.
There are 4 stages to the community lifecycle
The inception stage starts when you begin interacting with a target audience and ends with the community reaching critical size.
The good indicators of the four inception stage:
- Members invite others in their online and offline social networks to join the community.
- Members initiate their discussions in the community.
- Members reply to discussions without community managers directly prompting them.
- For members visiting the community becomes a habit.
In the early stages, the community requires direct management every day. Community managers’ goal is to initiate discussions actively, prompt members to participate, build relationships with members.
Suppose community members do not invite others to join or initiate activity without you directly prompting them. In that case, this is a sign that either the community concept is wrong (the community isn’t about topic members are interested in), or you’re using the wrong tactics. This may be due to errors in your approach or not testing different methods.
During the establishment phases, community managers shift from the micro-level tasks that focus on individual members to more macro-level activities. These activities include those that sustain growth and develop a sense of community.
Note that during the establishment phase, activities required to manage the growth also change:
- Write content about the community
- Organise regular events and activities
- Recruit and train volunteers
- Collect and analyse data
- Resolve conflicts and disputes
- Develop referral programs
- Develop strong community sense tactics
Don’t leave growth to chance; you have to stimulate it proactively. At this stage, scaling activities is the primary goal. Embed scaling process in the early stages by recruiting volunteers, developing the platforms and equipping the team with community management software.
The maturity phase of the community life cycle begins when members of the community generate 90% of activity and growth.
At this stage, community managers’ role is less visible. Managing the growth of the community doesn’t require initiating discussions, engaging in micro tasks. Now the goal of community managers transforms into building long-term strategies and craft long-term impact.
Note that during this stage, the community reaches a plateau in growth. This is the natural consequence of the community reaching its maximum potential. A plateau is not a major cause for concern. It is the natural and final evolution of a successful online community. It would help if you only were concerned when there is a decline, especially a sustained decline.
Activities to manage and scale a community during the maturity stage:
- Optimise the social density of the community platform
- Steer the direction of the community in the desirable area
- Ensure the community is influential in its sector
- Manage the volunteer or additional staff team
- Manage and optimise technological aspects of the community (software)
- Establish overall goals and vision of the community
The objective at this stage is, counter-intuitively, to hit the plateau, the point where the community has reached its initial maximum potential. Everyone in the sector should know of you, your members are highly active, and there is a deep sense of community among members.
At this stage, the community starts to break into smaller, niche subgroups within one topic. Note that not all communities will grow to this stage.
Community managers’ goal is to identify the potential subgroups around topics or interests that have the potential to continue growing within the sub-topic. Alternatively, you may identify groups that already developed a community, identifying clusters of people with similar demographics, habitual and psychographic traits.
Activities to manage and scale a community during the mitosis stage:
- Identify and create popular subgroups
- Train and manage leaders in subgroups
- Promote and support subgroups
Developing and managing a community through its lifecycle requires shifts in activities to maintain the desired growth. Although most businesses do not manage to successfully reach KPIs, when done right the marketing channel itself implies numerous benefits that positively affect the bottom line.
In this article, we’ve talked about the community lifecycle and how community managers can effectively grow the KPIs by adapting to each stages’ needs.