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How to Manage an Online Community

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Community management is integral to a brand’s health and growth. Often overseeing social networks that span countries and time zones, a brand’s community manager has the power to directly impact sales, and form an entire brand persona your customers take into the real world and brick and mortar stores. There are dozens of reasons to start a community management strategy, and if you haven’t put a strategy in place yet, we’re excited to lead you through the process.

Why Community Management?

Engaging with a few comments here and there on one of your social channels is doable. But, when you 10x that number, 100x it, or cross time zones and languages, you or another staff member can’t go it alone. For brands who have at least two active social channels, you’ll be the best off establishing a community management and moderation strategy with allocated team members’ hours or even roles.

We recommend establishing a strategic team not only to handle the sheer volume of inquiries and comments. Managing a community means you are creating genuine engagement and experiences online for real people across the globe. Responding to comments – both positive and negative – and for example, turning neutral sentiment into excitement, requires a certain level of human intelligence, patience, and time.

There are a multitude of benefits to creating a cross-channel community management strategy: engage leads to drive unique sales, build trust and loyalty, activate brand advocates, mediate crisis moments, protect customer health, alter brand perception, and beyond. A community manager or content moderator holds a unique power. They can not only turn one customer’s day from OK to better; they can moment-by-moment shape how your brand relates and responds to community members who deserve attention, respect, and connection.

If you’re a brand reading this whose social networks are growing and you’re low on time, staff, or strategy, allocating a specific in-house role, or further outsourcing community management to scale to your needs, is a great first step to seeing results.

Case Study: How Shokz Uses Community Management to Improve Brand Sentiment

Shokz is a bone conduction technology company headquartered in Austin, Texas. Like everyone, 2020 was a year of great uncertainty –  demand grew but resources shifted and changed. Shokz struggled to address a growing amount of negative customer comments online, and a lagging customer response time. Their internal teams weren’t built for community management, customer service, and insights at scale. By hiring a 24/7 community management team who brought in strategy and marketplace consulting, Shokz turned sentiment to positive or neutral during 2021, decreasing customer response time by 50%.

Steps for Managing Your Online Community

It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach with community management (we wish it were for everyone’s sake), but there is a basic framework that your needs will fit into – establish goals, listen to your users, engage well, get comfortable with tone and scripts, report regularly, and scale. Trust us on this template – we’ve been doing social media moderation since before social media ever existed (think: text message moderation).

1. Set Goals

Before you dive in head first, jot down some metrics you will measure, aligned with your business structure (i.e. KPIs, or OKRs). Many brands use engagement, impressions, and reach to measure success month over month or quarter over quarter, but there’s also rich qualitative data you can garner from social listening tools, like sentiment shifts, search behavior, and trends. As mentioned above, community engagement is about relationship building more than anything else, so one engagement strategy implemented on a middle-reach Tweet may drive sales more than another Instagram Reel that saw 10x the reach – nuances you’ll want to track.

In general, set your goals in line with your overall marketing strategy – integrated with paid and organic – and then whittle them down into individual campaigns from pre-launch to post-launch. If your community manager is doing their job well, you’ll see an increase in engagement right away. Just remember, the devil is in the details (and simply getting creative), and where the real gems appear.

2. Listen to Your Audience

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Not the first to emphasize listening, Stephen Covey’s advice translates well to online conversations. The internet is a reactive place, exacerbated by usernames replacing faces, and algorithms driving the content theme of your feed. As a community manager, step #1 is to listen to your audience and users and what they have to say. How do they feel about your brand in general? What are the common words associated? Is a high percentage of your audience complaining about a product defect that you’re company is unaware of?

You can get these kinds of answers – while measuring your performance – on your owned (or “rented”) social channels from third party social listening tools, such as Sprinklr or Brandwatch, among many others. These tools provide real-time feedback on the who, what, when, where of your brand conversation, and gather data subsets from distinct time periods, platform APIs, and campaigns.

Importantly, social listening data doesn’t just tell employees directives from your audience, or simply list complaints. These reports allow your marketing or customer success team to see where to be proactive in their engagement efforts. This data can also extend to your content, product, CRM, and sales teams.

3. Encourage Engagement

Engagement begets engagement: a very simple rule of thumb by which to form your strategy. The more you chat, the more the numbers rise. What’s engagement vs. quality engagement? Does quantity outweigh quality?

Engagement is a multi-tiered process. We can think of community management as the umbrella term – it covers engagement, moderation, and mitigation. Where there is a lively, enthusiast-driven atmosphere, there is also a crisis or at the very least, a complaint. Both the positive and negative sides of your social network are important to address and can lead to your goals. In fact, some negative reviews can be positive.

When it comes to engagement, there is room for both templated responses and creativity; both quantity and quality. Templated responses to common customer inquiries are important to build efficiency – both parties move through their needs quickly. Then there are moments within a campaign, during a brand messaging pivot, or when other brands are involved, that you’ll want to keep things fresh, fun, and witty.

For example, Mattress Firm chose a specific tone for April Fool’s Day in collaboration with Chili’s Restaurant group to create the “Margarita Mattress”  – the interactions within a broader campaign brought an unexpected twist and new brands and customer responses.

We should mention moderation and crisis mitigation too – which are more than just relationship building. With amassing audiences (including current or possibly disgruntled employees) talking about your brand online, there is bound to be a comment, video, or thread that goes south. A community manager is responsible for moderating these instances, and has the power to change the course of direction. In certain instances, posts will need to be taken off platform into direct messages, or escalated to higher management. In regulated industries who work with products that can have adverse events, this is specifically important.

4. Set Community Standards

Setting community standards should be at the top of your list. That said, just like our personal values, sometimes you don’t know exactly how to describe them until they’re tested. All of this to say, have some standards of behavior in addition to behavior you will not tolerate, and tighten those as needed.

Community managers can set standards in a few ways. Depending on the type of social network, a community member or Super Admin may have a badge that indicates their status. The community manager will have the power to delete, move, lock, rename, ban users, unban, suspend, warn, add, edit, or remove. This is referring to users, comments, threads, posts, and more. Rule of thumb is don’t delete a comment or post unless the language is dangerous or threatening. If there is a disgruntled person or a downright troll on your page, the standards you form should know how to handle it.

Online communities can be tricky, because there are both public and private ways to interact with your brand. In Facebook Groups, for example, members need to agree to standards of behavior before joining, whereas anyone free-flowing on a public TikTok platform can say what they want – these are two different communities but equally important. On public networks, the brand username itself is the moderator, making it that much more important that your responses are in line with your brand’s values and mission. Letting an employee who is untrained in these standards have control over your brand’s Twitter responses, for example, is an absolute no-no. Then, you get into specific groups like Mighty Networks or Discord – these require new strategies and standards altogether.

Outsourcing vs Insourcing Community Management

First things first, if you’re insourcing community management equal to or beyond 3-4 platforms, you should allocate a specific role to it. Managing people online at that point takes a significant amount of time – at least 15 hours a week – and we’ve seen time and time again companies who hand it off to another employee when they’d be better suited doing something else. No shade on you if you do this – we just know life could be easier!

All this being said, outsourcing community management once you reach volume – measured by platform or by sheer tension in your resources – is your best solution. There are pros and possible cons to outsourcing, depending on who you contract with. An immediate pro is time saving and relaxation on weekends, particularly with 24/7, global teams. Another pro is that by hiring out, you’re working with people whospecializein understanding social media and digital communities, so you can release your worries about carrying the bulk of that weight.

Conversely, the most common con is simply a lack of communication or “flow” with their outsourced team’s way of working – perhaps they can’t adopt your brand voice well, or their systems aren’t well integrated into yours, and you have 10+ tabs open daily. If this is the case, reassess. The entire point of outsourcing is to make your life easier. And remember: just because you outsource social media doesn’t mean you abandon your voice or your strategies. Hire a team who becomes a part of your A-team; one you feel an immediate in-built trust with. Trust and integration is where longevity comes in, and the cons go out the window.

Results of Successful Community Management

There’s a short game and a long game for community management.

The short game looks like this: A customer writes the comment, “Where can I buy these?,” because they a) didn’t see the original Instagram Story with the product link or b) aren’t familiar with the platform’s inner workings. The community manager replies with a kind message and a link to the product page, and the customer goes through little friction to then buy it. That’s the short game: immediate sales.

The long game may be more important. The long game is your commitment to creating a brand environment that you not only want, but your customers need. By being your brand in the way you listen, talk, respond, and create content online, you are offering a chance for humans around the world to find people like you, and like them, online. This is performance data you can track, correlating a sentiment upswing to a rise in sales, or an engagement jump to a product launch’s success.

From a revenue perspective, cultivating loyalists and brand advocates gets you into the data you simply can’t track – these people will be talking about your brand on neighborhood walks with a friend, at a dinner, and on family trips. They are the ones who, after having positive experiences online time and time again, will buy your old product, best seller, and new product, and inspire their friends to do the same. For everyone involved, this is such a sweet, sweet result.

Conclusion

Whether you’re bringing in an internal community manager, outsourcing support, or revamping your strategy altogether, keep your brand vision and mission at the forefront. The community you cultivate on your social networks should reflect the direction you want to go. When those pesky negative comments come in, remember that it’s all part of the process. We hope you enjoy this exciting journey as a part of your brand health and growth.

About ICUC Social

ICUC is a global community management agency. Available 24-hours a day, 365 days-a-year for 19 years and counting, our team of multilingual content and community specialists manage, moderate, monitor, and analyze millions of social media conversations and content pieces on a daily basis for some of the largest enterprise brands and their communities across the globe. Book a 15-minute call with us to learn more.