Social interaction is fundamental to our learning, sense of wellbeing, and purpose. Until relatively recently, marketers have overlooked our need for social communities and have left this powerful medium largely untapped. But change is now afoot. Leading organizations are leveraging communities to build lasting relationships with their prospects and customers.
Increasingly, online communities will become a key tool in a marketer’s arsenal. Those that don’t understand this growing medium now, risk being left behind as it grows in popularity. That’s why we’ve created this guide to community management for marketers. After reading it, you’ll understand why community management is important in marketing and some of the benefits you can expect.
What is community management in marketing?
Community management takes several forms. Some organizations get by using social media, but more advanced marketers are building their own online communities that fully represent their brand to their target audience.
To manage a community, many organizations will hire an individual (a community manager) or a team to interact regularly with a community, respond quickly to comments or questions, share valuable content, attract new members, and drive engagement. Over time, a well-managed community will grow to include current customers and partners, prospects, industry influencers, and other thought leaders.
In a community, people know that they can visit to learn more about a brand’s products and services, to ask and answer questions, to network with their peers, and provide feedback — to name but a few uses.
More and more people are joining communities that align with their goals, purpose, and interests. Especially following the long periods of isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, 76% of Internet users participated in an online community. This number will only grow as people seek out different ways of learning from the brands they love and meeting like-minded people. Indeed, 64% of visitors to online community sites feel that they are visiting these platforms more often than they did a few years ago and 46% say that these communities have grown in importance to them over time.
Communities and trust
Trust has become a major issue for all organizations. Public trust in their Governments, private businesses, NGOs, and employers has been on the decline for several years. The most trusted institution, businesses, still only garnered 61% of the public’s trust in 2021. Trust in CEOs is at an all-time low. The same can be said of the information industry, with trust in social media and owned media at record lows.
For organizations to build lasting relationships with their audience, more must be done to connect people with brand representatives and experts that they can trust. Likewise, building a trusted space, like an online community wholly controlled and owned by an organization, can go a long way in creating a safe space for people to collaborate and share knowledge.
Why is community management important?
Online communities offer benefits throughout the customer lifecycle – but only if they are managed well. By consolidating your brand presence and making it easy to view your full array of content in one place, communities drive stickiness. They give a single view of the customer journey, from the first piece of content downloaded, through to webinars and live events, to being a customer and beyond. The engagement with customers and more consistent interaction provided by a community boosts retention, due to the personal relationship you are able to cultivate with each one of your customers.
Over the long term, consistently engaging your customers in a community setting will mean more positive word-of-mouth, meaning your brand will develop more concrete leads over the long term. However, it is vital that your community is managed closely and with great attention to detail; a poorly-run community where customers’ needs are not met will have the inverse effect on your long-term growth.
6 reasons why marketers should invest in community management
There are many reasons to explore what online communities can do for your organization. We’ve whittled down the list, however, to six key areas that will drive the best results for your marketing team.
1. Customer experience
Offering a superior customer experience (CX) pays off with increased customer loyalty, revenue, reputation, and referrals. Investing in CX initiatives could double your revenue within three years. Furthermore, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience (and the more expensive the item, the more they are willing to pay).
The strongest argument for starting an online community is this: having a branded space for people to interact with you and their peers is one of the most effective ways to boost their customer experience. Having a fragmented brand presence spread across multiple third-party channels means the customer experience will suffer, mostly due to inconsistent brand messaging and not being able to access all of your brand’s resources in one place. With effective community management, people feel like part of your brand, they are recognized and heard, and any questions are quickly answered.
Better still, a mature community will have user-generated content. Community members will take on some of the work that your community management team has to do, including troubleshooting and helping new customers make the most of your product.
For your community to offer a great experience, consider the following tactics:
- When building your community management strategy, consult with customers and prospects. They can tell you their interests, needs, what topics and content formats would best suit them, timings, and more. Tailoring your community to their feedback will ensure it gets off to the best start.
- Have a regular schedule of posts and discussions to keep your audience engaged and excited to return to your community. You may have to post more at the start of your community to encourage it to grow and to motivate members to create and share their own content.
- Think of unique ways to reward your community members for their time and engagement. Go beyond a simple ‘like’ and instead offer exclusive perks or content, free samples, discounts, early access, private events, and more. You can also boost your members’ reputation when they contribute regularly or offer expert insights. Member spotlights can encourage people to proactively contribute to the community and connect with one another.
- Transparency and authenticity are important to today’s audience. Trust in social media platforms is dwindling with 31% of Internet users mistrusting content that’s posted there. People can recognize a sales pitch from a mile away. Make sure the content shared within your community is valuable to your members. Own the space that you specialize in by leveraging experts, adding to discussions, and sharing exclusive insights.
2. Making content accessible
Simply put: there is no point in writing countless articles of great content to market your community and knowledge if users cannot find it easily, or search out the content most relevant to them. People want helpful and timely content that they can use to do their job better, to help them solve problems, and to stand out.
Navigability is critical to this. Without effective navigation, people will be stopped from seeing the content that compels them to become a customer or advocate for your brand. As your community grows, the amount of content created will too. Your user-generated content will increase (which is useful, as your community becomes more self-sustaining). This will make navigation more important than ever. Consider grouping content by topic or by expert, create threads in your discussions so people can follow the evolution of a conversation, and provide rooms so that people can join in with the interactions most relevant to them.
Your community manager will play an essential role in surfacing content and communicating ways for people to engage with it. For example, if someone asks a question, your community manager could direct them to a pre-existing community article that answers their question. If someone shares a new piece, your community manager can ensure they’ve tagged the content with relevant information and shared it in the correct place. Your manager could also share ‘rules of engagement’ like the topics and formats that are most popular, or a specific tag that enables your organization to repost user-generated content to other marketing channels.
3. Supporting your customers
A major benefit of having an online community is the ability to provide better customer support and create more meaningful interactions with them. Not only will your customers thrive as a result of more comprehensive support – the potential for peer-to-peer support can also lower your own support costs, as users will be able to find solutions for many issues by simply asking the wider community.
This is only achievable with a well-managed community. If your community management isn’t up to scratch then posts, comments, and questions will be missed, negatively impacting your brand. Worse still, if someone posts a complaint that goes unanswered, they are likely to come away with the perception that your brand does not care about addressing their concerns.
The good news is that online communities by and large make people feel more supported and respected by a brand. Over half (57%) of community members feel that they are seen in their online communities, 63% feel that they are heard, 70% often answer other members’ questions, and 78% have asked questions.
The best way to make sure nothing falls through the cracks is to have a community management plan. One team or individual should ‘own’ your community management and be accountable for its growth and performance. They should set aside time, at least daily, to review community posts and answer any questions. It’s also worth having a crisis plan in place in case of a negative post or experience in your community.
4. Data ownership is one of the greatest marketing tools
Data fuels every process in your organization — and that’s why so many platforms are limiting your access to it (or charging more). One of the perks of online communities compared to a social media platform is data ownership – knowing what makes your customers tick and using it to target them more effectively. Indeed, 59% of global organizations have already used online communities in their market research.
Having data ownership is increasingly valuable given that the data sources marketers have at their disposal are becoming more restricted. Google, for example, is removing third-party tracking cookies. This will make it a lot harder to understand the online behavior of your target audience. Simultaneously, social platforms are becoming more pay-for-play (sponsored social ads are often the only way to reach a wide audience). Yet the cost of advertising is rising, with the efficacy of social ads decreasing rapidly.
An effectively managed community will provide numerous data sources to draw on to improve marketing, sales, customer service, product development, and more. On the flip side, a poorly managed community will leave you with fewer data points to analyze — because of a smaller, less engaged user base. So, to make the most of your data ownership, you need to double down on your community management.
5. Retention marketing is more important than ever
Customer acquisition costs are rising, especially for B2B marketers. People are extremely busy, with limited time and attention spans. Subsequently, it’s getting harder to grab their attention and cut through the noise using traditional marketing tactics. This means that keeping hold of your current customers is increasingly vital to your organization’s growth. Maximizing lifetime value is business-critical and that’s why more marketers are now getting involved with what’s happening after a purchase (product use, customer support, upselling, advocacy and so on).
It is here that an online community can really support marketing, sales and CX teams. Having regular, valuable conversations with your customers will build their brand loyalty and provide post-purchase insights. Communities provide an opportunity to better understand what customers need, their pain points, their desires, and how your products and services can help them.
6. Engaging with and listening to customers
This ties closely with the above. By listening to your customers, you’re showing them that you care about their views and feedback. It humanizes your brand, creating a more personal and real connection with your audience.
Achieving this is simple. Ask your community members about their interests. Find out where they spend their time online, who they follow, and any other behavioral insights. Then use this to influence your community strategy. Speak to them like a human, not a corporate robot. Repeating these steps will ensure the right people start to notice and engage with your community.
Building your community builds your business
Investing in an online community will pay dividends for your organization in the long term. The old ways of marketing are delivering fewer returns and it’s time to explore something new.
An effective online community will take your marketing to the next level. But it can also do much more than that, becoming a key asset to your entire organization. Taking care with managing your community will make your customers better at using your product, which will in turn make them better at satisfying their own customers. With a well-managed community, your organization will gain access to an engaged, loyal audience that is keen to advocate on your behalf, setting you up for success in both the short and long term.
Ready to see how an online community can expand your network? Request a demo here, or for more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.