Over the years I’ve seen online insight communities grow and develop as a key business tool for customer engagement. I’d go as far as to say, if an established brand wants to get closer to their customers and they don’t have an online insight community, they’re missing a trick.
Many brands and organisations – like O2, Costa, National Trust and ASDA – have come to the realisation that their online audiences can become an online community. Now more than ever, customers want to have a voice, a place where they can have their say and get rewarded for it. By creating this place online, brands can gain valuable feedback on products and services and use the insights to improve their future offering.
Once an online insight community is set up, part of what makes it successful is having a dedicated Community Manager. It’s their job to engage with members on an ongoing basis, keeping the content fresh, and inspiring members to get involved in discussions and activities. They create the ‘community’ feel, encouraging interaction, and making members feel part of something with real value.
Community Management is a varied and highly demanding role, but extremely rewarding. You need to make sure you’re on top of your game, so here are my top ways to win.
This sounds obvious, but it’s so important that a Community Manager has strong communication skills. Whether that’s day-to-day communication within the platform, or sending updates via email and social media, clear communication is make or break. Fundamentally, it will result in better engagement rates and click throughs. If members know exactly what you want and why you want it, they are more likely to get involved.
To resonate with an audience, a Community Manager must learn to understand members as real people, not segments or age brackets. This means putting yourself in the user’s shoes, whether that’s a 50 year old house wife, or a 19 year old university student. Always be empathetic to their language, actions and responses. Listen to those who are loud. Could they be an advocate of your brand? Notice those who are quiet. How could we engage with these people more? The message is simple, listen and learn.
Know when and where to post, always. When it comes to breaking news and hot topics for brands it’s important to be reactive and strike when the iron is hot. Getting in on the conversation will keep the brand front of mind and will result in more accurate feedback while the topic is still fresh. Remember, news can break at any time, day or night, so a dash of dedication goes a long way in staying up to date.
With a range of online communities to manage each day, of all shapes and sizes, Community Managers must be adaptable. From changing the tone of voice, or launching a recruitment campaign, to posting about niche topics, every brand is different. Members can tell the difference between blanket communications and highly tailored content – the latter will always win!
An online community is a complex and well-oiled machine, bringing together client, customer and agency. At our end alone, there are teams for Data, Operations, Insight, Project Management, all working together on various aspects of the platform. Not everything goes to plan, and there will inevitably be challenges from time to time. The main thing is to keep calm and work together as a team to get it sorted.
Enjoying your role as Community Manager makes a huge difference to how you interact with members. If you’re genuinely happy and engaged in what you do, this passion will come across in the content that you post. We’re pretty lucky that we get to work on some of the biggest brands in the UK and globally, from food and drink, to retail, to hospitality, there’s a lot we can tap into, so we never run out of topics to talk about.
The look and feel of an online community will vary based on the brand and target audience. But whatever the industry, the design and interface need to be visually appealing to grab attention, otherwise members and potential members will click away to browse another site. As Community Managers we’re constantly adding new content, so having a creative eye helps us to pick the right image for a particular post, and just generally keep the community looking on-brand.
Keep your eyes peeled for what the competition is doing, but aim to be the leader, not the follower. Be the first to post or invent a different and unique way of interacting with your community. At the same time, be open to what other Community Managers are doing. The more you can learn and pick up new skills and tips, the better you will become!
There’s a bit of maths involved in terms of calculating and comparing engagement rates. We can look at month on month stats, or drill into the detail of specific activities, campaigns and recruitment drives, acknowledging what’s worked well and not so well. Regular reports to the client help to sum up overall performance and engagement. This will focus your efforts going forward and ensure they are in line with the clients’ wider business strategy.
Not so long ago, the role of Community Manager didn’t even exist. Now that brands are embracing online communities to get closer to their customers, it’s fast becoming a fundamental role and key to a brands long-term strategy. Becoming a specialist in this area requires a varied skill set and a lot of enthusiasm. One thing’s for sure, you will never have a dull day and there is always more to learn. Ultimately if the members are happy, then the client is happy. Win win.