Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
The Complete Guide to Strategic Community Management
Written by:
community strategic
Shutterstock

Whether you have a big or a small brand/company, you may have wondered how to set up and run a successful Community Management team – not just any Community Management team, but one that is strategically successful and one that brings value into your business and brand. How you manage your community makes a big difference, as your community is ultimately an extension of your brand.

However, while there’s a lot written about social media and management tips for Community Managers, there aren’t a lot of resources on the management side of things, strategy, what to expect from Community Management and how to set up the team.

So, here’s a guideline in Q&A format that covers everything from setting up your Community Management, strategy, pitfalls and beyond:

Where Do I Start?

Before you embark on this venture, you need to set your objectives for your Community Management team – basically the whys and hows. Your objectives should be in line with your company objectives – so if your main aim is to make money, see how building and nurturing a community can help generate revenue, through influencers, brand ambassadors and the like.

How Many Community Managers Should I Hire?

The size of your community management team should be directly proportional to the size of your community and the roles that the team will be involved in, and should be limited by the budget you decide to allocate.

For example, you may choose to hire a community for each line of business in your brand (to differentiate Business from Consumer).

What Should I Look for in a Community Manager?

A good proportion of qualities and experience is needed, with talent and passion added in the mix. The Community Manager shouldn’t only have passion for social media, but especially for the sector related to your brand. This can have a significant impact on the strength of relationship between your community managed and the community.

The ideal areas of expertise that your Community Manager needs to cover are:

  • Creative
  • Account management
  • Social
  • Editorial

What Can I Expect from the Community Manager?

Your Community Manager will grow your community by producing content and engaging in conversations that will help retain your existing customers while attracting new ones. Your Community Manager will support the community proactively and reactively, while keeping a close eye on potential influencers and brand ambassadors. The Community Manager will act as “the leader of the pack” by being the #1 Brand Ambassador, hence why a genuine love and passion for the brand is needed from them. The Community Manager will encourage (and not discourage) people who act as brand ambassadors; these are the ones that will eventually act as an extension of your Marketing team, as they will promote your brand, products and services willingly.

Within the organisation, the Community Manager acts as a bridge between your brand and the community: as content goes out from the brand to the community, the community feeds back into the business with valuable information that help shape and improve the brand and the products/services it provides.

The community never sleeps, and your Community Manager is well aware of that. This is why one of the many reasons why flexibility is needed, on your part as well as your Community Manager – work times and work location may be flexible as and when needed.

I Have a Community Manager – Now What?

Set a strategy. This will define the tasks that need to be handled, how they’re going to be handled, where to find the community and how to manage it, among other things. Out of this strategy there are two things in particular that need to be set: tone of voice and an internal communication strategy.

1. Tone of Voice

Tone of voice determines how your Community Manager is going to converse with your brand’s community. Whether it’s jovial or serious, hip or strictly professional, your tone of voice needs to be decided from the very start, and it needs to be consistent across social platforms. The tone of voice doesn’t depend on the sector you work in, but on your brand, how you’re currently perceived and how you want to be perceived.

Whatever tone you choose to adopt, make sure you speak with a tone that makes you approachable and, well, human – after all, if you’re on social media to talk to people, you should be social.

Once you’ve developed your tone of voice, your community will eventually become familiar with it, and it will reflect on the brand’s image.

2. Internal Communication Strategy

You’ll be surprised to know that setting an internal communication strategy is often more arduous than setting a communication strategy for the community. This is especially the case for big companies and organisations, where it’s easy for teams to work in a silo environment, where teams aren’t aware of what others are doing.

The first step in avoiding this very common pitfall is by getting other teams involved and teaching them the benefits of social media and having a community, how it can shape the business, how it can make (and potentially break) the brand’s image etc. Once you’ve explained the benefits of having a community, other teams will be more prone to join in.

From Marketing to Public Relations, Corporate Communications, Advertising, Customer Service, IT, Legal… everyone can (and should) get involved in the Community.

Breaking these silos is a continuous job. One way the Community Manager can do so is by regularly reporting on how the Community has helped the business. This can be in terms of revenue, engagement, community growth, advocacy etc. Don’t be afraid to show failures either – these happen, and it’s normal for issues to arise in the Community. In fact, it’s not about these issues arising, but mainly about how you choose to deal with such issues and how you turn a negative experience into a positive (and potentially upbuilding) one. How you deal with people in your Community says more about you as a brand than them as part of your Community.

Another way to break down these silos is by training other teams various bits of social expertise. You can start by showing people the difference between having a personal Facebook profile and managing a brand Facebook page, as the most common misunderstanding that can easily arise is that the two are very similar, if not the same. Starting a knowledge-share is a great way to build an open dialogue between the Community Manager and the wider organisation.

Lastly, make sure that everyone is involved in the Community – there’s nothing wrong in inviting people within the organisation to be a part of the Community by liking the brand Facebook page, or following on Twitter. Once people from other teams start sharing brand content to their own network of friends, not only will it encourage the Community Manager, but it will also broaden the reach of the Community.

How Should I Structure the Community Management Team?

Now that you have a few people taking care of your Community, you need to structure this into a strategically functional team. Ideally you need a Social Media Manager (whose duties are different but complementary to the Community Manager) and an Analyst to report on the efforts of the team to the wider organisation.

However, often due to budget constraints this isn’t always possible and it’s often custom to see a Community Manager handling all those roles in one, besides the roles of Strategist, Campaign Manager etc. The feasibility of this depends mainly on the size of your community and the weight of those roles on one person – if you personally feel that you wouldn’t be able to handle all of them, it’s very likely that your Community Manager won’t be able to do so either.

What Tools Will I Need?

The main tool you’ll need is a Social Media Management tool, like HootSuite, Sprout Social and SocialBro. There are several out there, and while there’s no ultimate best, you can choose whichever tool can help your Community Manager fulfil his/her tasks adequately, in a time-efficient way.

Don’t let budget be the only determining factor, or you may easily end up paying for a tool that won’t help your Community Manager in any way. Let your Community Manager put forward a few suggestions, with pros and cons for each choice, and you can decide together on which tool to purchase.

Look out for tools that offer other functions such as Analytics, and integrations (e.g. within your existing CRM). There are pros and cons for all-in-one tools and dedicated tools, but as in all things, balance is needed.

What Are the Pitfalls I Should Look Out for?

The main four pitfalls that Community Management teams experience are:

  • Poor communication: don’t put your Community Manager in a position where they don’t know what to feed back to people who need help or updates from the company. Remember – your Community Manager is acting on behalf of the company, and if they appear not to know what’s going on in the company, it won’t reflect on the actual Community Manager but on the brand as a whole. Make sure your Community Manager is looped in on any discussions about the business. At the same time, the Community Manager shouldn’t leave the rest of the business clueless on what goes on in the Community, so as not to give anyone the chance to question the need of a Community Manager (or even a Community in the first place).

  • Misreporting: besides human error, this may be down to the tools used for reporting. Poor communication can also be a factor, as when you don’t know what goes on in the organisation it’s hard to put statistics into context. Another factor is not knowing what to report on and missing out very important Analytics aspects, such as (proactive) social listening.

  • Lack of understanding: when the rest of the business doesn’t understand what a Community Manager does and how that can have a big impact on the business, it can ultimately become a roadblock. This will then result in other roadblocks when it comes to communication, or when it comes to getting more budget for campaigns and tool acquisitions.

  • Lack of contingency plans: always be prepared. Make sure you have processes in place for when potential PR disasters arise, when trouble creeps up, or when your Community Manager isn’t available due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g. sick leave). This is one of the many reasons why knowledge-share within the business is important, so the knowledge and duties don’t rest solely on one person. Make sure you know what to do when your Community Manager leaves too. Here’s a handy list of steps to take if your Community Manager leaves the company.

Is It Worth It?

Community Management isn’t for everyone. In fact, not every company has a community, and not every community has a Community Manager. A community isn’t something that happens, and not every brand is lucky to have one.

Take for example analytics company Tweetbinder: with over 2.5k followers on Twitter, they have a community, yet they don’t have Community Managers per se; they’re structured in such a way that anyone in the business can manage the account as and when they prefer.

On the flip side, you have a big company like Apple, with over 31 million Facebook fans, yet they don’t have a community but an audience. Either way, how you’re going to manage your community is entirely up to you. This will have an impact on how your brand is perceived, and whether you end up with a loyal community, or a listening audience. And, as Chris Brogan eloquently puts it:

RELATED: A Guide to Community Management & Phil Collins