In today’s world of Internet communities, perception of a brand can be shaped and changed—for better or worse—far more by its audience than through any internal effort. The concept of “viral” means less and less as the world’s audiences make conscious decisions about the images and messages they share.
A brand should instead strive for “spreadable” messaging. “Spreadable” is a more appropriate paradigm because it accepts and embraces how consumers can organically circulate a message. In internet conversations, brands are at the mercy of audiences and potential consumers, who play an active role in understanding a message and constructing meaning from it.
Despite the shift from “viral” to “spreadable,” brands still have an important role to play in the ongoing construction of meaning. In this game, the community manager is a vital player. As a community manager, you are equal parts social media specialist, content producer, moderator, and brand evangelist. You strive to understand where all of your brand’s audiences reside—from Twitter and Reddit to the most obscure forums—and the unique interests of each audience. You meet them halfway, starting and joining conversations that consumers will find meaningful and worthy of expansion. You’re a point of contact between creator and consumer, making your brand seem more human and personable by virtue of stepping out from behind corporate walls.
And with persistent availability on social media, brands might encounter customer service encounters than ever. Questions and crises are playing out on social media, and community managers are the first line of defense: mitigating concerns before passions escalate, conveying messages to stakeholders, and reading the community’s pulse on a weekly or daily basis.
With so much riding on good community management, best practices must guide their efforts, lest disaster strike. Here are six tips for great community management:
#1 Do: Map Out Your Audiences
In digital marketing, we often talk about the importance of understanding your audiences. With conversations about your brand happening in so many places and proceeding in different fashions, getting a visual sense of where your potential consumers reside is important.
Try this: Envision each platform as a block. Draw connections between blocks that share users and interests. Divide blocks into sub-blocks if smaller communities exist. Recognize where content and messaging shared in one place could spread—an opportunity to start more conversations and answer more questions with less work.
#2 Don’t: Overpromise or Misrepresent
Because community managers can become so active and occupy a compelling space of “in-the-know,” it can be tempting to take liberties with customer service and announcements. Just because you *can* offer a promotional code to a jilted customer doesn’t mean you should. Think about how such actions cause a ripple effect and change expectations in the community at large. Similarly, your audience might be hungry for new information about the brand—and releasing tidbits could generate positive buzz—but taking it upon yourself to excite the community could compromise larger rollout plans, press releases, and the like. Ask before leaping and be prepared to support your argument for why starting conversations in this way is a good thing.
#3 Do: Spend Time Inside Communities
After identifying the relevant platforms, getting a true sense of each audience’s interests, questions and passions comes next. For most brands, there will be lots of overlap—for example, your LinkedIn followers and people posting on industry forums will likely share similar interests and knowledge. Despite audience similarities, this process can be time-intensive. Only by immersing yourself in that platform can you get a true sense of sentiment, history, relationships between users, and other important considerations.
#4 Don’t: Break Company Voice & Brand Standards
Depending on your goals, community management can be very fluid and conversational, which means a higher chance of slip-ups and errors. Deciding on your corporate style, tone, and grammatical standards from the get-go will keep your communication focused and consistent, maintaining professionalism alongside your intended voice. Barring profanity and crudeness, it’s OK to adopt the voice of your communities for better identification, but decide early what that voice is and stick to it.
#5 Do: Set Goals & Choose Relevant Metrics
With community management, these run the gamut from the specific metrics we get attached to on social media—Likes, followers, and shares—to obscure measures that will make more sense for your brand. Maybe you’ll track the number of conversations or posts about a topic you introduced, conversions from social media, or sentiment through periodic polling. Decide what conversations you want to start and organically grow—recognizing the consumer’s ultimate role in how they proceed—and figure out what “success” means from there.
#6 Don’t: Ignore the Opportunity to Create Communities
I emphasize the power of audiences here, so it’s important to remember that the community manager is both brand and audience at times. As the latter, we can both join and create conversations, even on social media platforms that aren’t yet playing host to the brand. Think about how your brand can adapt to that platform—if people are doing creative things in your industry or with your product, highlight those on Pinterest or StumbleUpon. If your company has a lot of expertise, think about starting a Subreddit or Google+ Community that you could actively contribute interesting content or thought leadership to. But beware of falling into rabbit holes with no results. Take a look at your competition for inspiration and past successes—some platforms simply won’t return results that justify the time investment.