Getting Started with Community

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In this blog I will cover the top 3 things to consider before jumping into community management  with both feet.  Whether you are a community manager or a team of professionals contemplating if building communities are right for your customers and your company, these basic steps will bring you closer to a clearly defined community playbook.


Identify your target audience

Step back for a moment and think about your target audience. It does not matter if they are your customers, or just a group of people with whom you share a common interest. You need to know who they are and how they consume content. Here are the most basic things you should always know about them:

  • What age range are they? 
  • Which geographic region do they live in?
  • What language will work best for the majority of your audience?
  • Preferred device for content consumption and engagement?
  • What is your trust level with them?

Overall, having answers to these questions are going to give you insight into their online behavior. For example, if your audience is teenagers (I am using this as a wide age range, say 12-22 years), you know that they are likely very tech savvy and spend most of their time on specific social media channels such as Snapchat and Facebook. Millennials might be on Twitter instead, yet both age groups use their mobile phones extensively. In this case, developing a new community platform may not make sense, since you can use the existing platform your audience already uses. You can engage them directly where they are already comfortable. If you do chose to build a new platform, you will have to make sure it’s mobile friendly and maybe even need to have your own app.

Note: It is ALWAYS the best rule to engage and build your community on the platform they are already using. If there is no such spot, then you can build a new platform to bring them all together. Incidentally, that might also mean that you found a niche market to fill – Great news for you!

Purpose of your community

You need to identify the purpose of your community. You can do this even if you have not decided yet that you are going to have one. If you are starting a community, what is the benefit of it to your audience and to yourself (or your company.) In our industry, the most common purposes include these 5 dimensions:

Support is the  most common and widely adopted objective that I have seen so far. These communities help cut cost for customer support through case deflection. Some independent research studies actually say that solving a customer service question on a community platform or on social media costs between $0.10- $0.65. If you compare that to the “traditional” support channels of email ($2.50- $5.00), call centers ($4.50 – $6.00) or with live agents starting at $12 per case on average, you can see the appeal. (I will explore this specific topic in another blog.) Great examples are Xbox communities or their Twitter channel.

Product feedback and Ideation is another great dimension of communities. The ones that come to mind are Dell’s Idea Storm, Starbuck’s Ideation community and Lego’s product suggestions. All these communities are dedicated to collecting feedback and innovation suggestions from customers.

Acquisition is the third most typical community goal and often also includes customer retention. We refer to these communities as super-user or ambassador communities. The aim is to build a network of independent advocates that promote your brand and products in their own right. It’s like free marketing (except it is not quite free).Great spaces to check out Xbox Ambassador community or EMC’s Elect community.

Content and Engagement are the more rare forms of communities. Content communities are places where people come together to share content that will then become a product for the market. In simple terms, crowdsourced content is the goal. Great examples are Wikipedia,  Github, or Airbnb. When you build a community where your goal is engagement with your audience, just for the pure reason to be in touch with them, then you are building an engagement community. The CMX Hub Facebook community is a great example of a community built on a public platform. Here, like minded people come together to exchange knowledge and engage with each other. Another good example would be Sephora’s community, where customers get together to share their make up wisdom on a purely interest basis.

Ultimately, what you have to keep in mind is that none of these goals exist on their own. If you have a very mature community, all 5 dimensions will be present. Sometimes one dimension is just stronger than the rest together. For your own sanity, I recommend you choose one to start with and focus on it until your community becomes self sustaining and strong enough to introduce new features.

The reason why I recommend analyzing your community goal ahead of getting started is because it will define the following aspects:

  • Ownership of the community (which department the CM should belong to)
  • Scope of community manager’s role and time investment (whether full time, part time or contractor)
  • How much it will cost to launch your community (Do you need an enterprise solution, an open source solution, or just launch on an existing social media platform)
  • The kinds of content you need to offer to entice members to join (videos, blogs, forums, etc.)

Business Value

Last but not least you need to consider what value the community brings to your business. Are you willing to mobilize your internal teams to give focus to communities? When I say value, don’t think of $$, think more abstract. Are you gaining more share of voice in the market, do you raise your customer satisfaction by helping more people…. and so on.

I have often seen companies jumping on the trend wagon of launching communities without actually having a clear goal in mind. Most don’t understanding what value the community will bring to the business or their users. What’s even worse, they launch a new space and expect this new space to grow and prosper without dedicating any resources to it. A community is a multi-departmental channel, it’s not a side project! You need a dedicated person to hold all the reins in one hand. You are either all in, or all out! If you are not all in, then your community will not survive and prosper. Heck, even if you are all in, it might still fail.

Ultimately you need to have to choose your platform wisely. Then you need to have a content strategy that includes all departments in your organization who create content. Lastly, you should create engagement programs for  your audience to keep them engaged even when there is no official content for them to consume. Don’t create a community of feast and famine. Serve your customers’ needs first, not your own agenda.

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