Community Management Best Practices

With online community management still in its nascent stages, I thought I would share some observations on how companies can best participate – and nurture true, genuine affinity amongst community members. It seems that things are very fluid at the moment, with even well-established brands being guilty of missteps. Of course, that being said, there are still plenty of good examples to follow.

Here is an initial Community Management “Top 5”. Please feel free to share your own best practices by commenting on this post. I will follow up with additional posts on best practices in the weeks to come (there are definitely more than five!).

1. Participate where the conversations are happening

This goes without saying. While Facebook, with over 600 million members, and Twitter, with over one billion tweets sent per week, are the primary platforms people use – there might be many other niche conversation forums where people are talking about your company or your brand. Make use of tools that enable you to locate, track, listen and engage in conversations – such as Radian6 or Sysomos, or any one of the many free tools available (albeit with less functionality).  Using Google Alerts, with key words relevant to your brand and industry, is a good first step.

2. Be timely with your responses

Imagine that social media is like a telephone, one that your customers can dial at any time and any moment. Are you ready to chat with your customers, and answer any questions they might have in a timely manner? As a general rule, customer inquiries should be responded to within 24 hours – and ideally sooner. Yes, that means staffing the “social media lines” on weekends. 9 to 5 customer service hours can now be thrown out the window. Remember, an ability to provide timely, personable responses shows your customers that you’re listening and builds affinity.

3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric

It surprises me how many companies still view social media as a marketing “channel”, one that is focused on one-way (company to consumer) communication promoting products and services.  Effective online communities are NOT channels, they are not company-centric. Think of communities as networks of people – with participants communicating and sharing information that is most relevant to them. A great example of a people-centric community is Fiskateers.com. Fiskars is a fairly well-known brand of scissors. How can a company create a vibrant online community for such a low-involvement product category? Well … by focusing on a shared passion. In the case of Fiskateers, it’s scrapbooking!

4. Be careful what you say

Everyone is listening, everyone is watching, and people will call you out if they don’t agree with something you say. I already wrote about Kenneth Cole’s ill-advised tweet during the height of events in the Egypt. Last night, a couple of friends tweeted about an inappropriate Groupon blog post, which essentially mentioned that depression is a cure for insomnia. Huh? We voiced our displeasure for the post through Twitter. To Groupon’s credit, the post was edited by the end of the day with the depression comment removed, and I received a personal apology from Groupon on Twitter. Make sure that messaging is appropriate, and if people ever call you out on something – acknowledge and respond.

5. Don’t ignore negative comments

In most cases, the worst thing you could do is to ignore a negative comment that has been made about your company, product, service or brand. If someone made an effort to write a legitimate comment, acknowledge it – and if any issues were cited, address them.  Be genuine and open, the customer who wrote the comment will appreciate it, as will others who read your response. Openness is a great way to build trust.

There are more best practices I intend to write about … stay tuned!