More Community Management Best Practices

Following up on my recent post on community management best practices, I thought I would share some additional tips and advice – based on my own personal experiences.

Building an online community for your company and brand isn’t rocket science. That being said, there are some simple steps you can take that will facilitate growth and foster engagement with your burgeoning band of advocates (otherwise known as community members).

The five key points from my previous post:

  1. Participate where the conversations are happening
  2. Be timely with your responses
  3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric
  4. Be careful what you say
  5. Don’t ignore negative comments

Five more I’d like to add:

1. Give new members a warm welcome

It’s important to make new people feel welcome in your community, to set the stage for engagement – particularly when a community is young and growing. If possible, take the time to send a personalized welcome message to new members. Imagine how a new member will feel, receiving a message from a community host or moderator that is uniquely customized and tailored.

If you see a new member contributing to the first time, give that person some recognition. Thank them for their contribution, and try to elicit further discussion or comments if possible – perhaps that member has more to say. Showing a little gratitude will go a long way!

2. Study your community

Yes, study your community! Do your homework! Learn the make-up of your of your community – read member profiles and gain a better sense of just who has joined, and the different types of interests your members have. The more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be able to interact and converse with your community.

3. Monitor community activity and health

Be sure to stay tuned in to your community, from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Track key data that is most relevant, whether related to new member joins, commenting activity, voting activity or another metric that you value, and develop reports as deemed appropriate. Keep an eye out for trends! If your community had higher or lower levels of participation that expected during a specific period, dig in and find out why.

4. Communicate with your members

It’s important to keep members appraised of activity in the community. A regular email, if you’re hosting the community on an internal platform, can go a long way.  If you’re using Facebook, Twitter or another network, make use of status updates. Just don’t overdo it, however – you’ll need to find the communication mix that is right for your brand.

5. Keep members engaged

Provide community members with incentives for contributing. At Genius Crowds, a product innovation community I used to moderate, we provided community member with gift cards related to different types of community activity – such as posting product ideas, commenting and voting. There’s plenty more you can do. For example, if a new hot topic is posted in the community, send a personal email to members who might be interested, to let them know (this is where your homework on knowing member interests will come in handy!).

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!