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Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about why community management is different altogether from marketing, citing some of my experience as a community manager. In this post, I’ll get into what makes for successful community management (while sticking to the theme of keeping marketing out of the mix!).

Value the 1-to-1 Personal Relationship (And Write Like You Do!)

Even if 200 community members might be reading your forum posts, it should still feel like they were written for one person. While I hate the word “authentic,” it’s probably the only word that describes how I feel about conversing with people in your community.

Even now that I’m in marketing, I still try to write “authentically” and conversationally; no one speaks like a robot or a character out of Downton Abbey. Why should you write that way? Especially when you’re speaking to people whose attention you already have!

To give you an example, there’s a real difference between your generic, could-be-any-community response of:

“We value your feedback and strive to provide our community with the best experience possible within our next product release.”

And this:

“Hey guys – we’re going to do our very best to hustle to make sure this gets implemented in the next fix (because I know it’s been something that’s come up a lot recently in the forum threads). In the meantime, reach out to me with any questions on the next beta and anything we haven’t covered here.”

The first response feels like marketing to a faceless audience, while the second feels like a community manager engaging with his or her audience in a conversational tone, a tone you can use because you’ve been in the trenches with them and know what makes them tick. And, believe me, people can tell the difference. As one of my community members put it best: “I should [expletive] be able to tell bot-generated content from something that an actual person interested in the content wrote.

It can be hard to keep the 1×1 relationship feeling going as your community grows into the thousands and your staff is stretched thin, but a personalized email to check in with a community member or a quick Skype goes a long way, especially once you’ve established that you’re one of them.

Be Transparent and Genuine

Some of your senior community members are so in-tune with your products and services that their knowledge sometimes rivals – and oftentimes surpasses! – that of your employees. So, when you skirt around an issue, give a very political (marketing-esque) or half-assed/faked-enthusiasm-sounding answer, or worse (the cardinal sin of community management), lie, you may as well go over to Reddit and try marketing there (see how that goes!).

Your community will see right through BS. I know. I was called out by one of my community members very early in my career. It makes you feel really crappy.

Your community is sharper than you can ever imagine. If you don’t have an answer to something (or only a BS answer), it’s better to be transparent about the fact and let people know you’ll come back with an answer. Otherwise, you’ll face a community that feels slighted and talks to one another more than you think.

You don’t want to see what an already very passionate group of people looks like when you’re on their bad side!

Recognize Work Well Done…

Communities are perfect for organizations without a lot of budget, because, quite frankly, recognition of community members goes a long way and doesn’t cost anything. That may sound kind of cheap, but, to be honest, you would be hard-pressed to find a person who wasn’t honored to be recognized for their contribution, winning the praise of their colleagues (or fellow community members) in the process.

You don’t even have to send swag if you don’t have the budget (though it always helps – community members love free t-shirts!). I’ve made community members’ days by sending them a handwritten thank-you note signed by the entire community management team. It’s the little things that often count the most when you’re effectively managing a community.

If you are tempted to mingle marketing and community management, try marketing the hell out of your community members by shining a light on the high-performers (make them forum moderators, dedicate a newsletter to them, etc.). You’ll find they will step up and become your biggest brand advocates.

… But Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome After Recognition!

Yes, community members can be the biggest brand (or service) advocates on the planet, folks who will jump through hoops to say how awesome your company and community is. Does that mean that you should badger them with surveys and “charity work” because you know you’ve got them wrapped around your finger? Hell no!

Unfortunately, a lot of companies still treat their community like a nameless, faceless mass, and that’s a mistake.

Remember, while they may be your biggest “street team” on the planet, they still have lives of their own and precious little time. If you’re going to make an ask of your community, make it an opportunity for them.

For example, “We want you to give us your ideas for future projects,” doesn’t sound nearly as good as inviting someone to become an “Advisory Board member who can influence the direction of the community.” Along with clear objectives guaranteed to get buy-in beforehand, give community members real value for everything that you ask of them.

Oh yeah, and free t-shirts.

Thousands of Mini-Marketers Not on Your Payroll

Let’s face it. If you treat your community members like human beings, refrain from shoving marketing down their throats, reward them with recognition, and, most importantly, consistently listen and follow up, you’re going to have brand advocates for life (and, in my case, lifelong friends, even).

Even in a digital age such as ours, positive word-of-mouth marketing remains the gold standard. By being mindful with community management, you will have effectively outsourced marketing to hundreds of passionate evangelists – your very own “Spiceheads.”

Keep the marketing in the marketing department, and once your users or customers are on board, keep your mouth shut, do a whole lot of listening, engage, nurture, react (appropriately), and dispense t-shirts freely. That’s real community management.

Image Source (Creative Commons): davidd.

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