If you are up and about, especially in the tech communities, you have often come across community managers and the most common question that you get is, what is community management?
As someone who has been a community manager since around 2012, it is probably what you might think it is and about 70% something else, but I will share what close to 7 years of experience have taught me.
With the advent of digital media today, most blogs online and people have begun to characterize community management with the growing and management of online communities, especially social media.
Whilst not entirely wrong, community management is much bigger than that. It encompasses more responsibilities than those handled by a social media manager (there’s a reason that role exists).
A community manager is a person who plans, builds, recruits, grows, and maintains a large group of people with shared interests around a specific thing such as a product, company, personality, movement, etc.
If you understand this, then you know that a community exists both physically and digitally. That a community manager must reach out and maintain communication on all planes to ensure that all voices are heard, potential leads are reached wherever they are and most of the members are happy.
The journey of forming a community today will most likely start with reaching out online through either a forum, website or social media and then form into an organised cluster or group which later materializes into something physical.
I will not dwell much on the role of a community manager since this is just a bare-bones understanding of a community and what is entailed in managing it.
So, what are some of the activities that will be involved in good community management?
1. Planning and drawing a strategy.
There is nothing that succeeds without a good plan. It is your role as a good community manager to understand the product, company, personality, or thing you are required to build a community for and create a strategy and plan.
A good plan focuses on both the short term and long term but idealizes what will happen several months from when you start. It also includes contingencies should anything not go as planned. It should include a comprehensive budget, expense plan and a deep understanding of the people you are planning to reach.
This will help you later when planning a list of activities that you have to do in order to reach your target audience, recruit them and retain them with limited resources.
2. Building and growing the community.
There is no community if you don’t have any members. Communities revolve around their members and their ideology or belief. For instance, the Apple fan communities revolve around Apple products and their belief that they are the best or more superior than those offered by the competition.
So, similarly, your community needs to have a reason to exist and the members need something to believe in. For example, if Coke was to build a community, it would be something like, “Coke Life” and they would market it as something that allows you to experience the good life.
Those that are sold to the idea will sell the community to their friends and kin, and before you know it, you will have a community growing beyond the first users.
Some organisations give the communities leeway to govern themselves and grow as wild as they want, whereas some with incredibly precise or sensitive messages will try to keep the community in check every once in a while.
Both approaches are okay, you just have to know when it is too much. Keeping a loose hold on the community at times is important because it might be closely associated with the brand. For instance, if an official community isn’t closely monitored or managed, and a senior member abuses another member or is accused of racial remarks, it can come back to bite the company.
Initially laid back organised communities like Mozilla and Fedora are also taking part in a similar approach but on a more limited scale, choosing instead to trust their members to practice self-governance.
3. Providing and collecting feedback.
I believe the most rewarding part about a community is the feedback! You have access to all this great feedback both positive and negative from your members as they partake in pure conversations in a forum or social media.
Often members may not have the time to give you feedback directly or report to you, but they can be drawn to engage in a conversation with each other based on experience – and this is picked up by your moderators, employees or community manager.
It is up to the company how it would handle feedback, it could utilize it and make changes and improvements then drop a communication to members to test the new improvements first so as to get their first-hand feedback since they are loyal customers and brought up the problem.
Other organisations go as far as to engage in the community conversation too, so as to exchange ideas and get a better understanding of what happened and the experience the member had.
Honestly, this is how most of the Linux and open source communities tend to launch new products or solve problems. It usually starts in a community group or forum, shifts to a GitHub repo or a physical event, then mobilization of resources and before you know it, new Linux version or solution.
4. Community retention.
A community wouldn’t be worth the investment if it was only temporary. This would mean that you are spending thousands of dollars attracting customers and feedback but never keeping the connection with the members. Then this wouldn’t be any different from marketing.
However, when you work with your members to understand your vision, share feedback and help you to improve your product or service, then you have a loyal customer for life who will probably never switch to the competition unless you ignore them.
You will also probably save on thousand of dollars going into marketing by instead investing a small fraction of that money into providing rewards and marketing collateral to your most engaging, hardworking, and most active members.
Think about it, you would probably go back to that coffee shop that listens to your complaints and makes changes, that asks you how your breakfast was and probably offers you a free branded mug and t-shirt for being their customer for more than 6 months!
All this might look simple but honestly, it is very hard, because community managers usually bear this work alone. Not because they want to, but because most people never understand what their role is and as such offer little to no support or offer them very limited resources to achieve their objectives.
More interesting content: How to organise and plan for a low cost community event
This insight was shared by our co-founder Lawrence Kisuuki who part time consults for organisations growing and building communities in Africa and Asia. You can connect with him through his website or LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.