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Managing and engaging with your community

Conversations with your community

One of the most discussed start-up success stories is Uber, the ride-sharing service operating globally from its San Francisco headquarters. Founded in 2009, the company grew rapidly to over 100 cities worldwide and was valued at $17 billion earlier this year. Dovetailing into its expansion strategies, the company is on a hiring spree – predominantly for two roles, operations and community.

The importance of community engagement is a foregone conclusion. It is a crucial growth component for businesses of all sizes. In an increasingly experience driven and co-creation led economy, excellent community engagement is a brand’s utopia. As customers converse online through social media platforms, companies have realised they cannot be absent from conversations taking place around (and about) them.

Everyone from big brands to start-ups and not-for-profit organisations are recruiting community managers and outsourcing to community architects to help shape their online narrative.

Although community management is one of the most rapidly growing jobs, the core role expectation isn’t new. People have been managing communities for as long as businesses have existed. However, the nuances of managing conversations online in an always-connected world where customers are more empowered than ever is a more recent development. Humanising the brand to make it fit into said customers lives is new.

Macro trends shaping micro conversations

Macro economic trends such as maker movements, collaborative consumption, crowdfunding, co-development, design and collaboration are shaping how we live and engage with the world around us. These trends are giving birth to niche communities of like-minded people interacting to share ideas, innovate as a group, fund, support each other and function as market spaces operating with lower costs and better economies of scale.

E-commerce website for handmade and vintage products Etsy is possibly one of the best examples of a collaborative community. There are other niche communities cropping up by the thousands every day around the world. Technology and technological advances are allowing people and companies to offer solutions at lesser cost and higher profit margins than before. For these brands and others already in the market, the opportunity exists in turning online communities into possible research centres, mentoring networks, stakeholders, funding sources and market places. Doing so intuitively and with authenticity is the tricky bit.

Active engagement, not just likes

The last few years have seen community management and even social media strategy equated to sourcing more likes, followers and comments. Many brands have used a broadcast approach without actively engaging with their audience and are now realising the true potential of listening to community members every day – not just when they complain.

Managing a community has moved from the online realm into the physical one as brands humanise themselves and try to fit around different customer touchpoints. We work and live outside silos and our networks are following suit. As technology becomes more pervasive and omni-present, brands and individuals are trying to connect with people where they are, instead of waiting for them to come to a portal or store.

People in turn want to partake in things that matter and be part of a change they want to see. Community managers are not just responsible for acquisition of followers, but also helping the audience by inherently making lives easier for them. Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus is a brilliant example of a brand helping its audience of female entrepreneurs by connecting them through meaningful dialogue.

Experience driven integration

Marketing function of big businesses, small start-ups or even non-for-profits has evolved the last few years. It is now more experience driven and integrated. Where, in the past, people purchased products because they liked, desired or valued it, more purchases these days are being made because the product is an extension of the purchaser’s personality. Effective community dialogue is an amalgamation of knowing both audience and the platforms to connect to them.

This is giving rise to a new breed of expert community managers such as CloudPeeps who are helping companies by listening to conversations and intuitively creating narratives around facets connecting brands and their products / services into customers lives.

For start-ups and young companies, here are a few simple tips on community management:

  • Align the community you want to build around your core values.
  • Don’t confuse community management with online advertising. It is NOT about getting 500 likes leading to quick sales by end of month.
  • Start small and don’t be in a rush to grow. Meaningful communities hold more value in the longer run.
  • Remember every member counts and make each of them feel privileged.
  • Create a platform where members can talk to each other.
  • Provide value to the member. The community is about them and not you. Value could be in form of relevant content, inspiration, connections, and helping make lives easier for them.

How we do business is changing on a fundamental level. Our customers are more inclusive than ever in our research, strategy and rollouts. Businesses that engage with their communities early on will stand to gain in future when these changes get cemented into the very fibre of our beings.

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Renata Cooper

Renata Cooper

Renata Cooper is the founder of social and ethical investment company Forming Circles. Committed to empowering people and ideas, through Forming Circles, Renata has invested in over 100 local and national businesses, individuals and organisations since its inception in 2011.

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