Community Management for Business

Community Management
Lima Al-Azzeh

If your business has customers or users, then it has a community. Though often misunderstood, community management has become an increasingly necessary and multifaceted business function and often plays a meaningful part in marketing, sales, and product development initiatives.

Simply put, a community manager’s goal is to drive genuine connections between members of the community and rally them around a product or shared purpose. A successful community manager has a blend of strong relational skills combined with a good head for strategy, communications, and operations. More often than not these days, community managers are subject matter experts themselves who are able to find and establish a common language among a group of people. 

Don’t sleep on the community management function. It’s a crucial way to engage people around your product or service. Done right, community management helps you turn regular customers into loyal, even vocal, ambassadors for your brand.

What is Community Management?

Community Management (CM) is the practice or discipline of engaging customers and end users around a brand or business. Community managers build trust with community members and incentivize them to interact with the brand, whether it’s to provide feedback on upcoming products and campaigns or to promote new offerings and services. 

Community managers often deploy a blend of online and offline programs to keep their communities active. Common tools, channels and approaches used in community management include: social media, content (blog posts, newsletters, reports), as well as virtual and in-person events. 

Community Types and Taxonomies 

It’s important to keep in mind that community management isn’t a one-size-fits-all function. Building genuine connections between people, and between a business and its customers, requires a tailored approach. That’s why you can often find community managers in many different pockets within an organization.

Orbit’s co-founder Patrick Woods came up with a useful taxonomy for business-driven communities (as opposed to, say, a community of sports fans). His approach is to, “describe the community type based on the motivation for the community members. In other words, why are they here?” 

Communities of Product

Members of these communities are focused primarily on discussing and learning about a specific product. Think: Sephora’s Beauty Insiders, Twilio’s Champions program, or Salesforce Trailblazers.

Communities of Practice

Members are all about leveling-up a discipline or craft, and connecting with other practitioners, independent of any tools or platform. The most popular example of this today is open source software. Other examples include cohort-based learning community On Deck, or design communities like Dribbble. 

Communities of Play

Members of this category come together around a common interest, like sports, gaming, athletics, arts, and more. Think gaming communities on Discord, or NBA Top Shot. 

The key distinction is what motivates these community members. Without shared purpose, you just have a group of people, not a community. It’s up to community managers to define the ‘why’ of their community. 

It’s also important that a community manager shares common interests and a common language with the group. If that connection between community members and the community manager is never properly established, or is somehow severed, you risk losing business to competitors with high gravity communities—where they’re able to retain existing customers while also attracting new ones.

Community Management Fuels the Funnel

Community can become a force multiplier for the entire business, especially in a world where software is no longer sold, but rather adopted.

Community is about rallying current and prospective customers. Done right, it can become a company’s inside track on their customer’s wants and wishes.

Here are some examples of how community efforts cultivate customer growth:

  1. Help drive awareness, adoption, and retention: Community is the new pre-sales. Let’s say your product has some kind of public online forum where people are encouraged to discuss it and post their reviews. These days, good reviews beget more good reviews. Basically, if your community and your product are strong enough, they can attract prospects of their own accord. 
  2. De-risks GTM strategies: Customer feedback is the gold of community management. What do they like? What would prevent them from buying what you’re selling? Yes, communities can, and do, act as mini focus groups whose insights can lead to critical competitive advantages.
  3. Support internal alignment: Every team has experienced that moment where there’s lots of ideas flying around but it’s hard to prioritize or nail down a direction. Again, this is where the focus group-like nature of communities can come in incredibly handy. 

The best community experiences are mostly give and a little take. Giving looks like providing community members with useful content, space to have interesting conversions and the opportunity to make valuable connections. Once that foundation has been established, putting out asks or rallying the community to support initiatives becomes part of your regular exchanges, and not just a transactional aside. 

Community Management: Avoiding the Engagement Trap 

Depending on the size of your business, it is highly likely that you’re going to need more than one type of community and community manager.  So why are many people still confused about what community management is and its value? 

Most people who consider community a “nice-to-have” have probably been focusing on the wrong things. That’s completely understandable given the multifaceted nature of the job.

Community managers use a lot of channels to connect with community members, and it can be easy to get mired in metrics. At Orbit we call these “engagement traps.”  If the community is lacking a strong north star goal, smaller details like the number of social media likes become magnified.

We’re no longer operating in a world where the primary goal is to make the sale or seal the deal. Companies are now looking to grow by building long-term, loyal connections with their customers and users. This means that go-to-community needs to be a first-class competency.

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