Formation of communities is one of the many ways that distinguish humans as social creatures. Communities generate and preserve a common set of value systems that are important to the group. This creates a sense of belonging, dedication and commitment essential to a successful community.
Members often need inspiration and a reminder of their shared goals and values. This is why a healthy community builds morale and motivation through consistent engagement. A healthy community, like a family, doesn’t looks to suppress criticism or deny flaws.
Smart companies buy into the importance and value of using online and in-person communities to drive their business and brand. They hire interesting sounding titles like an Evangelist or Community Manager to serve as the main interface. These professionals spend their time engaging and collaborating with the community. They strongly believe that how a company engages with their community is a major factor in long term success.
The truly successful Evangelists and Community Managers live by two simple rules. These rules allow them to tap into the collective energy of a community to improve their company’s brand and market position.
1. Become a Part of the External and Internal Community
Successful Evangelists and Community Managers engage, embrace and extend their external community. Any company that only leverages online community tools enjoys the simple benefits of a push-based social media strategy. However, having a blog or a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Linked in is only good if you are able to support it.
A smart Community Manager starts by finding out where the bulk of their audience is. Once this is understood they can begin investing in a smart engagement strategy. This means you won’t spread yourself thin simplify for the sake of being everywhere your audience may be. True success is going beyond simple social networks and becoming an integral part of the communities where your customers spend their time.
As an active part of the community, Evangelists help to provide a sense of identity, security and a consistent interaction point for all community members. Website visitors need to know that there is someone at the other end of the community who’s listening, who will respond and engage; the Evangelist fills this role.
Successful Community Managers immerse themselves deeply into the community to create lasting and meaningful relationships. This includes bolstering a constant and useful dialogue designed to keep members informed. Not surprisingly this leads to valuable community-driven insights on everything from simple website changes to new products.
Successful Evangelists work towards the long term success of the company through contributions to the internal community. In the near term they provide useful and compelling engagement data and customer feedback. A Community Manager knows if they can’t track an engagement and tie it to the overall goals of the company there is something wrong. They use the data for tracking but also helping the company understand what the right questions may be and delivering what the community needs. They become an essential go-to person for customer feedback.
2. Engage and Engage Some More
An Evangelist knows that dismissing anyone in their audience isn't going to get their community work very far. Dictating instead of offering choices and acting like the audience doesn't matter won’t work either. Why would anyone return to a community knowing they are going to be ignored or have their contributions not be appreciated?
Building a stronger community, just like a family, means first being open, honest, transparent and paying attention. For example, user generated site activity (such as a simple count of the number of hits on a site) doesn't translate into a community. Being able to demonstrate regular, consistent and sustained engagement is the core of a healthy community.
The best communities coalesce around leaders and those leaders inspire leadership in others. Community Managers understand that tools and techniques can help with this. But often the simplest tools are the best.
For example, content curation is one of the most effective techniques to start with in order to maximize company investment. It rewards contributors, identifies influential members, keeps the conversations going, brings in new members and keeps other coming back. An example of this is to assign key engaged audience members to be responsible for specific content generation and upkeep.
As the eyes, ears and often the voice of the business organization to the outside world, an Evangelist must have passion for engaging around the brand. Passion is better than a paycheck for motivation when they deal with an inbox full of emails, mean-spirited blog comments and demanding partners. Also, they understand that just going through the motions isn't being successful. A successful Community Manager doesn't check in at 9 AM and clock out at 5 PM. Like being part of a family, it’s a 24 hour a day job. They need to eat, sleep and breathe brand engagements.
These rules are a good start for any community management initiative. A successful Evangelist lets the community develop its own personality and is willing to support what it becomes. Community isn’t about managing or controlling your peers, this is the public and they don’t work for the company. Remember there are a lot of choices out there.
A community should feel the sense of empowerment. It’s important to stand by your company guidelines, but making them too rigid will only turn people off. Communities develop from the ground up, and aren’t custom ordered, no matter how much they might need to be nurtured and encouraged to truly flourish.
Image courtesy of Mopic (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Interested in reading more by Thom? See his Content Marketing: Web Engagement, Evolved