Why community management isn’t really new

Everybody is talking about community management these days and newcomers sometimes struggle to grasp the concepts behind this practice that’s burst onto the online marketing scene. What separates community management from social media marketing? Are Twitter followers a community to be managed? How does community management translate into profit?

These are all relevant questions and answering them will help you get to the core of what community management actually is. But the first important thing to realize is that community management isn’t really new; it’s been around for a long, long time. The only difference in recent years is that communities are finally flourishing online and marketers are cracking the code to purposefully build up and mobilize them on behalf of businesses and products.

Let’s consider what a community actually is. What are some communities we all know from before the digital age? There religious congregations, neighborhood organizations, fans of a particular team or even a particular sport and many, many more. What do these examples all have in common? Several things, in fact, but one element, in particular, makes all of the communities: complete strangers being brought together in cooperation around a shared interest.

In religious communities, that shared interest is faith and, basically, the morals and rules that govern life and the universe. As we all know, this is a particularly powerful common interest, but one that can be broken down into countless smaller denominations, each of which forms a community inside of a community. Neighborhood organizations share the interest of maintaining a clean and safe neighborhood while sports fans care about their team winning and sharing the good and bad times with other fans.

These same principles can be applied to brand communities. Let’s examine the Nike brand as an example. Of course, no one is going to believe in Nike gear the way they have faith in a deity or root for Nike’s success the way they would for a sports club, but they can believe in the values that Nike actively promotes and the persona it creates for itself: fitness, health, high performance, invigorating physical challenges and even a sense of adventure and accomplishment. When you buy Nike, you aren’t just getting a pair of cool shoes, you are pushing yourself to achieve more and tackle life head-on.

Communities of the past tended to grow somewhat organically (even religious missionaries can be thought of in many cases as individual activists from within the community) but today, communities like Nike’s are grown and fed with purpose and direction. Nike’s community managers help promote the values that bring strangers together to cooperate under the Nike umbrella (and buy its products). Nike hosts and promotes fitness events for its community and gives them tools to connect and communicate with one another in workout groups and apps that share your running stats.

As we can see, communities are nothing new, they are simply being pursued with nuanced understanding and purpose in a way they never have. But what about community management specifically? If communities in the old days developed naturally, who were the community managers?

Well, pre-internet community managers probably didn’t see or understand themselves as such. But they were community managers nonetheless. A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a bar. “What can I get you?” asks the bartender. “A pint of whatever we can give our followers to make our faith more valuable to them,” they reply. Religious leaders have been some of history’s most organized community managers, bringing believers together and communicating messages that connect them more intimately with their faith. True, these messages sometimes included intimidation and fear, but it worked.

Clergy members throughout history engaged in philanthropy, resolved disputes, forgave sins and threatened followers with eternal damnation all in the name of the building and maintaining a community surrounding their religion. To varying degrees, all communities have had community managers, they just wouldn’t have labeled themselves as such.

Now brands can see that community management is essentially tapping into an ancient, biological need among human beings to coalesce and cooperate around common goals and interests. This new perspective on communities is allowing businesses to not just attract customers, but entire groups of engaged individuals who believe in what a brand does and produces, becoming advocates and a trusted base for business along the way.

5 interesting stats about brand communities

What’s all this hype about brand communities? It seems like a lot of extra work for little gain. Why put in all that effort to build a community of people who might be interested in your product but spend most of your time and resources discussing things that are only vaguely related to your business? Doesn’t this fall into the counterproductive category?

Well, there are plenty of reasons what it doesn’t. You expect your family and friends to be there for you when you need them and that’s what a brand community is to a business, not to mention between members. The brand community is your base to build on, and it’s made up of people who believe in what you believe in. Still not convinced? Here are a few interesting stats that show the power of brand communities:

1. 30% of consumers follow brands on social media

If you want to reach your audience where they are, there’s no better place to do that than establishing a strong brand presence on social media. According to Global Web Index, one-third of consumers actively follow brands on social media. Perhaps a clever post made them laugh once, or maybe they get useful information about products they own or future sales by subscribing on their social feeds. These are people actively engaging with brands – definitely the mindset you want in your core audience.

2. Almost as many use brand communities for research

Nearly the same number of consumers use brand communities to get information, solve a problem or research what brand of product to buy. Without a strong community of your own, you’re missing out on an opportunity to have interested consumers find you. This is all about availability. If people can’t find you, how will they know about you?

3. 80% of marketers say brand communities has increased traffic

Hubspot statistics show that an overwhelming majority of marketing experts have enjoyed significant increases in traffic because of their brand communities. Think about it. The content you share in a community is being shared with people who you already know are interested and are therefore likely to click through, not to mention share it with others. By providing added value to a targeted group of individuals, you are extending your reach and bringing more attention to your brand in the best way possible.

4. 80% of consumers choose to follow brand they feel are authentic

What we choose to follow and engage with on social media platforms is somewhat indicative of our priorities in life, and no one gets very excited about an inaccessible, unfriendly company. Building a strong brand community requires authenticity, but also produces authenticity. You are making yourself available for interaction and showing in one way or another that your goal isn’t to sell a product or service, it’s to positively impact lives through your service or product. There’s a big difference.

5. 64% of brands say their communities have helped them make better decisions

But brand communities aren’t one-sided relationships. While consumers get the kind of interaction they want from a company, you get to enjoy an easily observable pool of knowledge and public opinion that will help you improve your business and your product. The community is your safe place, where you can ask for input, discuss possible futures and take note of reactions before aiming for a larger audience.

Building a community may seem like a bit of extra work at first glance, but dig a bit deeper. These stats and many others are proof that these communities are no trend. They are the most effective way to establish a base of customers and then spread the word from a place of stability. Isn’t that the dream of every business?

 

How brand communities can help in a business crisis

One of the best reasons to keep yourself surrounded by a strong and carrying community is to have the support you need when you need it most. People often turn to their religious communities if they’ve lost a loved one and homeless people go to soup kitchens for food provided by the community in times of need. That is also one of the greatest benefits of keeping your brand community close at all times.

Imagine you’re in crisis mode. You’re in the grips of a PR disaster or sales are plummeting as complaints emerge about one of your core products. What do you do, release an official statement? Consult big data and industry experts to try to find where you went wrong? Stay silent and try to ride out the storm? Maybe. But a brand community opens up several other options. It can help shield you from the worst effects of a crisis and get you back on track sooner than planned.

Brand communities are an extension of yourself – well, sort of. In a time of crisis, they can certainly be thought of as an extra arm, another tool you can leverage to do some damage control. Ideally, this same characteristic of brand communities will help you prevent crises from arising in the first place, but shit happens.

How does a brand community function as an extension of yourself? Well, think of it as an external, organic PR department, effectively multiplying your workforce and ability to spread the message you want to get out there. You can send an official statement out into the void and hope customers see it and are convinced, or you can channel your message through your brand community, where participants are already on your side.

In some cases, you can even ask the community or specific members directly for help in defending your cause. They’ll help you make your case online and show the world that you’ve still got a base of loyal customers. Not only will they help spread your message, but they’ll also be more convincing than any statement you could make thanks to their completely independent status. They aren’t trying to sell anyone anything. They’re just sharing their experience and telling everyone why they still think you’re the best at what you do – like a recommendation from a friend.

Your brand community is essentially the most powerful influence you can have online in case of an emergency. Not only that, they can give you ideas of the best ways to respond, improve a product or change behavior to get yourself out of the hole. They are the trusted bridge between yourself and the rest of the world. Use them wisely.