Interacting with customers and fans in a community is becoming ever more important, whether via social media channels or on company-owned platforms.To get off to a good start, people in charge of community management need to understand the platform and enjoy using it. Influencers can help make the transition even smoother.
How community management can be both successful and fun
The Social Media Atlas 2020 found that nearly one in five social media users aged 16 and over in Europe is a member of a company-owned digital customer community. According to this study from the communications consultancy Faktenkontor and the market researcher Toluna, 47 percent of social media users, who are not currently members, would consider joining a community in the future. Women, young people, opinion leaders, and professional influencers are groups often found in customer communities. Many companies offer these platforms, also called "on-domain communities".
Brick and mortar shops in prime locations have an important advantage over online businesses offerings goods and services on the internet. Physical shops can grab the attention of people walking past with cleverly decorated window displays. On the internet and social media channels, however, the brands need to be found first.
The following can help a brand be found:
- A search engine optimized webshop
- Landing pages with snappy texts and appealing images
- Always up-to-date and relevant content on the website
Potential buyers need to become aware of the products on their customer journey. Being present on appropriate social media platforms can help. But only those people who understand the mechanisms of social media will be able to build relationships with fans and (potential) customers.
What can companies aim for with their community?
- Improve visibility
- Strengthen the brand
- Build trust
- Improve company image
- Establish expert status
- Improve customer service
- Turn fans into customers and strengthen customer loyalty
- Gain and keep satisfied and loyal customers
- Become a Love Brand
- Generate and use user-generated content
- Strengthen employer branding
- Conduct market research, present new products in advance, generate data
How can you build and maintain a community for your brand?
- Be present on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn
- Establish a group on a social media platform like Facebook or LinkedIn
- Be active in online forums
- Develop a company-owned community
The advantage of having your own (on domain) community is obvious. Instead of being dependent on the rules and algorithms of the big platforms, you are the provider and define the framework yourself. In other words, you run the show and the platform serves as a content hub for your content. The visibility of the content is not subject to any algorithms and no posts are going to get deleted arbitrarily. Furthermore, such communities offer a wealth of data about customers and their interests and preferences.
Step by step to an online community
What are the best steps for building a community? Think of the approach as like attending a party or event. When you first meet a large group of people you don't know very well or not at all, you may be reluctant to start a conversation. As the evening progresses, you'll get to know other people, introduce yourself, and get into conversations. Apart from a few rare exceptions, most people wouldn't enter a room and immediately start telling their story or introducing their products.
How can I apply this to a social media platform?
- Step 1: Look around and listen intently, this includes observing what the competition is doing
- Step 2: Learn about features, customs and algorithms
- Step 3: Make your first contacts
- Step 4: Respond to other people's content
- Step 5: Talk to fans
- Step 6: Post your own articles, participate in challenges and stick to a "trial and error" approach
- Step 7: Enjoy it!
- Remember for the future: regular performance analysis is key
How do we get started on a new social media platform?
When you're starting out on a new channel, it helps to find employees who know their way around the platform. If videos aren't your thing, for example, you should be looking at LinkedIn or Twitter and not TikTok. A sound start can be made easier by working with influencers who are already successful creators on the platform. If their fanbase overlaps with your own target group, the result is an excellent win-win situation. These cooperation partners need to be chosen carefully; pay attention to their professionalism and willingness for faithful cooperation. A fair agreement with appropriate fees and exclusive content should be a matter of course for a good partnership.
Instead of limiting yourself to high-priced online stars, you can also consider micro-influencers with a suitable focus. They often have huge engagement rates, a top target group, and a high trust factor. Their brand loyalty and credibility are considered particularly high and they know many of their fans personally.
Online meets offline
Successful and sustainable community management is important in the online world. Nevertheless, you shouldn't forget the analogous space with personal contact. Exclusive on-site events for influencers and brand fans can strengthen a community. Such events don't have to be expensive. Being invited to the company's headquarters and gaining insights that "normal" customers don't get is already an attractive reward for loyal cooperation partners.
Communities sometimes emerge in places you'd never expect. Take any national train company, for example. When you arrive at a party late and explain your train was stuck on the tracks for an hour, it usually triggers a lively discussion. Passionate drivers and train haters immediately tell you about nightmare train journeys they've experienced. You'll rarely hear about someone's comfortable journey with a good meal in the on-board restaurant but stories abound about broken-down air conditioning systems.
But this impression is deceptive, there many train enthusiasts out there. Some of them are almost walking timetables. If you want to see this in action, you can ask a question on the Facebook page of any large train company. It's highly likely you'll get a quick and helpful reply from someone in the community, especially outside of service hours. This kind of community is incredibly valuable for a company.
Successful customer communities in Europe
The TchiboCard Community in Germany is a particularly wide-reaching example of a successful community. Members have been enjoying exclusive promotions and product tests for coffee and many other products for over four years.
If you publish your favorite cake recipe, for example, you can have the community review it. If your recipe gets enough Likes from other members, you'll receive a "Top Community Chef" badge.
The chocolate manufacturer Ritter Sport, known throughout Europe with variations on its "Quality in a square" slogans, belongs to the Love Brands category. For several years now, the company has been asking customers for suggestions and letting them participate in the development of new products. Chocolate fans vote on new recipes, product names, and packaging or submit their own suggestions.
On the Ritter Sport blog, chocolate fans are ask to vote on a regular basis, for example, to decide which texts should appear on advertising posters. These are displayed twice a year in large railway stations. The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. The company gets feedback with minimal effort and thus free market research. Moreover, the fans feel heard and involved.
Community management on TikTok
A platform like TikTok offers completely new possibilities to bring a community closer to a brand. On the one hand, this includes hashtag challenges that, ideally, give the creators a lot of freedom. On the other hand, remixes and the duet function allow creative interaction with the company's content.
But the basic premise of the platform and its algorithms make interaction more difficult. In other words, if you want to rely on TikTok for your community in the long term, you have to keep convincing the members with your content. The size of the community is less important than the current content. Because: content finds users! This means that even a little-known player can achieve a wide reach - and vice versa.
Risks and mistakes in community management
An existing community needs to be maintained. You need to create high-quality and relevant content over long periods. As a community manager, you should regularly get involved with the community and not leave it to itself. Keep an eye on your "heavy users" and cooperating influencers. An essential part of community management is to look at posts from members, react to them, and communicate with people on special occasions (e.g. birthdays).
As a company, you're responsible for the discussion culture in your community. It's not advisable to take a passive approach here. Watch out for the negative sides of building a community in the form of trolls and hate speech - and react with a sense of proportion. Instead of deleting inappropriate comments, and if the platform allows it, it might make more sense to simply hide them from view. But when community members leave potentially criminally relevant comments or make racist remarks, however, that's where the fun and games stop.
Community management in a nutshell
One quality is especially important for building and maintaining successful communities: being a good listener! Those who get involved with and appreciate their community can look forward to feedback, recommendations, and loyal customers. But remember that a community isn't an advertising channel. It's a constantly evolving organism that allows relevant and creative content to be experienced and exchanged in a spirit of trust.