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Community management for startups: why you want to create a community and how to work with it

Community management for startups: why you want to create a community and how to work with it

17 Mar 2021

We are all well aware that nothing is free. I’m not going to argue with this but “not free” does not always mean you pay money. Sometimes it’s just a strategy that costs money, but after you test and scale it, the result will come naturally. I’ve recently written an article about UGC, that is unique and free content users create for brands. Today I want to share how to work with the community — active customers that are loyal to the brand who can bring great benefits to the company for free, getting satisfaction, networking and, possibly, new experience in return.

Startup Jedi

We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.

A bit of numbers

Community helps the company to receive feedback from consumers quickly and conveniently, and vice versa. According to a Canadian marketing agency Sensei Marketing Inc., 86% of Fortune 500 companies report that communities provide insight into customer needs.

72% of retailers collect feedback from their customers through communities, and 67% of retailers are looking for new product and service ideas there.

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What is community management?

Community management is a system of actions to create a community around a brand and constant interaction with its members.

Community — bringing together people with common interests — is far from a new phenomenon. Ancient Greeks regularly gathered in a certain place to discuss what interested them, share knowledge and opinions. In the Middle Ages, there were also closed interest organizations, whose members paid to attend meetings and followed community rules. In the 19th century, closed communities already existed in various directions: for the military, sailors, notaries, politicians and scientists. Later, communities were replaced by fan clubs and subcultures. And now almost any company and any project can create their own community. The main thing here is to make efforts and build processes.

Distinctive features of the community are not only common interests, but also participants’ desire to communicate and interact with each other, which means there must be channels and tools for interaction within the community. For example, groups in social networks where people are united only by subscribing to a certain public are not communities, since the participants do not know each other and do not communicate. Social media groups are an example of an audience. At the same time, the chat of your house in Telegram or Viber is an example of a community: people have a common interest (to live in comfort, to be aware of news related to house maintenance), a desire to communicate (at least to keep in touch with neighbors) and a communication channel.

When it comes to business, communities are external (customer communities) and internal (employee communities). When deciding to create a community, it is important to understand what role it will play, what the brand will achieve with its help. Some companies may not need community projects as such.

Why does a company need a community?

Building a brand community is one of the marketing trends, because a cohesive, active community is:

  • fast-scalable way to spread news about your company (guaranteed traffic);
  • free promotion;
  • communication with loyal customers;
  • generation of free and unique content;
  • a source of new, non-trivial ideas;
  • a platform for testing hypotheses and new product versions;
  • a stock of a variety of resources — — from human (the community unites people with different professional and life experience) to applied (the ability to find the right company, person, service, expertise through “six degrees of separation”).
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When you need your own community

The community as a tool will be useful for a startup if the product has to do with:

  • Soft. Unite geeks, developers, QA engineers, product managers and motivate them to communicate with each other. For you, this is a platform for testing a product with an interested and loyal audience, as well as a resource that allows you to attract expertise and new employees. An example of such a community is the community of Microsoft and Facebook. It is important for a brand to keep its most interested audience and use their expertise. In order for people to not feel left out, do not lose motivation and do not leave, regular conferences, meetups and other theme events are held for them.
  • Product that people use for a long time. For example, everything related to housing development (see the example above with house chats), new car models, gadgets: it is important to maintain communication with customers, to receive first-hand information about possible screw ups in your new products and bugs that appear after a certain period of time.
  • Databases and user content. In this case, the community is a source of original content, a resource that can help you promote the right topics and look for the right people.
  • Various kinds of games (mobile, desktop, cybersport). Working with the community will allow you to get new ideas and collect feedback on a new product.
  • The work of large brands. In this case, it is an opportunity to increase customer loyalty, coverage, and get additional resources when it comes to working with the external community. As for the internal community — the team — working with them helps to motivate employees and makes them more satisfied with the results of their work.

Lego Case

LEGO Ideas finds ideas for new construction sets through its community. A community member from any country can propose their concept, which will then go to the vote. If the idea gets 10 000 or more votes, experts will consider it. The best constructor idea will be implemented. When launching a new constructor, a brand tells about its creator — often an ordinary member of the community.

There is also a section with community members profiles on the brand’s website where they share their work. The company conducts thematic contests for its community, where you need to assemble a constructor on a specific topic and the winners receive prizes.

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How to create a community

First you need to determine whether your project needs a community, and if so, why. Think how the community will help the company, how you will interact with it, and what you will offer to your community members.

The initial challenge in building a community is to unite active customers around the product / brand and the problem it solves and then tackle that problem together. Customers in the community are full-fledged participants in the process of product improvement, although the key decisions, of course, are made by the company. In turn, the community has a clear vision of what each member gets from communicating with the brand.

The path to follow when creating a community:

1. Analyze the audience: what people you already have and what you need. The basis of the community is caring and active users of the product. Taking into account the distinctive features of your audience, a communication channel for the community is created - — this can be a Telegram chat, a closed group on a social network, a forum on the project’s website, or another platform like Pikabu or Twitch.

The choice of a communication channel for a community is also influenced by the budget that you are willing to spend on creating a community and interacting with it, the availability of certain tools and functionality.

2. Develop a plan for working with the community. The general plan is for social networks and other channels (mailing lists, website forum). Write down actions, events, content plan in it, set a time frame.

An individual plan is a template for interaction with each potential community member. This is what an individual plan of interaction between a company (represented by a community manager) and a community member might look like:

  • direct message;
  • nvitation to a community (a group in social media, a messenger chat or a forum);
  • introducing other community members to the story / experience of the newbie;
  • invitation to a private meeting;
  • invitation to test a new version of the product;
  • invitation to join the jury of a competition / event.

It is also advisable to build a system of how many community members you have at each stage (like you send direct messages to 20 possible participants; 2 “old-timers” were invited to the jury), and how much time a person spends at each “stage”.

3. Personalize your work with the community, create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere inside it.

Meet active community members in person (those who comment under posts or in chats). DM them, introduce yourself and share how you can help, show interest in their experience and field of work. Collect this information in your database so that you can then know who to contact for expertise or with a request to test a new product.

Make the community atmosphere as relaxed, trusting and constructive as possible.

Participants should understand that their involvement and opinion are important for the company. To ensure this, it is important to address all community members by name (see the “Personalization”), to know who specializes in what, who works where, tag those who can share relevant experience in the comments under the posts on certain topics. To unite the community, try to have internal jokes that only members can understand.

It is also important to keep an eye on the “trolls” so that they do not cross the line. Don’t forget about tracking negative, claim management and managing criticism of both the brand and the participants.

Manage discussion topics to maintain a constructive atmosphere. It is important to avoid flooding, too many offtopic posts and comments, to introduce rules for publishing posts for authors, if your channel allows community members to post.

4. Attract influencers to the community. Create a list of famous people (bloggers, celebrities, politicians, businessmen), detailing their experiences. Try to get in touch with them: add them to friends, make acquaintances, and then tag them in posts and comments. Such people can answer a question, tell their audience about you, raise the profile of the community and motivate other participants to be active.

Red Bull Case

The core of the Red Bull community is athletes, musicians and dancers. The brand holds various sport competitions for them, ranging from basketball to golf. Athletes participating in the community become brand ambassadors, there’s a special section on the brand’s website featuring their achievements. The company also has projects for music lovers, those who are keen on cyber games — for example, there is the Red Bull Gaming Spheres in London where cyber games are held, and the venue can also be rented.

5. Engage community members in the processes that matter for your business. Ask them to help you with looking for project experts and specialists, fact checking, or simple translation into a different language. Initiate discussions.

6. Distribute branded products to community members. Give them stickers, pens, notepads at offline events with the community, give away more valuable branded products like T-shirts, backpacks and umbrellas on platforms where you communicate with your community. It will motivate people, make them feel involved, and also tell their friends about your brand.

7. Organize regular online and offline events (lectures, meetups, workshops, board games, theme parties, discussions). Become part of the leisure time for your most loyal clients, part of their life.

8. Collect analytics on the work of the community and improve it.

The community cannot do without KPIs: track monthly and quarterly how the community is growing, whether it is fulfilling its tasks, whether it is moving towards achieving its goal. Note the features you didn’t think about before starting the community. Track data on conversions, engagement, reach, reposts, likes, attendance at key events — both for the community and for the brand audience.

Based on the data obtained, make hypotheses about your community and test them. Implement the best ones.

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Requirements for a community manager

You need to have a separate specialist to manage the community, so if you decide to develop your own community, include the costs for the new position in the budget.

A community manager’s job description is something like the work of a PR manager, an SMM specialist, a psychologist, an HR specialist (especially when it comes to the company’s internal community), and a business evangelist all together. Unlike, for example, an SMM manager, a community manager does not work to expand the brand’s audience, but to increase the number of active project participants, create connections between them, and motivate them to participate in the project.

The specifics of a community manager’s work depend on the product and the characteristics of the company. In game projects, community managers work a lot with UGC — unique user-generated content that fans of the product create to share how happy they are after, say, getting past another level in a game (check out our article to find out what user-generated content is and how to integrate it into your marketing strategy).

If you have the product that the client will use for more than one year, meaning active audience involvement is important (you may need, for example, to get a consultation on functionality or exchange opinions on certain features), the community manager actively works with the chat / forum, monitors possible negativity, collects feedback.

The most common tasks of a community manager include:

  • interaction within the community (maintaining a conversation, motivation for discussion, replying to comments, moderation, working with tags);
  • developing content strategy;
  • organizing online and offline events and activities for community members;
  • collecting feedback on the product.

What should a community manager be like? Typically, an extrovert with high emotional intelligence. Soft skills are important for a community manager. They need to be able to communicate (make acquaintances, engage people in discussions, motivate them to share their experience and opinions), be polite, return the dialogue to a constructive track, be stress-resistant.

Analytical (tracking community KPI metrics, formulating and testing hypotheses, scaling) and organizational (conducting events and activities for community members) skills are also important. Community managers also develop and build a network of partnerships with other communities, media and brands.

They know exactly how to work with social networks and content, how to work with statistics and analytics tools, can develop editorial guidelines, develop a tone of communication with community members and stick to it.

You can see how effective your community manager is by the growth rate of your community, how active the participants are (email open rate, coverage and involvement in online communities, traffic on the site, participation in events).

Little lifehack: it is better to take a person who has already worked in the company as a community manager: he knows its specifics, audience characteristics, product strategy.

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To sum up

Community management can become an affordable and free opportunity for many startups to find new ideas, test product trials, collect feedback from a loyal audience, and increase your reach and influence. A number of studies have proven that communities work and deliver real value.

When you start building a community, you need to understand what role it will play for your company. Having decided on the goals, rely on a specialist (especially their soft skills — the ability to communicate, build partnerships, smooth conflicts) and strategy. The latter should be based on personalization, content, benefit for community members and collecting feedback.

 

 

17 Mar 2021

 

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