Gone are the days when we talked about the importance of Community Management and why every company should hire a ‘kick ass’ community manager to keep the opportunities flowing its way.
The least we can agree on nowadays is that efficient management of online communities is one of the pillars of any strategy’s success. Companies are competing over the quality of customer experience and the value of online communities is becoming clearer as the years pass.
The victory of Donald Trump in the elections can only support this statement while teaching us about what community management can do for your business.
The goal here is not to get political, of course, but to study more in depth where community management is standing right now in order to forecast the upcoming community trends
So let’s have a look at what’s happening right now and see if your practices are in phase with the best ones.
Where Community Management is right now and what you should know
Building a successful community is challenging. It takes hard work, patience, resources and smart decisions. But to nurture it continuously and to know where your community needs to go, you have to first understand where you are and how you’re standing in the whole process.
Keeping up with the latest trends is what will let you know if you’re in phase with the current scenery and will keep you competitive in the marketplace.
I referred to The Community Roundtable’s annual State of Community Management (SOCM) to have some insights and came to realise that there were three takeaways.
Quality matters more than quantity as communities mature
A lot of people think that the more engagement the better. It turned out that it was not true. Discussions, replies, etc are not necessarily a sign of community satisfaction and an active community is not necessarily a healthy one.
It’s rather the quality of engagement that makes the difference when it comes to creating a highly engaged community.
The Community Roundtable found out that while the best-in-class communities didn’t have more engagement than the average communities, they were the ones generating higher value to the community. They commit a significant amount of time, energy and expertise to the community and report a higher return on investment (ROI) than the overall sample.
What should we learn from all this? Pure activity metrics alone do not capture the overall value of community even if quantity of engagement plays a role in community success.
Lasting behavior change requires more than transactional investments
Communities that thrive are the ones with preparation, rules and playbooks. For a community to succeed it needs to engage advocates, educate stakeholders and develop governance structures. Mature and successful communities usually define shared value, build roadmaps and commit resources in order to create programs to inspire and reward the preset engagement.
According to the Community Roundtable, best-in-class communities were more likely to have specific policies defining their community conduct and desirable and unacceptable behavior.
67% of best-in-class communities had community playbooks and only 37% of average communities had guidance for their members. Best-in-class communities also had regular community audits and approved crisis plans.
So the trend seems to be this: anarchy does not breed community and preparation is key for community success.
Moderators, administrators and community managers have to be consistent in operations with far higher levels of community playbook adoption, specific policies and governance structures. By being prepared in advance you’ll always be ready for what comes out of the blue and keep the community running smoothly and seamlessly.
You need a strategy to succeed
The most successful communities rely on a strong strategy to take decisions and initiatives. When it comes to community content and programs, less is more.
The Community Roundtable found that the best-in-class communities are outperforming their peers when it comes to community programs even if they all have the same frequency of program.
Why is that? Well the answer is strategy! It turned out that 94% of mature communities have an approved strategy and are succeeding in creating a sustainable and growing community.
We should learn from that that all communities should connect their content and programs to their strategies so the strategy aligns the community and the business goals.
Programming is what will connect your members around common interests in ways content production alone fails to achieve.
What are the upcoming trends?
To best serve one’s business and communities, a community manager needs to stay ahead of the curve to envision what the future digital landscape holds.
With new ways of communicating emerge new technology. So when we think about the community upcoming trends we automatically think about what’s coming next with technology. When comparing and analysing these trends, I came across a lot of articles and research talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI), bots, automation, voice-activated assistance and so on. Plenty of futurists focus on them to draw the landscape but community management is about communities and will always be.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t revolutionise our ways of communicating or integrate new tools; but using new technology and relying on it solely won’t guarantee the success of a community management strategy.
Organisations are starting to realise that they are actually communities. The work has to be done internally (within the organisation) as well as externally through the organisation’s online communities. That leads us to the next point, which is that all management is community management and everyone is the community manager of their own personal network. Connections between users and with customers are becoming more intimate and immediate and conversations are moving from comments to fast-moving chat rooms.
So for communities to succeed in employee experience and therefore in customer experience, they’re moving towards platforms and instant chats as they thrive on immediacy and blur the divide between online and offline.
And if we take a look at the landscape of community platforms, we’ll notice that many social platform vendors have made headlines these past few years and are still doing so. That doesn’t mean that only the vendor will carry you to success; it’s your strategic vision that will. The effort is still consistent and the challenge is still persistent.
As community managers are innovating and looking for new ways to approach and build their audiences, immediacy and intimacy are relinquishing user control. Users are becoming more powerful and are actively participating in making decisions within communities. Digital communities of the future will function more collaboratively.
Some businesses are already leveraging social platforms to make key decisions. We can have a look at LEGO for example to see that it has established its LEGO Ideas community to tap into its consumer base for set ideas.
They are improving their product development cycle through online communities. This values the user’s opinion, builds a highly engaged community and makes the business more approachable and human.
Empowering your community and speaking to it as you would to your investors is the inflection point at which the community is getting closer to a mature and a highly engaged one.
So what should community programs do in order to adapt to these new trends?
The key takeaways for success
For community managers to succeed with their online communities, they first need to keep what they are already doing with regard to successful and highly engaged communities. Then they need to better adapt their methods to perfectly meet the upcoming trends.
Data is important but value metrics are priority
As challenging as this might seem, community professionals need to work more on intelligent reporting algorithms and not stick to analytics, measurement and reporting. They need to think “value” and “progress”.
Technology alone isn’t the answer
Technology makes finding, connecting and communicating easier but it can’t solve human problems. Community professionals need to understand what technology can and cannot do so that they allow it to succeed. By taking the long view, organisations will need to spend equally on management resources as well as on technology so that communities can reach their potential.
Provide consistent resources to meet goals
Sometimes community managers find themselves in a position where they can’t meet the expected goals. Even if they work on a detailed roadmap and establish their action plans they fail at executing it. They know what technology to use with this customer, whom they need to collaborate with for that specific project, what content to produce for that client, what report to run for that stakeholder and what advocacy program to work on for their team. Most of the time community professionals don’t manage to do that because they don’t ask for needed support or because the organization doesn’t provide consistent resources. So in the future, community managers need to make closing the gap between stated goals and resources a priority.
Studying online communities more in depth is what will bring you one step closer to succeeding in managing them.
Even if there is still a long way to go for some companies, online community strategy will always be a powerful differentiator for them.
Companies who have invested time, resources and efforts and have figured out how things work have gained strategic positions within their marketplace.
This shouldn’t be overwhelming but rather streamlining the importance of drawing a strategy related to a company’s business goals to facilitate success.