Community. We all crave it, now more than ever. Brands and organizations thrive on it, which is why leaders are always looking for ways to foster connection and a sense of belonging, with both their employees and their customers.
Organizations can connect with audiences across countless platforms. But this can come with its share of risks, including being inauthentic, inconsistent, or defensiveness in the face of criticism. Any of these can amplify seemingly small snafus into large-scale problems.
So how are successful brands navigating this ever-evolving digital landscape?
By building their own, unique digital communities with clearly defined spaces for their external and internal audiences.
Investing in individual community players – be they customers, employees, followers, ambassadors, or partners – helps humanize brands, minimize risk of negative online engagement, and reinforce stakeholder value. And it all starts with a plan.
finding your community
The first step in creating a robust brand community is creating a community management plan.
What type of plan you develop will depend on your business’s goals. Do you want customer feedback to improve your service? Are you looking to increase your following and broaden brand advocacy? Or is better communication – both internal and external – the end game?
David Spinks, a community management expert and founder of CMX, developed the SPACES Model, which provides six examples to help businesses decide which plan (or plans) best suits their needs and goals:
- Support: clients and employees alike answer questions and solve problems for each other – like through an online chat function, for example.
- Product ideation, innovation and feedback: clients share ideas and feedback, solicited by the company, to drive innovation and product improvement.
- Acquisition and advocacy: ambassadors and advocates use their own following to drive awareness and growth for a business (think anytime you’ve seen #ad or #sponsoredpost in your Instagram feed).
- Content and programming: here an individual’s content makes up a company’s product. An example is Airbnb, wherein the company’s value is created by the people who join their sites and advertise rental properties.
- Engagement (external and internal): businesses use social media and platforms like slack to improve brand awareness, strengthen relationships with fans, customers and followers, and build connections between employees.
- Success: users share best practices to improve products and expand the customer-base.
How you approach your brand’s digital channels will vary widely depending on where you land in the SPACES model. That’s why it’s critical to be clear from the outset, before finding yourself in a community management crossroads.
building your community
Once you’ve identified what plan is best for your business, you can begin to build your community. A strong foundation can be built from these guiding principles:
- Know your audience. Identify the group, or groups, of people with whom you want to connect. Are these customers? Employees? Both?
- Find your voice. What does your brand sound like online? Bold and brash? Calm and confident? This is your brand position. Landing on a tone and style will allow you to consistently guide conversations, answer questions and solve problems.
- Choose your platforms. Go back to your audiences. Which channels are most used by your target demographics? Meet people where they are at.
- Communicate (regularly). Make a schedule for when you will be posting so your followers can begin to rely on and expect to hear from you. Reply promptly to messages. A simple “Thank you for letting us know” (and a follow-up action) can stop a small fire from turning into an inferno.
- Stay positive. Sometimes online conversations go off the rails. Be ready to meet criticism head on, authentically and with empathy. It’s the fastest way to nip escalating situations in the bud – while staying on brand. Simply listening to the problem, responding quickly (and not defensively) and offering a solution can change an upset customer or employee into a satisfied, long-term brand product ambassador.
- Check-in. Don’t be afraid to ask your audience what they want. Creating two-way conversations humanizes your organization and can even foster connection between followers – all contributing to a robust, positive and thriving online community.
The best community management policies are based on trust, openness, and a belief that both your clients and your employees can be your best advocates.
Are you looking for more help to develop a community management strategy bespoke to your brand? We’d love to help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect.
THANKS AND CREDITS
Our thanks to David Spinks for his permission to re-share the SPACES model. Photos by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash, Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash, and Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash.