Community is a long-term slog…

I’ve been wanting to cherry pick some of the info from my community management (mostly startup-focused) classes and share it here for a while. For starters, here are five top-level tips to help guide your community strategy below. Expect more over the coming months.

1) Be honest about your product roadmap

Number one: stop leading your community on about bug fixes or sought-after product requests!

You’re wading through the tickets on UserVoice or Get Satisfaction, pasting the same response to hundreds of people about the one query. “Our engineering team will be fixing that soon. Thanks for your patience.” you say, knowing fully well the team’s recently pivoted and focused on building the future product. Wrong approach! This isn’t a way to build trust. In the long-run, your users will be more frustrated being strung along than knowing the truth. If you’re never going to fix something – be upfront about it! It’s all about managing expectations…

The other day, I noticed a discrepancy in my unread message count on LinkedIn (i.e. an annoying red notification saying ‘One’ was present event though there was nothing in my inbox). I submitted a query and got a quick reply mentioning they were aware of the glitch but it wasn’t a priority for the team to fix. Understandable yet fast forward a couple of days and it was gone. A nice surprise since I wasn’t expecting it to be.

While community managers often have little say in informing product decisions and updates, it is important to fight for your user’s wants internally. You’re the one at the forefront of the company listening to people every day – don’t forget you actually understand a ton about the state of affairs. Engineers often forget the relationship a user has with a product depends on how polished and trustworthy it feels. If you have bucket-loads of bugs that are taking up 90% of your support queries, communicate it clearly to them (see point three below). Set aside a day here and there (some call it their ‘Fix It Friday’), and get the team onto the crucial backlog.

2) Get everyone across support

This one reminds me a little of the Undercover Boss show. A lot of a community manager’s role in an early-stage or smaller company is support. Morning after morning, you’re going through messages about complaints, flaws, suggestions and even ones about how much people love your offering. It’s like a snapshot of the market’s sentiment right in your inbox. That’s valuable data, which should be communicated to the wider team. The thing is, coming from your mouth isn’t quite the same as from a user’s and no one else is chatting directly to them daily like you. Enter the notion of ‘Support Camps’. Every once in a while, get everyone in your organisation to answer support queries. ‘Pair support‘ by their side if some of the responses need lengthy training. The aim is for your team to get an insight of what’s happening out there beyond the office doors. Zappos do this well.

3) Customise your language to who you’re talking to

I take a community-centric approach to business. A community manager is often the only person internally (not including accounts!) who deals with all departments (we still can’t decide where it should lie) as well as being a face externally. Tech, sales, users, HR, marketing, PR, etc. – you should frame your communication in the perspective of who you’re dealing with. If you’re wanting to try a new approach to content, chat to marketing about how it’s going to increase visits or sign-ups. If you’re wanting to get a bug fixed, chat to engineering how much time they will save you – quantify it, referencing how the update will increase productivity.

Don’t do a Google+ Local when it comes to external language – they call their power users “Super Users”, and send emails from addresses named “Outreach”. Softer, humanised terms are better. Yelp has the popular Yelp Elite program, SoundCloud has SoundCloud Heroes and we have City Ambassadors at The Fetch.

4) It’s not offline or online – it just ‘is’

It’s funny that companies hire ‘offline’ and/or ‘online’ community managers. In the past five plus years, events and local meetups have become increasingly important in growing a healthy community. (Sometimes the community will do it directly themselves, like the Instameets and Igers/Instagramers events for Instagram.) I believe there is neither offline nor online – it’s just one big real life soup. Everything’s integrated. Community managers should have the option to own or inform both.

5) Set metrics early on

Some community (or social media) managers tend to do an average job of managing their time. It’s easy to get lost in a Facebook or Twitter vortex, thinking those extra likes or followers gained made a difference. I hate to break it to you, but often, these things have little impact on the bottom line. And as much as we hire community managers that are great people people – at the end of the day, if you’re employed by a company, you are there for business objectives. There’s a lot of volatility in startups and I sometimes hear from technical founders struggling to understand the impact of their first non-technical employee. If you set and measure clear metrics from day one (i.e. around community growth and referrals, retention, engagement, etc.), this will help to close the expectation gap.

Have I missed anything in the first top five tips? Leave a comment below!


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