How to… effectively manage an online community

Most business owners are aware that a social media presence is necessary for successful brand development. But few understand what internet activity is required to secure the desired results. Thankfully then, we can offer a few insights.
Effectively managing an online community means listening to your market, adapting any social media policy or strategy to suit, and ensuring someone is always on the end of a network profile to interact with the public accordingly. We’ve shown before, in our How to… avoid a brand crisis guide, the damage poor social media management can impact. But there are some simple steps to take that can make sure your company is corresponding in the correct manner.
First of all though it’s important to understand that the following insights, which we’ve handily broken down into our ‘four Rs of community management’, apply to any platform. So that’s forums, blogs, Facebook pages, and just about any other form of internet based communication you can think of.
Secondly, know that the nature of user interaction, whether that’s positive feedback or negative criticism, is not necessarily a reflection of your social media technique. For want of a better phrase, it’s not the incoming message that counts, it’s what you do with it. So by remembering those rules, and applying the following practices, you can’t go far wrong.
To effectively community manage you need finite knowledge of who you are managing. Get to know the user base, look at how they interact with your brand, and others. Put yourself in their shoes as a customer; if you wouldn’t appreciate something in your personal News Feed, don’t think for a second Joe Public would either. Finally, make sure you know what networks the target audience uses.

Develop a robust, creative content calendar to make sure you have ideas that suit your audience’s likes and dislikes. This will also help prevent scraping the bottom of the barrel, as by planning ahead you’ll never run out of things to say. Now you need to work on getting a tone of voice that not only reflects the brand, but can be trusted by the public, and make sure every community manager uses it.
Your response to incoming comments and other online interactions is so vital that if you don’t get this bit right everything else is for nought. It goes without saying then that you can’t let customers, whether prospective or current, and their efforts to engage with the brand go unnoticed. And, perhaps even more importantly, don’t let them feel like they are being advertised or sold to, it’s very off-putting.
Like everything social media and internet related there are less rules than general guidelines and well-rehearsed processes. As such nothing is constant, and what works for one brand on one week will not always work for another, or next year. Constantly assessing your community management success is the only way to guarantee time is not being wasted now, and three months down the line.