This Is the Era of Digital Communities

Today’s consumers are no longer passively digesting marketing content. In this post, we will talk about the kind of professionals most small or enterprise companies lack. Digital courses or books on solid community management tactics and strategies are rare. Let’s fix that.

Empower your customers by turning them into community members. Doing so will benefit your bottom and top lines as you increase consumer loyalty, not to mention that converting your most loyal customers into brand ambassadors is a new medium of mass communication. ~ Dessi Popova

The modern customer is all about digital content; except they don’t need you to create it all for them. No, they do not just consume it! Your community members need to be allowed to participate in the sharing, creating and editing of the content.

A community expert is an absolute must for any business striving to succeed in this highly competitive digital market. The community professionals work closely with skilled storytellers. They create a heart and soul for your brand and then build a community of supporters around it. The CM’s are marketing strategists with the business development and people skills necessary to build a loyal user base that will proudly guard your core values. Think of your CM as a political campaign manager whose strong leadership skills will get you elected.

There is so much noise about the importance of community building, yet globally only a few people are getting the job done properly. It is not the social media manager’s fault. The problem is that a SM gets to wear a ton of hats and hardly has the time to be a community leader. A social media expert should not always be a community manager. Stay tuned for a post that will discuss the differences between social and community managers.

There is also one more unsolved problem, there aren’t sufficient training materials or courses teaching people how to be strong community builders and leaders. In the next three posts we will be talking about the key skills and knowledge needed to become a skilled community professional.

Good-bye Marketing Guru, Hello Chief Community Officer

Chief Community Officer (CCO) is a title you will be seeing more of in the near future. Time to part ways with the Chief Marketing orchestra leaders and welcome the multi-dimensional community officers. They are senior pros skilled in the practice of management and core business principles. They can apply these skills in a global context and have an entrepreneurial mindset that enables them to facilitate executive innovation within a brand.

I’ve got news for you. It is the end of anxiety-based marketing. Let me explain to you what this term means. You focus on an issue your audience may not have seen before. This raises their anxiety. Then, with careful timing, you reveal the solution. It happens to be a product that you have for sale. In their heightened emotional state they are receptive to the idea of making a purchase.

The modern world is personal; people want to know intimate things. Today’s consumers are smart. They demand emotional connection and genuine care. They want to know you are Earth and animal-friendly. More importantly, they expect you to turn them into the protagonist of your story. They want to have a say in your business development and would rather see you treat them with a dose of empowerment instead of anxiety. For decades, companies have made us feel inadequate in order to get us to buy. No more.

The Chief Community Officer understands the importance of letting the customers make decisions for the company. They function as a bridge between the community members and departments across an entire organization.

A Community Is Not a Tribe

Seth Godin popularized the term ‘tribe’ as a business analogy in his book, Tribes, we need you to lead us. In the book, he convinces us that in a progressively connected world one needs to find and cultivate a digital tribe, an army of followers. He says “a tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.”

In 2008 he began talking about the importance of companies surrounding themselves with tribe members and building tribes to connect with their followers. He says having a tribe is a powerful way to start a digital movement.

I love Godin’s marketing work and teachings, but I feel he went for the wrong word. I started to create digital communities in 2009 and what he spoke about had quite a bit to do with community building. So was tribe building a synonym to community building? It seems that many marketers tend to believe so. In my opinion, they are not even remotely synonymous.

I was wondering if I was the only one convinced that he didn’t go for the right term until I accidentally ran into Alan Weiss’s comment that Godin had “painted himself into a corner” with the use of a wrong term. For those who don’t know, Alan Weiss is one of the most successful consultants worldwide. He has published more than fifty books and worked for some major brands, some of which I am not a fan of, but we have to give him the credit.

It was Michel Maffesoli who first started talking about consumer tribes. In the late 1980’s he published a book called: The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. Yep, before the time of the World Wide Web. It should not surprise you, because we humans are social creatures. But, we are complex. It is easy for us to engage in acts of loyalty and cooperation primarily toward our inner circles, but we do so at the expense of people outside those circles. Our behavior is influenced by hormonal processes taking place in our brain. By nature, we seek a place of belonging. We could say that our primal instincts are tribal, but being primal doesn’t mean optimal. This is why I strongly believe there is a better way to build digital worlds, be it around a brand, hobby, interest, profession or a person.

Here is the difference…

Tribes are exclusionary, they have an us vs. them approach. Just try to get a Mac fan to get a PC. In tribes, the members of one side can often sound demeaning and condescending about the other tribe.

Building a digital tribe can bring great success to a brand. Apple is a good example of tribal marketing. But, building a tribe and a community require two very different approaches.

A tribe is focused on their ideal client. Brands who build a tribe craft a character that would appeal to their target audience. They have a very clear idea who fits in their group and who doesn’t. They are happy to have a transactional relationship with an outsider, but this is it. A flaw of creating an exclusionary tribe is that some of the leaders may go too far and push away a large segment of their target audience by over-focusing on exclusion rather than on attracting their perfect customer. A tribe environment is not ideal for social learning as it can often be limited to the beliefs of a single leader.

Communities are all about inclusion.

They are built around common interests, attitudes and goals. Their members can apply different approaches and tools, and are welcome to have opposing opinions. They are more dynamic and allow for experimenting and growth. Online communities are the ideal setup for a learning environment.

A perfect community building formula is a cross between both approaches. This doesn’t make them one and the same thing, it means that we can strategically take what works well from one and implement it into the other.

The fastest growing communities have a bit of us vs. them mentality while being open to new members. Having a highly targeted customer is a requirement for every business striving to deliver positive ROI.

The perfect digital environment is dynamic, and not a reflection of a single leader or brand. The best digital communities out there are shaped by the community members and grown organically. A community of practice is the ultimate way to surround yourself with like-minded people and to learn and progress in your personal or professional life. I apply a mix of tactics inspired by digital tribes, communities of practice and mastermind groups. A community is built by the people and for the people with the help of strategic digital leadership coming from one or more individuals.

Social Media Manager vs. Community Manager

There is an ongoing debate. Most of the job descriptions out there are confusing the roles of social media manager and a community manager. Their tasks overlap and often one person is expected to do it all. Let’s clear this up right now: these are two different roles, and they should collaborate daily. Together, these professionals are an extremely powerful force for any business.

A history lesson might help here. The social media manager role came about at the time Facebook and Twitter were really picking up speed. In early 2009 the social media manager role wasn’t popular yet, and if you Googled “online community manager (CM) ” the information that came up was mostly about residential communities. The online CM role started in the multiplayer gaming industry in the mid 1990’s.

You maybe wonder how I know all this. My community building career began in April, 2009. I was coached by successful gaming community experts and given the opportunity to lay the foundations of my own digital style in an eLearning environment. I was tasked with building a community from the ground up by applying unique techniques and strategies inspired by the massive multiplayer online role-playing games. My first virtual community grew to 200,000 community members.

Let’s identify the key responsibilities for the two roles being discussed.

Social Media Manager

A social media manager (SM) is more of a content creator and storyteller. They’re strong marketeers skilled at customer acquisition. They are actively creating content to build awareness about the brand and grow its following.

Content planning and scheduling are two of their top responsibilities. They monitor its performance and interact with the brand’s followers who are engaging with the content. This may be why sometimes a brand confuses the roles of media manager and community manager. Media managers are a frontline face, but their function is to monitor, listen and respond to users in a social way while cultivating leads and sales.

They’re often skilled at social media advertising, but this is not a must. With Facebook being one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise, the demand is high, and many SM experts wear the advertising hat, as well.

While much of their output is in writing, visual content to accompany their posts is crucial. Social media managers craft marketing messages that speak on behalf of a brand to a specific target group within an audience. They can create social media designs using Photoshop or Canva. Video creation is becoming increasingly important, as well. What tools a brand uses to create content depends on their budget and team structure.

The Social Manager’s top areas of expertise:

– Content Creation & Management
– Strategic Branding & Visuals
– Organic Brand Awareness & Paid Advertising
– Social Influence & Leadership

Community Manager

A community manager speaks to the community itself. The community manager’s main function is customer retention. I refer to them as relationship nurturers. They’re a two-way-bridge between a brand and its customers.

Experienced community professionals are goal and ROI oriented. They deal with data and communication tactics to meet the needs of its members, entertain them and help them progress in their professional and personal lives.

A community leader communicates the members’ needs across an entire organization. They ensure that the company’s interests are sought after at all times by the community manager, yet this happens in a healthy and beneficial manner in relation to the community members.

A CM should be familiar with customer satisfaction research as a way of increasing revenue; for instance, the Net Promoter Score method. They act as the voice of the organization among its customers. They make sure the brand is hearing and implementing customer feedback. Remember, modern customers don’t just consume content and services. They want to be part of the creation process.

A community manager boosts the brand’s retention rates and propels growth by setting up a healthy ecosystem in which organic word-of-mouth and a referral system can thrive.

The Community Manager’s top areas of expertise:

– Ecosystem Creation and Management
– Loyalty Management & Gamification
– Community Support & Moderation
– Leadership & Virtual Team Management

In conclusion, daily check-ins and mutual strategic planning should take place. Clear goals and metrics must be set for both roles individually. They are both representing the brand on the frontlines, each to their own purpose, but following one and the same mission.

The Building Blocks of an Online Community

Strategize & Execute: Create a simple strategic and execution plan on how to develop your digital community. What’s at the core of your community? Who is your ideal community member? Where do you want your community to go in the next six months? A thriving community is built by strategizing rather than reacting. A mistake most community founders and managers make is to log in every day and react to the events taking place in their industry and community. This leads to community maintenance, not development.

Convert & Grow: Convert people who are interested in your community subject into community members. Transform those members into active posters and community heroes. Boost your community growth by applying a conversion approach. Often times you hear experts talk about the importance of “growth.” It is not growth you need to worry about at the beginning. At least, not literally. Focus on planning a highly converting digital environment. Who is active in your community? Who would you like to see active? How can you convert more lurkers into active posters? How can you bring more like-minded people into your online community?

The Community Framework by Dessi Popova
The Community Framework by Dessi Popova

Add value & Content: What you’ll learn next you probably won’t hear from any other expert, but it will save you a ton of time and money. Don’t try to create content that’s better than your competitor’s. You’re going to waste valuable time and effort if you do. Turn your digital space into a community, not a content site. Treat it as the local TV channel and newspaper. Write about your community rather than at your members. This is the best way to get the FB algorithm to work for you.

If you are creating a social eLearning community on Facebook, differentiate between starting a learning unit and posting in the discussion area. The discussion area is where you write about your community. This is how you create a sense of belonging and attachment to a group of like-minded people.

Nurture & Moderate: I say nurture because this is what our focus should be. More often than not moderation is treated as a task where one removes all the “rotten apples” and keeps a healthy ecosystem. While providing a positive digital environment to our community members is crucial, we should remember there is more to a moderator’s role than to deal with spammers and bad attitudes.

They need to have basic pedagogical skills, promote human relationships, manage the flow and direction of the discussion and ensure the participants are comfortable with the way the community is set up and run. There is more to be said, so there is a whole unit about nurture+moderation coming up.

Host Events & Engage: Digital events bring your audiences together and boost your community growth. They create a true sense of community and belonging. They convert inactive members (lurkers) into participants. Hosting regular events is a great reason for your members to frequently visit the community. McMillan and Chavis (1986) claim this is the ultimate method to increase shared emotional connections.

Community engagement during an event has to do with providing high quality exclusive content, activities and entertainment. It’s about granting access to events packed with authentic video footage, posts, interviews, live blogging/streaming, and daily summaries.

A community event can be educational, centered around a digital occasion or an offline event.

Think outside of what you’ve seen on Facebook and get some brave ideas mapped out. Let’s talk about them and set new trends. A whole lesson is coming on this topic.

Influence & Date = Relationships: To become a community leader, you need to ask yourself, “How do I get my community members to respect my opinions?”

All community leaders have three main superpowers: content, administration and access. The community building concept on Facebook is in its infancy. Understanding the key traits of digital leadership is crucial if you want to establish a strong virtual community.

It’s about strategy. There are three ways you can go about developing it, depending on your personality. Combining the three is the most powerful technique you could apply as a community leader.

Likeability & Friendliness: Show interest in others and their problems, respect people’s opinions, admit your mistakes, praise, don’t complain and don’t judge.

Reciprocity & Cooperation: This is the social law that one action will be met with a similar action. Positive reciprocity is a trust builder and is one reason I encourage brands from the get-go to focus on establishing principles rather than rules. Show people how to act and they will engage in the same way.

Knowledge & Expertise: Go deeper and apply an analytical approach. Publish exclusive content that cannot be found elsewhere. Less is more here. Add a unique insight with every piece of content you share.

Treat each member as someone you date instead of someone you sell to. Build relationships and consider marrying your community rather than dealing with each member as a one-night stand. Remember, you’re not superior to them. A true influencer has a strong commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity.

Integrate & Add Faces: If you are a brand and not just a one-person team you want to make sure you have two sets of cultures; one is your internal community environment and one is your customer-centered digital space. Your goal is to make sure the community is delivering value to your company and your company is providing value to the community. A friendly team building space where your team gets to spend time online or offline is absolutely crucial.

You need to nurture healthy relationships both with and between your employees. Most of them should participate in your community. If your team members don’t join the community, why should your customers?

A question many business owners might ask, “Is it profitable to have my staff in the community?”

A solution is to set key metrics that give direction to employees. The metrics will also help evaluate if their presence is positively impacting the company’s ROI. To do that, you need to decide what type of processes you would want to adopt in your community.

      1. Decide what:

  • products/services to promote
  • price discounts will be offered
  • feedback to collect on products/services

       2. Following these simple steps, you would get the following key community metrics:

  • # of employees active in the community
  • # of processes implemented
  • ROI of the community

Listen & Improve = Ultimate UX: Listening to your community members will help you innovate your products/services and boost your revenue. But when you listen, you need to be smart about it. Don’t just ask what they think or want, observe what they do and analyze their behavior.

See if people prefer longer or shorter videos, whether they like written content and see how they feel about the promotions you run. Ask them what type of events and interviews they would like to see next and what they want to learn in upcoming courses, masterminds, and events.

When using a public social media platform like Facebook you cannot easily implement new features for your members to improve their user experience, although you can certainly make suggestions to Facebook and involve your community members in the process. You can make feature suggestions to the FB team. Ask your members to individually submit requests if they want this feature.

If you run your own platform, there is a whole book I could write about how you need to handle feedback and UX. Stay tuned for my first lesson on this topic.