Managing social media communities can be one of the most rewarding jobs out there.
It’s an opportunity to “provide a voice and personality for an entity that normally isn’t able to express itself in a conversational way,” says Andrew Stout, a Vancouver-based digital communications consultant.
According to Hootsuite, a leading provider of social media management software, that voice emerges through engagement.
“Every brand needs to create a community that has a purpose that is bigger than its products.
“This can only be done if you focus your efforts on engagement, rather than targeting a big number of followers.”
To help you find your organization’s voice, here are eleven ways to make lasting connections with your online community:
- Post daily (at least weekdays) on the channels your target audience uses. Keep an eye out for new information, perspectives and stories that address your audience’s questions, comments and interests. You want them to feel like being part of your community adds value to their lives. By regularly sharing a variety of carefully chosen content (read: not just your own), you’ll keep your community engaged and invested for the long-term.
- Respond within one business day, even if just to say you’re looking into it. A short response is better than no response at all. Will you always have all the answers your community is looking for at a moment’s notice? Maybe not, but by at least acknowledging questions and comments, you’re showing your community members that they are valued.
- Be a welcoming host, say hello and be pleasant. “Acknowledging comments and shares is one of the best ways to make followers feel that their opinions matter,” says Calgary-based social media community manager, Wendy Zak. Social software maker Buffer adds that a hello or goodbye “could be something as simple as favoriting a tweet.”
- Encourage conversation and diverse, respectful opinions. What’s an easy way to start a conversation with your community? Look to the comments and questions you regularly receive and then expand on them. Of course, asking members to send you their own photos and ideas can “help create interactions between community members and make the whole experience more collaborative,” says Stout.
- Treat detractors with respect, let them speak if they are polite. Once you open up a conversation, you never know what kind of responses you’re going to get. As Stout says, “There are some people that are just out to cause trouble, but for others there’s real frustration or problems behind what they’re posting”. Remember that “they are entitled to their opinions, and their right to express them should be respected,” adds Zak. If you’re open to the fact that not all feedback will be positive, it will be easier to find solutions for any issues that pop up.
- Publish community guidelines for all to see what you will and will not tolerate. Having a set of posted community guidelines makes it easy to keep members informed of what’s okay and what’s not. After all, when it comes to online interactions, basic human decency has been known to go out the window. If someone crosses the line, you can easily refer the guilty party to these guidelines.
- Don’t tolerate misbehaviour, but do give people a chance to “say what they meant” just more politely. Believe it or not, R-rated, profane and offensive comments can be dealt with civilly. When it comes to these types of remarks from community members, you should “notify them that you’ve had to remove their comment, but say that you value their opinion and ask them to rephrase,” states Zak. “Any viewpoint can be expressed with respect.”
- Show humanity, personality, and (cautious) humour in your responses, don’t just cut and paste the corporate line. A personable, friendly tone makes everyone feel welcomed and connected. Nobody wants their social media feeds to be filled with corporate, ad-like posts – they want to be entertained and informed. By developing your own online voice, you establish your company’s identity. This will keep your audience coming back for more – and, if all else fails, “a liberal approach to emoji use” is always an option, says Stout.
- Correct and deflect using links from you blog or site as often as possible. More often than not, sending community members a link to appropriate resources on your blog or site makes educating your community a snap. Chances are you’ll receive the same questions over and over; this is an excellent opportunity to let your blog speak for you. Plus, bringing a little more traffic to your website never hurts!
- Monitor the conversations around your topic including hashtags, influential people and blogs, and relevant pages. Keeping your eye on relevant blogs and respected third-party sites is an important part of managing a social media community. Not only will you be able to provide your community with even more resources, but you could also build relationships with these third-party sites that might come in handy in the future.
- Set the example by being nice, not a robot or censor or propagandist. Like attracts like. If you want to create an engaged and inspired community, you’ve got to be engaged and inspired yourself. People aren’t interested in spam or robots – they’re interested in real people. Stout advises that by “translating a company’s culture and identity into an online personality” you’ll open yourself up to a world of social media success.
“Do you want to build an engaged community that interacts with your content and promotes your brand?” asks Hootsuite.
Of course you do.
After all, we live in a world where people spend more time connecting via social media than face-to-face interactions. By representing your company with a friendly, human and helpful voice online, you’ll be able to make the most of society’s technology addiction and the results will spill over into the “real” world, as well.