10 Best Practices for Managing Online Communities and Driving Engagement

In the current day and age, online communities have become a crucial component of a brand’s marketing strategy, especially in the past few years. These communities serve as platforms for users to connect, share knowledge, and discuss their interests, all of which benefits brands. Therefore, understanding the best practices for managing online communities and driving engagement is important for any business operating today.

Why Online Communities are Important to Brands

While online communities are a great place for people to connect with one another, it does not just benefit the users. Online communities also play a vital role in building a brand. Some of the ways it helps build a brand include:

  • Fostering connections between a brand and consumers
  • Providing a place for users to give feedback
  • Enhancing customer loyalty
  • Increasing brand visibility
  • Encouraging brand advocacy
  • Helping establish a positive brand reputation

It is a powerful tool for any brand, and one that provides valuable insights into the products and services ultimately responsible for their success. That is why actively engaging with and managing the communities is vital to long-term growth and success.

“If you are a brand that aspires to have influence and authority in your space, building a thriving community is key. But it’s not going to build itself. You have to set a strong foundation by encouraging connection, serving valuable content, and creating a mission they can get behind,” says Rudy Mawer, CEO of Mawer Capital.

Best Practices for Managing Online Communities

There are many ways to go about building and managing a community, and the best strategy might change depending on the type of community, its size, and the platform used. However, the best practices below are applicable to a wide range of communities and will help brands of all sizes build better, stronger communities.

Set Clear Goals and Objectives

There is rarely a strategy that begins without proper planning, and the same should be true of an online community. Before doing anything else, it is essential to establish clear goals and objectives. Here are some general considerations to take into account before starting an online community:

  • Purpose and Goals: Define the community’s purpose and establish specific goals, such as customer engagement, gathering feedback, or offering support.
  • Target Audience: Identify the demographics and interests of your target audience to ensure your community caters to their needs and preferences.
  • Platform Selection: Choose a suitable platform, considering user-friendliness, customization options, and your existing digital infrastructure.

Determining all of that ahead of time will help guide your community management efforts and ensure that your activities align with your brand’s overall objectives. You can also get a head start on understanding the type of content you will put out, the guidelines and rules, how you will onboard members, and a moderation strategy.

Establish Guidelines and Rules

Allowing a community to grow without proper guidelines and rules is asking for trouble. Therefore, you will want to set them ahead of time, ensuring that any members who join understand what is expected of them.

Create a clear code of conduct, outlining acceptable behavior and the consequences for breaking the rules, and be sure to communicate these guidelines to all community members and enforce them consistently. A lack of consistency hurts trust, which will undermine any other brand-building efforts.

Encourage Active Participation

Although a large community is great, engagement and active participation are vital to getting the most out of it and keeping people around. That is why it is important to encourage members to actively participate, which you can do by:

  • Regularly posting relevant and engaging content
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Initiating discussions

Additionally, consider organizing regular events, such as webinars, live chats, and contests to keep members engaged and coming back for more.

Another thing to keep in mind is consistency, which is just important when it comes to content and events as it is when enforcing the guidelines and rules. Your brand’s engagement and participation drive engagement from users, and failing to remain consistent will likely lead to an inconsistent community.

Be Responsive and Supportive

Nobody wants to join an online community to hear nothing from the brand or community leaders. Once again, consistency is king, so you should be responsive and supportive. Actively monitor the community and promptly respond when a member asks a question or posts a comment.

Providing prompt and helpful responses will help foster trust and demonstrate your commitment to the community and its users.

Foster a Sense of Belonging

Another best practice for managing an online community is to create a sense of belonging, which will help in driving engagement. Some of the ways you can foster a sense of belonging include encouraging members to:

  • Introduce themselves
  • Share their experiences
  • Connect with others

While it might seem like an extension of encouraging active participation, it requires a more personal touch. That is why you should personalize your interactions with members. Additionally, acknowledging specific users and their contributions to the community will go a long way.

Empower Members

Some of the most successful communities are those that give the members a sense of ownership, which in turn promotes participation and improves loyalty. Therefore, an effective best practice is empowering members to contribute and participate by providing opportunities for them to take on leadership roles, such as:

  • Moderating discussions
  • Organizing events
  • Creating content

You can then use the things these members do to foster belonging by recognizing and rewarding them for their efforts.

Mawer says, “Online communities are not a one way street. You should use your community to empower and spotlight members, to give them a voice and purpose within your brand. By encouraging them to share their thoughts, feedback, and useful content, you build trust and rapport, two things every successful brand values.”

Leverage User-Generated Content

The value of user-generated content (UGC) has been discussed, but you should leverage UGC as much as possible, using it to drive engagement and create a sense of authenticity and trust. From basic discussions to articles, photos, and videos, they are all valuable contributions.

It is worth considering putting together contests and challenges as a brand, giving members a chance to submit their creative contributions for recognition or prizes. In addition, collaborative projects can also bring a community together in a creative way.

Monitor and Measure Success

Do not guess at how effective your efforts are. Instead, measure the success of your community management efforts regularly by monitoring and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs you might want to pay attention to include:

  • The number of new members
  • Engagement rates
  • User satisfaction levels

The data should be used to refine your strategies and make data-driven decisions. Just know that the KPIs you track might differ based on the community or platform.

Foster Collaboration and Networking

Collaboration is great for projects and getting users to create content, but there are other ways to foster it. For instance, collaboration and networking can be encouraged by doing things like:

  • Creating sub-groups
  • Hosting networking events
  • Promoting member-led initiatives

Fostering collaboration is a best practice because it helps build stronger relationships within the community, in turn driving long-term engagement and loyalty.

Adapt and Evolve

Nothing stays the same, especially online. That means adapting and evolving the community and your management strategies based on feedback and trends. It will require regular assessment of your community’s performance, and you will need to closely listen to member feedback.

By paying attention and implementing changes as necessary, you will ensure that the community remains relevant and engaging for its members for a long time to come.

According to Mawer Capital’s Rudy Mawer, “If you can learn anything from the fall of fashion superhouse Victoria’s Secret, pay close attention to the changing attitudes of your community. It can save your business. Sentiment changes from generation to generation and even season to season.”

Final Thoughts

Managing online communities and driving engagement is a challenge, but by following these best practices, it becomes easier. If done properly, you can build a thriving community that benefits both your brand and its members. Remember to set clear goals, establish guidelines, encourage participation, and continually adapt your strategies to ensure your community’s ongoing success.

Spencer Hulse is a News Desk Editor at Grit Daily. He covers breaking news on startups, affiliate, viral, and marketing news.

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