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The Beginner’s Guide To Community Management

In this guide you’ll learn:
  • What community management is
  • What makes it unique from other activities
  • Which tools and software you should use
  • What kind of tasks you will do on a day-to-day level and how to do them
community-management-guide-hero

If you have any questions at any point while reading this guide, feel free to ask us on:

Richard Millington, Founder of FeverBee

Richard Millington
Founder of FeverBee

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Contents

1.
What Is A Community?

2.
What Is Community Management?

3.
What Do Community Managers Earn?

4.
What’s The Difference Between Community Management and Social Media Management?

5.
Types of Community Management

6.
What Does A Community Manager Do?

7.
Do You Need A Full-Time Community Manager?

8.
What Are The Different Kinds of Community Roles?

9.
Why Do Organizations Build Online Communities?

10.
Why Do People Participate In Online Communities?

11.
How to Engage Your Community Members

12.
Nurturing Top Members

13.
Community Management Platforms and Software

14.
Community Management Tools

15.
Community Management Training, Services, Books, and More

16.
How to Measure Community Building

17.
Principles of Community Management

what-is-community-management

1. What Is A Community?

Let’s begin with a question which sounds deceptively easy to answer.

What is a Community?

Traditionally, a community is the people living in your neighbourhood or an activity group you met up with. And these are still fantastic communities today.

However, for most people who do community management at a professional level, community is about something slightly more abstract. So we need a slightly broader definition. The definition we’re going to use is:

“A community is a group of people who engage with each other around a common interest.”​​

This is a broad definition that, as we’re about to find out, lets us incorporate a lot of different types of community work.

The Four Layers Of Community Model

Broadly speaking, every community has four distinct layers. They have a common interest, a means of engagement, some form of relationship between members, and a purpose.

You can see an illustration of this in the four layers of community model below

Definition of Community​
Common Interest

The top layer is the ‘common interest’ layer.

Every community shares some kind of common interest (sometimes they only share a common interest). For example, when a journalist refers to ‘the scientific community’, they’re not usually referring to any specific group which meets in any particular location for a unique purpose.

They’re simply referring to people who identify themselves as scientists. That’s their common interest.

Many organizations use a similar definition when they refer to their customer base as a community (or talk about their employees and customers as a community).

These interests fall into five broad types of communities

  • Interest. Communities of people who share the same interest or passion.
  • Action. Communities of people trying to bring about change. Place. Communities of people who are brought together by geographic boundaries.
  • Practice. Communities of people in the same profession or undertake the same activities.
  • Circumstance. Communities of people brought together by external events/situations.

Every community must have some interest that connects them. The stronger the interest, the stronger the community.

Decision Point

What is the common interest which connects yours?

Engagement Methods

Every community needs a means of engagement.

How else would you find out about what’s going on in the community?

These means of engagement are usually many-to-many tools like social media or a dedicated forum platform where everyone can speak to everyone.

Sometimes however they’re also one-to-one (like meeting a person in your community) or one-to-many such as a following of a major influencer or media publication.

Decision Point

How will your members engage with one another?

Relationships

The relationships members form with each other vary from one community to the next.

Some believe a community only becomes a community when people form strong relationships with one another. This is what separates a community from an audience, crowd, or even a mob.

We’re taking a more flexible definition in this guide. The community must facilitate some kind of relationship between members. That might be friends, peers, colleagues, acquaintances, or even just members who occasionally visit to get useful information.

Decision Point

If your community is successful, what kind of relationships will members have with one another?

Purpose

The final element is purpose. This is the core value of the community is to members. It doesn’t mean everyone needs to be united in a singular, shared, objective. But it does need to be clear what value members get from the community.

The four major purposes of a community here are

  1. Sense of belonging. Members get to feel they belong. Members can finally be themselves. They have security and the feeling of being included as a member of a group.
  2. Mutual support. Members can receive support from others and help people with their challenges.
  3. Greater influence. Members can collaborate to have an impact on their surroundings.
  4. Exploration. Members can explore activities and ideas with each other.

The purpose of the community should match the community type.

Decision Point

What is the purpose of your community?

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2. What Is Community Management?

Now we’ve got the pesky definition out the way, we can answer a simpler question; what is community management?

“Community management is the act of growing and sustaining a community in which customers, employees, partners, and others help each other achieve their goals.”

On a day-to-day level, it typically involves initiating and responding to discussions, welcoming newcomers and nurturing volunteers, creating and curating content, and ensuring members have a safe environment in which to participate.

What Is A Professional Community Manager?

An amateur might manage a community for a hobby or even run a successful group on WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, or any other channel. You might have a successful group you run today.

A professional community manager is someone who is paid by an organization to manage a community (or several communities) for a living. 

The biggest difference between an amateur and a professional is a professional has to work within the constraints of the organization they work for.

As an amateur, you can usually do almost anything you like without having to seek permission. A professional has to represent the brand to members and the members to the brand.

Professionals usually have to ensure the brand benefits from having a community (and they’re aware of the benefits they do receive). This is a far more difficult juggling act than simply managing a community for a hobby.

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3. What Do Professional Community Managers Earn?

Community management salaries range from around $60k to $250k depending upon factors like experience, job role, location, industry, organization, and size of the community. 

Many of these factors are related (i.e. the highest salaries are typically for senior roles at major tech companies based in the Bay Area of the USA).

SalaryType of role
Below $40kHourly moderator-level work.

Moderator
$40k to $75kEntry-level role with emphasis upon hands-on engagement with members.

Community manager
$75k to $120kSenior community manager or a specialist in a particular niche.

Community lead, community manager
$120k to $180kCommunity professionals who manage a team.

Head of community, Community Strategist
$180k to $250kCommunity professionals working in senior roles within an organization.

VP of Community, Chief Community Officer

One of the most important things to remember is the community manager represents the organization to the community and the community to the organization. 

They play a vital role in facilitating information exchange and ensuring both understand each other. It’s not always an easy thing to do.

Decision Point

Are you earning what you should be?

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4. What’s The Difference Between Community Management and Social Media Management?

Is community management the same as social media management? 

Not exactly, but there are a few similarities. 

Both use tools that enable engagement with and between members of the audience. 

Social Media ManagementCommunity Management
ObjectiveHelps members with problems

Improve member attitudes towards the brand.
Helps members to help each other.

Improves members' sense of community with one another.
Key TasksCreates and shares persuading marketing material.

Responds to member questions.
Initiates discussions, creates content, and hosts events.

Encourages members to respond to questions.
Direction of interactionsOne to many.Many to many.
RoleBroadcasterHost
ImportanceSocial media manager is the key person.The top members are the key people.
Group dynamicsBuilds an audienceHosts a community

While there are clearly differences, it’s worth noting the approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. 

As you will learn as you progress through your career, there are plenty of overlaps. 

Often the same people are engaging on both platforms. Sometimes a community manager might facilitate engagement across social media channels. Other times a community might promote activities happening on social media. 

We don’t need to have a rigid separation of the two roles. Just an understanding that they typically support different organizational goals and require their own unique approach.

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5. Types of Community Management

There are five major types of community management. These are support, practice, advocacy, peer groups, and user groups. Each of these comes replete with a distinct set of challenges and key goals as you can see in this image
Community​ Building Models
The type of community you’re building will determine whether you’re acting more as a customer support person, a facilitator,  a passionate fan, event organizer, or a friend.  
  • Support. This is a community manager who responds to questions, helps people to ask questions, and encourages others to answer questions. Customer support communities often have several community managers. This is usually on a forum-based platform with a community manager in a quasi-customer support role. 
  • Practice. This is a community manager who helps members proactively share their advice with others. This might include helping members write blog posts, share videos, contribute articles to a knowledge base, or share expertise in social media. The community manager is often more of a journalist or marketer. 
  • Advocacy. This is a community manager who nurtures advocates (or cult fans) who spread the word, publish reviews and testimonials, and otherwise support the company. This is often more of an evangelist approach. 
  • Peer Groups. This is a community manager who helps facilitate close connections between small groups of peers with a strong common interest. The community manager often plays more of a facilitator role. 
  • User Groups. This is a community manager who helps run user groups for users of a particular product to connect and engage with one another. In this capacity, the community manager is often more of an event organizer. 

This isn’t intended as a comprehensive list and the types of community management aren’t mutually exclusive. Some community managers undertake all roles simultaneously. Others have a narrow remit focused upon moderation. But it does highlight the key types of community management today.

Decision Point

What model of a community are you building?

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6. What Does A Community Manager Do?

A community manager harnesses powerful psychology to bring communities to life and sustain them. Community managers turn strangers into allies and allies into fans. Every day, community managers forge new connections between members and build their community.

While the tasks a community manager performs can vary greatly from one role to the next, there are five common categories of tasks that are undertaken in the majority of communities.

These are

  • Strategy. Community managers research the audience and stakeholders to identify the goals of the community. These goals create a strategic plan which guides the major community decisions. The plan itself feeds into the specific tactics the community manager(s) will undertake and success is measured against clear targets.
  • Engagement. Community managers stimulate and sustain participation in a community. This includes nurturing superusers, managing the gamification program, initiating and responding to discussions, enforcing guidelines, facilitating events, and designing member journeys.
  • Content. Community managers create newsletters, blog posts, and articles designed to entertain, information, and attract search traffic. They also develop onboarding journeys and create the copy which appears in the community. At the top level, they facilitate high-quality contributions from other members.
  • Technical. Community managers select and maintain the community platform. They resolve minor technical issues, develop the roadmap, help nurture new features, and ensure compliance with applicable infosec obligations.
  • Business. Community managers are the link between customer and company, employee and employer, members and organizations. They gain and sustain internal support, recruit and manage staff, and manage budgets.

Frequency of Tasks

There isn’t a fixed rule about how anyone should manage a community.

However, we can share an example of the kind of tasks a community manager will undertake.

Some tasks are designed to be performed once a day, some once a week, some once a month, and a few once a year.

Once a dayOnce a weekOnce a monthOnce a year
Initiate and respond to discussions. Create content for and about the community.
Collect measurements and metrics.


Review and update the community strategy.
Outreach, engage, and collaborate with top members.
Help organize and facilitate member events.
Highlight the best of community content each month.
Evaluate platform needs and remove outdated or unnecessary areas of the community.
Remove bad content.
Read the latest topic-related content.
Organize monthly gatherings for guides to engage with one another.
Ensure stakeholder alignment on goals and targets for the year.
Promote and feature good content.
Tweak titles for SEO optimizationsReview internal search queries and update for answers.
Welcome newcomers to the community.Review a sample of support-created posts and adjust training material.
Publishing monthly community insights reports and meeting with key product managers to gather feedback.

One of the most important things to remember is the community manager represents the organization to the community and the community to the organization. 

They play a vital role in facilitating information exchange and ensuring both understand each other. It’s not always an easy thing to do.

Decision Point

What is the common interest which connects yours?

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7. Do You Need A Full-Time Community Manager?

Yes, if you’re building a community you probably do need a full-time community manager.

This doesn’t mean every community is managed by a full-time community professional. There are plenty of examples of thriving communities managed by part-time community managers. 

But it does mean you significantly increase your odds of success if you have a full-time community manager at the helm. 

Asking what percentage of time is required to make a community succeed is like asking how much time an artist should spend practicing. Generally speaking, the more the better. There isn’t a magic number of hours per week that suddenly flips a community from unsuccessful to successful.

Commitment matters as much as time

This isn’t as much about time as it is about commitment. Someone trying to juggle the community role around other tasks is trying to be efficient.
They tend to give shorter, quicker, responses to questions. They don’t check back in previous discussions to see if the problem was resolved. They don’t reach out and build relationships with and between top members. They don’t put in the extra mile of effort that makes the community succeed.

The rapid decline in commitment makes calculating the minimum amount of time required problematic. Someone who splits community with another job role is probably only 25% as good as a full-time staffer.

It’s not always easy to have a discussion about increasing headcount to support a community. However, if the community is truly going to thrive, that’s the discussion you need to have.

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8. What Are The Different Kinds of Community Roles?

The name given to the person with responsibility for the community has evolved significantly over the past twenty years.

In many of the earliest communities, it was common for the ‘webmaster’ to be responsible for the entire website – including the community. Later, as ‘community’ began to be seen as its own specialism, the title of ‘community manager’ was created for the person responsible for the community. This remains true today.

However, many in the community industry, feel ‘community manager’ is an increasingly outdated term which covers far too broad to cover the unique specialisms and types of jobs we take on. Today the term community manager can be used to cover anyone from the ‘VP of community’ down to the humble moderator.

More specialized terms are becoming popular which relate more closely to the individual tasks the community practitioners will take on.

Brian Oblinger, SVP Products at Commsor, shows that roles are increasingly specialized to particular tasks within broader teams.

You can also see the progression levels expected to grow from one level to the next. 
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9. Why Do Organizations Build Online Communities?

There are plenty of great reasons why your organization might create a community.

These tend to fall under two buckets:

  1. The ROI benefits which show how a community increase profitability of an organization. 
  2. The stakeholder benefits which show how a community can support stakeholders across the organization. 

We’ll tackle each of these.

What Is The ROI Of Community?

A community can drive a remarkable ROI for organizations (reduce costs and drive greater revenue).

You can see the common benefits shown below:

ValueHow Is This Value Achieved?
Reducing customer support costs
(scaled support)
Customer support staff don’t need to answer questions if other customers are doing it for free. Every answer can also be found via search. A single good response might be seen by thousands of people. Every person who finds a solution in the community doesn’t need to call customer support.
Learning what customers want/needA community keeps you close to the pulse of what members want and need. Not only can members suggest ideas, but you can also track data to see which topics are most popular, and what members are struggling with. This saves a lot of time compared with running a focus group. A community is also a great place to test your products and marketing campaigns before launching them to the public.
Increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction (satisfaction, NPS, retention)As members learn more about the products and get to know their fellow customers, they’re less likely to move to a competitor and more likely to keep buying from you. They’re also likely to become more satisfied with their purchase. A community can significantly increase Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer satisfaction (CSAT), and the lifetime value of a customer (LTV).
Attracting new customersCommunity members might advocate for your brand, share your content, publish reviews and provide case studies. You might also identify members as sales leads through behaviors in the community. Community content can also be integrated into the sales path which increases conversions. You might also benefit from visitors who found you via search engines signing up to be a member.
Membership fees and AdvertisingSome organizations charge a membership fee to be a member. Others sell advertising. A handful let third parties run campaigns or host focus groups to gather research. All of these directly generate revenue.
Reduced recruitment costsYou can post adverts and recruit members from the community instead of traditional channels. This is less common than other benefits but still happens.
Saving staff time and improving resultsAn internal community can help staff both share and properly document content. This stops them from duplicating work and lets them build and improve upon the knowledge within the organization. It also helps members collaborate with one another and saves a lot of time.
What Are The Benefits of Community?

In addition to the benefits that directly drive a clear ROI, a community can also help colleagues in a variety of other ways. Some of the most common are shown in this table.
StakeholderBenefits
Executives / CEO
  • Ensures the company looks innovative and customer-centric by being close to the pulse of the community.
  • Help transform the business into a customer-centric organization.
  • Identifying long-term trends.
  • Retaining the best staff members
Marketing
  • Getting great feedback to fix product problems.
  • Identifying and fixing problems/bugs.
  • Getting the best insights about (or from) customers.
  • Prioritising what needs to be fixed and in which order.
  • Identify trends by location and other data.
Sales
  • Identifying new sales leads.
  • Increasing search traffic.
  • Turning members into advocates.
  • Integrating the community into the sales funnel.
  • Collect great case studies for our sales/marketing teams.
  • Get top members publishing reviews on major comparison sites.
Marketing
  • Testing and improving marketing campaigns.
  • Sourcing great content ideas.
  • Increasing awareness of new products.
  • Gathering testimonials and use cases.
  • Test marketing copy in the community.
Success / Loyalty
  • Building a repository of all our best official and unofficial product information.
  • Increasing the number of customers who develop their first apps/make their first use of a product.
  • Helping newcomers create their first success in using your products and keeping them around is an impact.
  • Improve customer satisfaction / NPS score.
  • Build a powerful sense of community amongst our customers.
PR
  • Early warning system of potential PR disasters.
  • Develop use cases and interesting stories for journalists.
  • Capture a desirable demographic of participants.
If you’re doing this professionally, you should be very clear about your goals before you begin.  Knowing why you’re building a community doesn’t just help you align your entire approach to ensure you achieve your goals, it helps you motivate yourself to get through the difficult times along the way.
Decision Point

What is the benefit of your community?

What Makes A Community Approach Completely Unique?

If you’re a business, many benefits of a community might seem similar to things you’re already doing.

Your customer support team is already answering customer questions, and your customer success team is training and guiding them through the product. You’re probably already doing research to learn what your customers want.

So why bother with a community? What makes a community approach completely unique?

Two things.

  1. In a community you don’t have to do everything yourself. You don’t have to answer all the questions, create all the content, or run all the activities yourself. Members step forward to do these things. This makes a community the single best approach to grow and scale your efforts to support, educate, and engage your audience. 
  2. In a community you create relationships between members. A community forges relationships that help members feel a sense of belonging and togetherness. It turns new customers into lifelong buyers and disparate friends into a close-knit community eager to help and support one another. No other channel can do that. 

By turning your audience into a community, you’re creating an environment that motivates members to do things they would never usually do – things that are incredibly valuable for you and to each other.

Few of us get home from work and volunteer to do customer support or start documentation on how to use our printer. Why would we? The effort is too high and the rewards are non-existent. But an online community flips the scales in your favor by creating powerful rewards to do these kinds of things.

By creating a community, you’re creating opportunities for members to feel useful, important, and liked by other members. You’re giving members the opportunity to become leaders in their field and feel like they’re helping hundreds, even thousands, of people every single day. This is only possible within the social dynamic a community creates.

In a community, every single person who has solved a problem can help the next person with that problem. Every person who spots a gap in your documentation can fix it. Anyone with ideas for your organization can share them and see if others agree. They can vote and collaborate on implementing them together too – and they do this to feel part of a team. The best communities even have members advocating for them, tackling every possible customer problem, and collaborating on future products they want to see.

Only a community can create the social dynamic for this to happen. No one in a community is working for free, they’re working for things which they value even more than anything you could pay them. They’re working to better themselves and feel better about themselves by helping others.

Decision Point

What is the unique value of your community?

Why do people participate in online communities icon

10. Why Do People Participate In Online Communities?

There are many reasons why visit, join, and people participate in a community (and why they don’t). The most common reasons include:
  1. Solve a problem.
  2. Improve their skills and knowledge.
  3. Increase their status (usually by helping others).
  4. Feel part of a group.
  5. Explore a passion with others. 
You can see these illustrated in the graphic below:
Member Motivation Model

However, the reason why people join is different from the reasons why people stay engaged around. It’s far easier to get people to participate once than persuade them to stick around. 

People participate in communities over the long term when they have a genuine interest in the topic, enjoy participating in the community, and get satisfaction from helping others. This happens as their sense of competence, autonomy, and connections to others within the community begin to grow. 

An important thing to remember here is only a small % of your members will become regular participants. 

The majority of people will visit, find the information they need, and leave. And that’s totally ok. Just be mindful that a huge proportion of your work will be spent supporting your top members.

Decision Point

What is the primary reason why someone will participate in your community?

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11. How To Engage Your Community Members?

Let’s break down the more frequent tasks into specific activities and go deeper into how to do each of them incredibly well.  

  1. Starting interesting discussions. This is the core work of asking questions and starting discussions members want to participate in. 
  2. Keeping conversations going. This is being able to reply to discussions, keep them going, and ensure members feel better for the contributions they’ve made to the discussion. 
  3. Creating content. This is your ability to create content (which members love) and solicit and curate content from others. 
  4. Hosting and facilitating events. This is hosting events members enjoy attending and helping them host their own events. 
  5. Engaging directly with members. This is how you privately engage and interact with members of your community in direct messages. 

This sounds rather simple, doesn’t it? But then so is a paintbrush. It’s mastering how to use the paintbrush which really sets the great artists apart. 

Each of these five skills have hidden techniques you should master to properly lead your community. 

Stimulate Activity In Your Community

If you’re running a large community already, you probably don’t need to ask too many questions or start too many discussions yourself. Your members should be doing this for you. But it can still be handy to edit and guide their questions. 

However, if you’re launching a new community or managing a small community, you’re going to spend a lot of time asking questions and initiating discussions. And if you want to receive a good number of quality responses, there are some clear principles to follow:

  1. If you want an answer, ask a question. This sounds simple, but you might be surprised how often people don’t do this. If you’re using a forum-based platform, put the question in the subject line so people can quickly scan and visit if they know the answer. If you’re using a group messaging tool, put the question right at the beginning and then provide the context later. 
  2. Be specific. Be specific in the question. Topics like “need help” or “broken iPhone” aren’t useful. Topics like “Installed iPhone update, the screen doesn’t load” is more specific and likely to get better responses. Better yet, the more specific your subject line, the more search traffic you will attract. To grow the community, search traffic is crucial. 
  3. Use multiple types of discussions. Can you imagine going to a party where the host constantly asked “What do you think about [topic]?”. After the first few questions, you would start to wonder what’s wrong with the host. Members can quickly sense if you’re trying to drive engagement just for the sake of engagement. It just feels phony. You should genuinely want to know the answer to a question and use open, closed, and hypothetical questions as needed. 
  4. Create questions with emotional rewards. Make sure you highlight how the answer to the question will help you and others. People answer questions because they want to feel like they’ve helped. The best thing you can do to increase the response rate of discussions is to increase the emotional payoff from answering that question. Don’t just go fishing for information, but highlight how the answer would help you both in both tangible and emotional terms. 
  5. Keep questions short. No one wants to read long messages online. Anything between 150 to 350 words is usually fine. Also, put the call to action (desired response) as close to the top as possible. Don’t make members spend a minute reading a post to find what you need from them. Put the question near the top and then add the context and the reasoning behind it. 
  6. Tag in people to answer. Make sure you tag (@mention) people that might have the answer to the question. It’s a lot easier to get an answer from a crowd if you point at specific people in the crowd to answer. For example “I’d be curious to hear what @person1 and @person2” think about this. 
  7. Ask questions and start discussions at a steady cadence. Don’t ask too many questions at once. If you’re just getting started, you should aim to have at least one new question in the community per day. As you grow, you usually want to initiate a new discussion when activity dips. You don’t need to plan these out for a specific day, but you should definitely have a few interesting questions to ask when you need them.

If you’re not sure which kinds of discussions to initiate, browse for existing discussions about your topic on social media, see what kinds of topics are being spoken about at events, or pull together a list from your customer support and success team. You should be able to quickly build up a list of 50+ discussions. 

Another option is to invest in a search engine optimisation tool (or try AnswerThePublic) and try to understand the most common questions people are talking about related to your topic.

Remember it’s always better to try to solicit specific pieces of information which could be useful later. Don’t ask people what they think about a topic, ask for their experiences and expertise.

Decision Point

What are the discussions you will initiate in your community?

Keeping Conversations Going

There are six great principles to abide by when engaging with members of a community.

  1. Be quick. You should respond as quickly as possible. Our data shows that members are 27% more likely to participate again if they receive a response to their first post within 24 hours. Any longer and they might as well search the web or go online. If you can reply quicker than this, even better!
  2. Personalise. Members want to feel unique. You should reference the unique aspects of their message and use the same language as they do to describe their problem. If you have shared experiences or interests, drop that into the response too. Ask further clarifying questions to sustain the discussion and gather more information. 
  3. Friendly. You should use a warm, positive tone to reply to discussions. Acknowledge the emotional struggles they’re going through. Use informal language where you can. Pick up on social cues about what the members need by the tone and language they use in their discussions. 
  4. Knowledge. Share any knowledge you have to help resolve the question. Don’t just link to an FAQ or a resource, extract the information and drop that into the discussion. Add any previous insights shared in the community. If the answers require considerable detail, use bullet points, images, and videos if you can.
  5. Connection. When possible, bring other people into the conversation. Your job is not about replying to every question yourself but encouraging other people to answer the question. You can use @mention features or drop them a line and see if they can respond. The more you do this, the more it becomes a habit for others to participate. 
  6. (if relevant) Resolve the problem, don’t just answer the question. There is a big difference between providing an answer and making the member feel fantastic afterward. Sometimes a member comes to a community with frustration and your job is to provide the answer but make sure she is no longer frustrated. You can check-in and see if there is anything else you can help them with. 

We can see the differences between bad, ok, and good responses below.

BadOkGood
Hi @name,

That’s a good question. Hopefully, some of other members can chime in and respond.
Hi @name,

Good question. I suspect some of our top members might know the answer.

You might want to check out this resource too: www.linkhere.com.

It will be interesting to see if @person1, @person2, and @person 3 can also share their experiences here.
Hi @name,

Welcome back! I haven’t seen you in a few weeks. Are your exams coming up soon?

You ask a great question. I don’t think it’s come up before.

Can you share a little more context? What have you tried already? What is the ideal outcome you want to achieve?

Just browsing through some previous posts on this topic, I’ve noticed some good responses from @person1 and @person2. I’ve shared these below.

[quote 1]

[quote 2]

They might also be able to chime in here and help. If we get a good response, do you mind if I added this to the community newsletter? I think it will probably help a lot of people.
Ultimately, the golden rule is to make members feel great about themselves. Another great example is the response by Colleen Young, Director of Community at the Mayo Clinic has given to this question:

Can you see what Colleen is doing here? 

She noticed it was the member’s first post and welcomed them to the community. She made a personal connection with her own experiences. Then she ‘@mentioned’ six other members who she felt could also participate in the community. Finally, she asked a further question to encourage the member to come back and participate in the community a second time. 

Colleen’s response seems dead simple, but it showcases the amazing power of what a great community manager does. 

You’re not expected to master all of these skills tomorrow. But you can gradually practice them and get better at sustaining discussions and engaging with members. You don’t even need to wait to have a community to begin practicing it. Practice it in your responses in your emails today and in responses to your messages. You will notice a rapid improvement in the quantity and quality of responses you get from your friends and colleagues.

Creating and Curating Content

If you’re managing a community, it’s quite likely at some point you will be tasked with creating content for that community. By content, we’re talking about almost anything which you publish in a one to many medium. For example, a news article is content, but a discussion post is not.

Tools and Platforms For Creating Content

Technically, anything that’s published on a website is content. But I’m going to adopt a slightly narrower definition for our purposes here. Content is any static, non-discussion, form of media authored by you or a member on your site. The intent is typically to inform and entertain rather than start a discussion (although there are some exceptions).

Unless your community is on a platform which only allows discussions, like a WhatsApp group, you probably have several tools for creating community content. These might include.

  • Social media posts. These are posts on any social media channels which may include text, audio, images, and video. 
  • Blogs/Articles. These are longer-form content posted by you and your members of the community. 
  • Knowledge/documentation. These are articles that are organized into documentation or knowledge shared by others. 
  • Newsletters. This is typically a curated email containing the latest news and activities in the community. 
  • Digests. This is an automated email that is sent to members who have opted in (or not opted out) of receiving it. It is typically sent on a weekly basis. 
  • Automated emails. These are emails members which members trigger based upon actions they have performed in the community. 
  • Video/photo galleries. These are curated videos and photos members have contributed to the community. 
  • Reviews. These are member-generated reviews posted about products and experiences. 
  • Podcasts. These are podcasts created for the community and contain discussions about what content is most popular. 
  • Static copy. This is the text written on your community website and in any notifications that pop-up to members within the community. 

If you want your content to be read, watched, and heard, you have to make it worthwhile to your audience. This is such a simple rule, but it’s staggering how often it’s ignored. 

Two types of community content

There are two types of content in an online community. The first is content which is designed to inform. The second is content that is designed to entertain. Both have their unique benefits.

Informative content

Informative content is content that helps members achieve their goals. The best examples of this kind of content include the following:

  1. Tutorials. These are detailed guides created by the community which highlights the best lessons learned by members. They often tackle common problems which members face. The DigitalOcean community does this remarkably well. 
  2. Case studies. Case studies encourage members to share something interesting they have done which could be valuable for other members. Any videos or long-form advice articles which highlight specifically how members resolved a common challenge or improved their results are usually popular within the community. 
  3. Analysis and breakdowns. Do a detailed breakdown or analysis of common situations members face. Be as specific as possible. Take what members are doing and do a detailed breakdown of it (what’s working well and not well?). This is similar to case studies but highlights areas of improvement as well as what’s not going well. 
  4. Templates and resources. Create templates members can use. For example, templates that help them structure their work, plan out a project or evaluate their success can save members a lot of time. Likewise, resources on topical issues can also be very useful. 
  5. Surveys and data. Your members will probably enjoy seeing how they compare to other members. A survey is a useful way to collect data and get the current pulse of your members on a wide array of topical issues. This might include time spent on a project, current level, salary level, or anything that might be interesting. You can then publish the results. 
  6. Interviews with a VIP. Better than an interview with a member, is an interview with a VIP in your sector. These work best when the person is well known and respected by most of the audience. If you wouldn’t invite this person on stage at a major conference, they’re probably not a good match. Aim high for these interviews. 

Adapting Existing Content

If you’re short on ideas, the easiest thing to do is to community your existing content. Here are some examples:

Traditional ContentCommunity Content
News AnnouncementGet the opinions of 10 members on the announcement and post them for others to read.
Announcement of the new CEOA live community discussion with the CEO. Summarise the major question and answers in the newsletter for the community.
Guide to solving a technical problemLive demonstration as an engineer solves the problem and takes questions from other members. Record the video and publish the results to the community.
Product release notes.Let the community guess what’s coming in the product next and give rewards for the right answer. Take suggestions for the next product releases.
Optimization tacticsInvite the top 10 members to share their best tips for getting more out of the product and post this as an article in the community.
Entertaining content

Entertaining content is designed to keep members coming back out of interest. When you see organizations publish humorous content, you’re seeing content that is designed to entertain.

However, there is one particular type of content members find most entertaining; content about themselves. People have a craving to know what people like themselves are doing.

The best content for a community is content about the community. 

This might include interviews with members, the latest updates about the lives of members, people on the move, and even a gossip column would work in some communities.

WARNING – Don’t Create a Notice Board

If you treat your community like a notice board, your members will ignore it like a notice board.

Communities were little more than a notice board of new articles with no debate, discussions, or any exciting activities. You shouldn’t post the same content in the community as you would anywhere else. I’ve seen press releases posted in some communities, it’s a terrible waste of the community’s attention.

Activities and Events

An easy way to stimulate activity is to initiate an event.

An event doesn’t have to be a grand-scale conference, it can mean any time-limited activity which is hosted by your community.

Note there’s a difference there between hosted by your community and hosted on your community. While your platform might enable you to host some kinds of events, it’s quite likely you have to use external tools to host events.

The great thing about events is they complement your content efforts and let members participate in a shared experience. This helps both drive activity and unite members.

Some common types of activities include:

  • A sprint/hackathon. Among the most famous kinds of events are sprints or hackathons. This is where a group of people work rapidly over a limited amount of time (often 24 hours to 1 week) to create something of value. For example, you might set members a challenge to post their definitive list of newcomer resources, create a guide to a resource, tag or update a large amount of content, or simply develop their first app/story/project using your software/tools/advice. These tend to be the most valuable. 
  • Quiz. Live quizzes can be fun. The key is to set the question and give awards to the member who can post the answer first. Members get their ranking at the end. These should increase the knowledge and expertise of members. 
  • Mentoring groups. Create a time-limited mentoring group where people can put themselves forward to mentor other members. Make sure you have members who want to be mentored too. 
  • Live webinars. Host live webinars tackling a definitive topic. You can even invite members to put themselves forward to host a webinar for other members. During this webinar, they can do a breakdown of what they’re working on. Keep the recording and share it within the community. 
  • Offline gatherings. Members can put themselves forward to host an offline event for people in their area. You can promote events to other members. Even better, you can set a specific day for them to do this. 
  • Conferences. We have already covered how best to connect offline events with the community, just remember to facilitate plenty of time for community members to meet and connect with other community members. 

There’s no shortage of possible events you can host here. The best events are those which help members feel like they can make a useful contribution, are exciting and engaging to participate in, and leave behind a valuable asset for other members.

You have a choice between one-off and regular events. Usually, it’s best to setup a one-off event and see how it goes before committing to something more regular. With regular events, be mindful of the novelty effect. This is when an event is exciting at first but it’s popularity soon fades and participation dwindles.

Ensure each event is closely aligned to a particular goal members have. It’s a lot easier to have 3 to 5 big activities than to try to do one every other week. The purpose of activities is to increase engagement, build a stronger sense of community among members, and try to create or do something most members find valuable.

For this reason, I’d recommend staying away from frivolous events. A ‘Secret Santa’ might be fun, but it’s probably not going to resonate for members a year from now. Any event you want to host should benefit the entire community and be valuable over the long-term.

nurturing-top-members

12. Nurturing Top Members

In internet culture, there is the 1% rule.

This is essentially a belief that in any group of people, 90% will ‘lurk’, 9% will contribute, and only 1% will create.

Whether the exact figure (1%) is accurate or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is participation inequality is very real (compare how many wikipedia articles you’ve created and edited vs how many you’ve read).

This applies to anyone building communities too. Only a small percentage of your members will proactively engage in a community. And a tiny percentage of them (for example, the top 1%) will drive most of the activity.

The top 1% are usually the ones who create blog posts, testimonials, and take volunteer roles to help the community.

Don’t underestimate just how important this small group of committed members are. For example:

  • A tiny number of committed, active, members can answer hundreds, even thousands, of questions in a community every month. 
  • A tiny number of committed, active, members can create hundreds, even thousands, of articles sharing excellent advice on the topic, your organisation, or your products. This directly increases member retention and satisfaction. 
  • A tiny number of committed, active, members can create enough reviews to make you the leading product in whatever category you’re in and generate millions of dollars in sales.
  • A tiny number of committed, active, members can give you feedback on all of your marketing efforts and ensure your next campaign is a smash hit.
  • A tiny number of committed, active, members can generate hundreds of sales leads for your business through referrals.

The critical step to achieving almost any goal you want to achieve in your community lies not in driving as much participation as possible but in working with a tiny group of committed members.

It’s usually a good idea to work closely with your top members to achieve your community goals. This often means the creation of what’s known as a ‘superuser’ program.

What Is A Superuser Program?

A superuser program is an exclusive program which aims to motivate and rewards top members for making the most valuable contributions to a community.

Superusers aren’t necessarily the most active members, they might be members with unique insight or expertise. However, typically, they are drawn from a pool of members who have made a high quantity of contributions or made unique quality contributions.

Starting A Superuser Program

A superuser program doesn’t have to be a highly formal program.

If you’ve managed any sort of group before, you’ve probably had some sort of unofficial process where you get to know and support some of your top participants better than others. It’s only when you have a few hundred active members in a community that you might want to begin formalising the process.

There are several key steps here.

Step One: Decide What Superusers Will Do

Superuser programs are designed to change behavior in a way that’s valuable to superusers and the community at large. Give them things to do that matter. These should ideally connect to your community goals.

You can find examples below:

Community GoalsSuperuser Behaviors
Resolve 25% of customer support questions via the community.Answer the majority of questions that are created by the community within 24 hours.
Increase the expertise and abilities of members.
(possibly customer success)
Create their own best resources for other members. Find the best resources on the web and share them in the community.
Increase loyalty and retention rates.Facilitate connections between members.
Welcome newcomers and reach out to members.
Remove bad content.

Step Two: Decide How Many Superusers You Need

While it might be tempting to recruit a large number of superusers in one batch, you don’t want to flood the community with superusers to answer only a trickle of questions. 

The number of superusers you need is largely determined by the size of your community. We generally aim for a 1% ratio of active participants (people who have made a contribution in the past month).

Monthly ParticipantsNumber of Superusers
1 to 1002 to 3
100 to 5003 to 5
500 to 1,0005 to 10
1,000 to 5,00010 to 50
5,000+50+

Remember that each member is going to require a lot of personal attention. As your superuser program grows, so does the number of staff you need to manage it

Step Three: Decide Your Superuser Criteria
 

It’s important that your superuser program is perceived as something exclusive and reflects a high standard of ability. The obvious way to do that is to make it exclusive and reflect a high standard of ability. As a general rule, the more exclusive it seems to be, the more motivated members may be to join.

This means you need criteria for determining who is able to become a superuser.

The best approach is to look for the specific skills and activities that match what you need members to do.

You can usually use one of these four criteria:

  1. Level of participation.
  2. Character traits. 
  3. Interest in participating in a program. 
  4. Unique skills

You can see a simple example below:

Requirement
Level of ActivityMin 30 posts per month
Passion, helpfulness, or expertisePolite, clear, helpful.
InterestCan answer questions.
Unique skillsHigh expertise in [widget]

Once you have decided your criteria, you need to decide precisely how members can join. You have three approaches here:

  1. Direct outreach. At select periods you can reach out to members who meet the criteria above and with a personal message to invite them to join. 
  2. Create an application form. You can create an application form interested members can complete to apply for the program. 
  3. Create a nomination process. Instead of an application form, you might create a nomination form. This is where you can’t apply yourself but you can only nominate other members. 

When you’re just getting started, you will typically reach out to members individually. But as you grow, you will usually create an application form interested members can complete to join. 

Step Four: Decide How You Will Reward Top Members

What’s the benefit of someone becoming a superuser? Why would anyone spend so much time and energy helping other people for free? 

The answer is you’re going to pay them in a currency they value even more than money! You’re paying them in positive emotions – the feeling of being useful, recognized, respected, and connected to people like themselves. 

Your rewards are likely to fall into one of five categories:

FeelingPerks
Access
  • Exclusive news and information (product information/roadmaps etc..).
  • Direct access to you and company staff.
  • Access to training and expertise.
  • Attending events.
  • Status
  • VIP treatment at events.
  • Mentioned and recognized in newsletters and on stage at events.
  • Badges for member profiles and social media.
  • Special SWAG for members.
  • Influence
  • Giving feedback on key decisions.
  • Getting early access and being able to give feedback on the products.
  • Unique powers to control parts of the community.
  • Connection
  • Sense of exclusivity.
  • Participate in a private group just for superusers.
  • Feeling a sense of belonging with other top members.
  • Challenges
  • Working on exciting projects with similarly minded members.
  • Trying to solve problems no-one can solve.
  • Whether you’re just getting started or have an existing relationship, remember to build strong relationships with your most active members. They are the people who will keep the activity going strong and help you achieve your goals.

    Decision Point

    Who are your top members? How will you build your program?

    community-management-platforms-and-software

    13. Community Management Platforms and Software

    The second layer of our ‘four layers of community’ model highlighted the engagement methods.

    Every community needs a place where members can engage with one another.

    Sometimes this is a super fancy community platform that lets members engage through forums, blogs, reviews, images, videos, knowledge bases, and more. Some come replete with clever security and privacy features.

    Sometimes it’s the means of engagement can be as simple as the comments section of a major news site.

    Regardless of the capabilities of the platform, it’s important to note that every community has at least one destination where members can engage with one another.

    It’s good to distinguish here between a platform and a website.

    • A community platform is a set of technologies that you will use to create your website. Facebook, for example, is a platform where you can host groups. Slack is another platform.
    • A community website is an instance (i.e. a single version) of the platform for members to engage with one another. A website is built upon a platform. The Spotify community website, for example, is built upon the Khoros platform. The Khoros platform also hosts the communities for FitBit, HP, Sephora websites, and many others.

    You might be more familiar with engaging in group discussions on WhatsApp, Facebook Groups, or Slack. Each group chat on the platform is a specific instance of the platform. 

    The Big Decision

    A big decision every community manager needs to make early on is what platform to use.

    You can find a breakdown of some of the most popular platforms in the table below. Be warned this isn’t a comprehensive list and technology changes fast. By the time you read these words the landscape may have changed significantly – so do your research!

    Social media and other inexpensive toolsWhite label platformsOpen Source PlatformsEnterprise Platforms
    Facebook Groups
    LinkedIn Groups
    WhatsApp
    Telegram
    Mailchimp
    Zoom
    Citrix
    GoToWebinar
    Slack
    Bevvy
    Eventbrite
    Reddit
    Twitch
    StackExchange
    Ning
    MightyNetworks
    Tribe
    Hivebrite
    YourMembership
    Meetup
    Drupal
    Discourse
    Vanilla
    Joomla
    ELGG
    Khoros
    Salesforce
    Insided
    Telligent
    Vanilla
    Discourse
    HigherLogic
    Yammer
    Microsoft Teams
    Sharepoint

    Each of the options above have a variety of pros and cons. A key challenge is finding the right balance.

    Understanding The Different Platforms

    You’re probably most familiar with social media tools. Your organization can set up an account on any one of those tools, invite people to join or follow your account, and begin engaging with members. It’s the quickest way to get started. However, you’re significantly limited in what you can do.

    • White-label platforms are a little like moving into a fully furnished pre-fabricated home. You can simply slap your name on the letterbox and move in today. They’re usually cheap and offer more features than social media tools, but you’re limited in what you can change. 
    • Open source platforms offer a pre-constructed experience, but you also get access to the source code so you can customize it any way you want. This offers a lot more flexibility, but you need the technical ability to create and maintain any changes. 
    • Enterprise platforms are technically white-label platforms, only they target bigger customers with unique needs. They typically offer more opportunities to customize the platform, have more features, and are a lot more powerful. But they come at a higher price point.

    If you’re technically gifted, you also have the option to build your own community platform. However, I would strongly recommend against this approach unless you really, really, know what you’re doing. Most efforts to create a community usually become a costly mistake.

    Design and configuration

    Once you have selected the platform, you also need to design and configure it to your needs. Different platforms give you different options for doing this. The less flexible the platform, the easier this is. You can usually add a logo, change the colors, and maybe drag and drop different features into different places.

    If you’re using an enterprise platform, you usually need to have someone (or an organization) who can help you do this. Most of the bigger platforms can refer you to ‘implementation partners’ who can help you set the community up.

    Decision Point

    Which platform will you use?

    community-management-tools

    14. Community Management Tools

    In addition to the primary community platform, community managers often utilise a wide set of community tools to engage their members and achieve their goals. Some of the most common tools include.
    • Newsletters (Hubspot, Mailchimp, Substack). This helps community managers send out updates about the latest news from the community to members. 
    • Surveys (SurveyMonkey, Typeform, Qualtrics). It’s a good idea to undertake surveys of your audience to better understand who they are and what they want. 
    • Chat (Slack, MS Teams). Some community managers bring their top members into a private chat group – others use chat tools alongside their main community project. 
    • Event organizing/hosting (Meetup, Bevy, Eventbrite). Community managers use dedicated tools to organize and host events. This can be online or offline. 
    • Webinars (Zoom, MSTeams, GoToWebinar). It’s common to host webinars or live sessions with members. These tools are useful. 
    • Whiteboard (Mural, Miro). Whiteboards are a relatively new breed of tools which let you collaborate and co-create with members around particular topics. This is good for brainstorming. 
    • Analytics (Google Analytics, Webflow, Adobe Analytics). While most vendors offer a basic analytics package, community managers often get additional data from a more dedicated package. 
    • Intelligence (CommonRoom, Orbit). Community managers can get additional data from a new breed of intelligence tools which provide unique community-specific insights about members both within the platform and across other social media channels. 
    • CRM (Salesforce, HubSpot, Monday, Airtable). It’s ideal for participation in the community to be integrated with a central customer relationship management system which allows data to flow both ways for a better experience. 
    • Integrations (Zapier). Many community managers use Zapier integrations to help automate parts of their work. This can be especially useful for frequent, repetitive, processes. 
    This isn’t a comprehensive list. But it covers many of the main tools you might use to help facilitate particular activities within your community. Each one will serve a particular goal in your community (and comes at a different cost).
    community-management-trainings-services-books

    15. Community Management Training, Services, Books, and More

    There are an array of community management training courses and services that can help you progress in your career and develop your community.

    how-to-measure-community-building

    16. How to Measure Community Building

    How will you know if any of this is working? 

    That’s the typically difficult question. 

    There are several ways to measure the success of the community. These range from looking at the health and vibrancy of a community (i.e. how active it is) to complex formulas which will help you determine the ROI of the community. 

    You can see some of the more common metrics in this table:

    Before deciding what to measure it’s a good idea to first understand why you’re measuring the community. What is your goal?

    • Are you just looking to impress your boss?
    • Do you want to know if a specific activity is successful?
    • Are you looking to prove the effort is worth the cost? 

    Be clear about why you’re measuring the community before deciding what to measure. This will give you an idea about how to measure your goal.

    Ideally, you want to turn your key measurements into an easy-to-use dashboard.

    Decision Point

    What are you measuring and why?

    principles-of_community-management

    17. Principles of Community Management

    Let’s boil everything we’ve learned down to a few key principles of community management.
    • Principle 1: Community management is the act of growing and sustaining a community in which customers, employees, partners, and others help each other achieve their goals.
    • Principle 2: How you manage a community changes depending upon the type of community you’re building. Building a support community, a community of practice, nurturing advocates, facilitating peer groups, or launching peer groups require significantly different approaches.
    • Principle 3: Community management requires strategy, technology, content, events and activities, and engagement skills. You can slowly increase your skillset in each one. 
    • Principle 4: Community management works best when it’s a dedicated role. A community benefits greatly when someone is worried about it full-time. 
    • Principle 5: People join communities to solve problems, improve their knowledge, explore a topic, or feel part of a group. They stay engaged in a community when they enjoy participating, helping others, and liking the topic. 
    • Principle 6: You engage members by initiating and responding to discussions, hosting and organizing live online and offline events, and publishing content. The golden rule is that every engagement activity is to try and make members feel great about themselves. 
    • Principle 7: Select the community platform which is the right balance between your budget, your skillset, and your unique requirements. You can start small and spend more as the community grows.
    • Principle 8: There are plenty of great community tools to use. Don’t try to find an ‘all in one’ solution – select the best tools for the job. Members will prefer this. 
    • Principle 9: There are plenty of great metrics to show the health, success, and progress of your community. Before deciding what to measure, decide why you’re measuring anything at all. What will you do differently based on what you discover?
    • Principle 10: Learn from the successes and failures of others. Read the top books, take the top courses, and follow the top community management professionals to learn how to be the best community manager you can be.