If you work in digital marketing, your answer is a resounding "yes." I was working as a community manager on behalf of a liquor brand the night that notable Tweet went live, and I remember being tempted to reply "@Oreo and you can still get drunk in the dark. Cheers!" Thankfully, I resisted, or I would probably not be let anywhere near this blog or any other digital platform to this day. Rule #1 of community management: respect your power and know your limits.
While that unforgettably edible moment in internet history still highlights the impact of reactive community management, it's time for an updated viewpoint on community management's power and potential to bring brands closer to consumers. As such, we've identified its four key functions that transcend fleeting trends and apply to clients of any size and scope - engaging the community, servicing customers, capitalising on topical trends and moments, and bolstering brand perception and sentiment.
ENGAGING THE COMMUNITY
The most basic function of community management is to encourage and extend conversation with fans. Strong 1:1 communication can initiate comments from other fans, making the thread an open dialogue.
This tactic works exceptionally well on our @NetflixANZ client, where fans are eager to converse with the beloved brand.
While not every community will be as chatty as TV lovers, there are a few best practice tips for engaging any audience: craft comments that extend the conversation, invite newcomers to engage, and reward those who do so (i.e. surprise-and-delight).
While it's a less fun, more functional use of social media, consumers now consider a brand’s social channels a customer service platform. And so brands must prepare and respond accordingly to avoid looking lackadaisical or out of touch with consumers' needs.
While many brands handle customer service needs in-house, some do outsource the practice. In that instance, it's important to remain super tight on governance: client-approved responses, key watch-outs, how to manage trolls, and other policies the brand feels comfortable with. We tend to take matters into private messages to ensure customer details aren't compromised and to avoid the thread becoming a forum for additional complaints.
An external brand whose customer service we admire is UK grocer Sainsbury's, who is able to have a bit more fun (and puns!) in their responses. For brands that can show a bit more personality, this approach can help win frustrated customers back over.
Whatever your policies may be, make sure your customer service messages are consumer-focused and consistent. Since more than one team member may be handling comments and complaints, it's important to ensure clear internal communication is happening, too, so the outside world only sees one approach and tone of voice.
CAPITALISING ON TOPICAL TRENDS AND MOMENTS
Above any other communication channel, social media presents the unique opportunity for brands to weigh in on cultural conversations and trends. While it may seem a bit 2013, there are still fun, purposeful ways brands can add to larger moments without seeming like a nuisance. The key is to choose those that are relevant to your brand.
And you don't necessarily need to wait for those rare Super Bowl-scale Oreo opportunities to arise - fun moments can pop up on social unexpectedly at any time. Brands can even generate their own...
Most recently, we love this example from the U.S. surrounding IHOP's abrupt rebranding, IHOb, which saw the International House of Pancakes flip to a burger joint in the matter of one letter. Other brands were quick to engage in beefy banter.
Another example we love comes from Netflix U.S., which had them trolling Pizza Hut during highly-visible CES conversation. Commentary such as this adds to the discussion while subtly plugging their relevant plot line.
To ensure all community management moments are worthwhile for our clients, we've concocted a benchmarking framework comprised of factors such as uniqueness, relevance, authenticity, and time spent vs. ROI. We measure every moment against it before deciding whether or not to engage.
SHIFT PERCEPTION AND SENTIMENT
Since it's likely a brand's most open and interactive communication channel, social has the power to greatly impact perception and sentiment not only around the brand, but also key social issues the brand choses to endorse.
A classic Australian example of this is the infamous Optus Dan, which saw a customer service responder shut down racist comments on the page in a poised, brand-safe way.
When clients task us with perception-shifting objectives, we ensure that starts with our strategy, informs our planned content and permeates straight through to community management. Consistency is key, always.
SO, WHO INSPIRES US?
When seeking inspiration to ensure we maintain competitive, best-in-class tactics, we look to unexpected brands like Merriam Webster - a traditionally old-school dictionary brand out of the U.S. While you'd think printed dictionaries are dead, they've taken their product digital by implementing every element of strong content + community management - engagement, customer service, topical moments, and sentiment shifting - in their day-to-day strategy.
KEY TAKEAWAY: DON'T UNDERVALUE COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT
Whether you're in the weeds with it day to day, overseeing a team, or recommending strategic approaches for a brand, it's crucial to ensure you're not overlooking the broader significance and minute detail that comes with quality community management. From a brand perspective, harnessing its power is the quickest and least-expensive way to reach fans authentically.
From a personal growth perspective, community management is the best gateway and launchpad to a career in social. We polled the office, and someone from every department - strategy, editorial, creative, account services, and even design - had roots in community management.
Beth Wallach, our Senior Account Director on Netflix, underscored its importance in both her early career and current team.
“Community management is the best way to understand how your audience thinks, feels and behaves, and how they view the brand you're representing. You need to be a true all rounder to do it well - strategic, creative, agile and completely immersed in culture. It's the best possible way to set you up for a successful career in the industry that could take a number of different paths.”