What To Know Before You Kickstart Your Community

Naomi Malik
Supernode Global.


Community manager vacancies are popping up left, right and centre. If there was ever a sign that community as a function or strategic focus is worth caring about, that’s it. We’re finally all realising that core to every brand’s success and impact — be it B2B or consumer — is the ability to nurture authentic, symbiotic relationships among customers, supporters and other stakeholders. By speaking with them rather than to them, there’s much more value to derive.

But before we dig into the finer details of building a community, let’s take a second to paint a clear picture about what it really is.

In practice, community management is about building and managing relationships with your current or future users and customers through a varied range of interactions and activities. Many companies have successfully leveraged community-driven growth, and recently hundreds of them co-signed the Community-Led Declaration, agreeing to help future generations of startups achieve the same.

Community is the beating heart of the business that keeps the rest of the team running. — the Community-Led Declaration.

While that’s maybe slightly nebulous, it’s also true — when a brand’s community is built and managed thoughtfully, it enables and empowers the business to learn, test, iterate, sell, grow and innovate at scale much more effectively.

Often community management is defined by how it compares to social media management. They can both be seen as marketing functions and growth levers; but fundamentally your community will (should) exist irrespective of whether or not you have a brand presence across all social media platforms. And, importantly, social media are tools that can be leveraged to build and manage your community.

Why you should care about community management

The real value of a community isn’t what a tiny percentage of members contribute, it’s what the majority of the members learn. It’s one thing for members to get a solution to a problem. It’s another thing to have hundreds of others also benefit from that solution. — Richard Millington, author of The Indispensable Community

Whether your community comprises app users, buyers, sellers, creators, professionals etc., they’re all just humans with some shared purpose or goal. And you’re building products or services to (hopefully) address their needs. By capitalising on the inherent network effects of a well-managed and supported community, you can create more value for your community members and for your business.

Here are five (especially important) reasons you should care about community management:

  • Your community can help you design the right products and services. You basically have the ability to perform direct and regular user research whenever you want.
  • Engaging your community regularly results in strong retention. By delivering a steady stream of useful and interesting content, events and activities, you’ll garner engaged and loyal supporters.
  • It’s a great way to build awareness and brand love. Your loyal supporters can become ambassadors for your brand, and tell their extended networks about what you offer.
  • It’s a service-oriented approach that can make your brand more memorable. As the old adage goes, people always remember how you made them feel.
  • To Richard Millington’s point, it’s easier to deliver and achieve value at scale.

Key principles for building a strong community

Now that you care, you’ll likely want to come up with some strategies and goals for your community. These will differ depending on what type of community you’re building — although, as previously mentioned, you should always aim to deliver a variety of content and activities on a consistent basis. As you’re fleshing it all out, it may be useful to think about the following principles:

  • Building a community is an art and a science. You need to be both intuitive and creative, and experiment with new formats and programming regularly — this is true whether your community comprises creatives, developers, students or other profiles. By continually testing and learning, you can develop reliable and repeatable hacks for growth and engagement.
  • Set the right tone of voice. How a community manager speaks with your community should align with how you want your brand to be perceived. That said, as it’s all about relationship management, you should always aim to be approachable.
  • Know your audience. Make sure you understand their attitudes, pain points and values or you’ll have a difficult time connecting with them and producing meaningful results.
  • Enable people to seek out and find solutions to their own problems or challenges. Create a space where people can easily self-serve, access your resources and activities, and interact with others.
  • Minimise any and all friction and, where possible, meet people where they already are. It’s tempting to roll out a new shiny community management tool or platform, but make sure your community actually wants to use it.
  • It takes time. Think about your own personal friendships and relationships. They (probably!) didn’t form overnight, and they require consistent nurturing. Don’t fret if your community seems relatively quiet and inactive in the beginning.
  • Be consistent and reliable. Taking the previous analogy one step further, I’m sure you appreciate it when you can depend on your own friends to be available and present. It’s easier to foster engagement if you can build momentum through regular interactions and initiatives.
  • Get feedback regularly. Do this before you create content, after you run events, when you’re launching a new product, on every other possible occasion. This has the added benefit of making your users or customers feel important and valued.

The ideal community manager

Depending on how large your community becomes, you might end up with a few different roles as part of your community function, with positions focused on moderation, or product, or operations etc. But to keep things simple, the following are some essential skills and qualities a person needs to develop to be a fantastic community manager.

  • Empathy and emotional intelligence. It’s a bit of a no-brainer in that community management is ALL about understanding, connecting with and helping people.
  • Effective listening. Take the initiative to ask users or customers to share their thoughts or experiences, and actually paying attention to what they say. In other words, don’t just make assumptions.
  • An open mind and flexibility. Every time a community manager tries something new, they run the risk of it falling flat or being unpopular. There’s a lot of trial and error in identifying the right activities for your community, so keep an open mind about what those might be and make sure you’re agile enough to change course.
  • Creativity. It’s a multi-faceted role, but inevitably every community manager will need to be able to design and produce valuable and engaging content and initiatives that keep members coming back.
  • Analytical skills. It’s hard to improve if you don’t know how you’re performing. Anyone in this role needs to be able to identify and track key metrics related to growth and engagement. It’s also necessary to produce and analyse qualitative feedback constantly. Examples of metrics include engagement (comments, likes, shares, mentions, messages/DMs etc.), active users or members, retention, growth rate, and satisfaction (there are many more to consider!).
  • Courage. Whether hosting an event, or authoring a new piece of content, community managers regularly have to put themselves out there. A lot of the work is behind the scenes, but this is undoubtedly a public-facing role. For some, particularly more extroverted personalities, it may come naturally to be outgoing; but it’s definitely possible for an introverted person to succeed and thrive in this role, especially since they often rank highly on the other key skills and qualities.

Finally… what tool(s) should you use?

As stated above, if you can meet people where they already are, that’s a great starting point. However, you may realise your community is too fragmented or difficult to manage across existing platforms and you’d prefer to centralise your activity. Do be mindful that it’s always going to be challenging to get people to adopt something new, so it’s beneficial to consider tools that they may already be using for other purposes.

  • Social media. You probably have a brand presence across the usual suspects, but you may not have a community management strategy to support your activity. If you’re building a brand/consumer community then think about how your community manager and social media manager might work together. One tactic is for the social media manager to speak to your audience under your brand name; your community manager might instead speak with your audience under their own name.
  • Private social media groups. You might also choose to gather a subset of your audience using something like Facebook Groups, for example, and create a smaller and more exclusive community.
  • Slack. For professional communities and interest groups in particular, Slack has become an extremely popular community resource. In most cases, the free version will suffice. It’s not perfect for community management, since it wasn’t created for this use case, but if your main aim is to generate conversation and interactions among your users or customers, then it’s a great tool.
  • Community management platforms. So many new ones have cropped up over the last couple of years that it’s hard to keep track, and even harder to diligence them all. A few which have gained momentum and are worth checking out are Mighty Networks, Hivebrite, Tribe, Discourse, Vanilla Forums and Discord. Note: their pricing and features all vary.

Wrapping up with some resources

And that’s that — a quick introduction to what you need to think about before you kickstart your community. For additional reads on the subject, check out the following resources: