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Published March 4th 2016

Community Management: How to Engage Online Communities

Community management is more complex and demanding than ever. We examine what it entails, and how to to be a successful community manager.

Community management has evolved rapidly in the last few years.

The number of people engaged in the role, and what the role itself entails, has expanded as the development and nurturing of online brand communities becomes increasingly important.

The role of the community manager is a demanding one that encompasses a range of responsibilities, but what unites them all is knowing and understanding your audience.

What is community management?

Communities have existed online since the Web began, gradually evolving over that time.

From the early days of chat rooms and Usenet, through multiplayer games and forums, to today’s plethora of social networks, communities have existed from dial up to fibre optic broadband.


What unites these technologies is the service of the very human need to engage with other people similar to yourself or with people who share your interests.

Community management is the art of taking an audience, and growing, listening and engaging with it to develop it into a community where members are actively involved. Businesses have grown to understand that their online audiences can become a community, to the benefit of customers, potential customers, and the business itself.

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In the early days the role may have consisted of posting content to social media channels, but as the discipline has evolved so has the depth of the role.

In the age of ad-blockers and recorded TV, we’re better than ever at ignoring advertising and commercials. Brands need to learn to join in the conversations their communities are already having and add value, instead of interrupting their day.

The increased number of channels means discovering opportunities and engaging in those spaces has grown more complex, and the need to stay on top of an evolving space requires the right tools for the job.

Measuring your efforts to prove and improve success is an equally important part of the role.


What does a community manager actually do?

Community management is a demanding role, with a wide number of functions to stay on top of.

At it’s heart the role involves creating and sustaining a community around a business, but that simple explanation belies the amount of work involved.

They need to understand the needs and motivations of the potential community and to define the important topics in that community that drives conversation and adds value for its members.


They identify potential bloggers, influencers, and media and PR opportunities to target to help encourage these conversations.

Their discussions and content should inspire people to engage, and drive value-actions from the community. It’s also important to understand which topics and behaviours have a negative effect on the community, which will help inform the strategy for reducing these pain points.

If this isn’t done the health of the community can reduce, and members can become less engaged or start to leave.

Sustaining the community grows in importance as the group matures.

Whether online or real-world, communities evolve. A successful community will have a clear purpose, but all communities evolve and its purpose may need to be updated over time.

It also becomes important to understand how far the vocal complaints represent the wider community – there may be a silent majority with a different viewpoint.


Finally, community managers need to establish whether the changes they are making are having a positive or negative effect on the business.

Again, monitoring the health of the community helps ensure it stays happy and active. One method for helping this is researching similar or competing communities for ideas and inspiration, injecting fresh energy into the community.

At all stages of this journey, measuring their efforts helps them to understand if their work is having the desired effect. This analysis will inform good practice to repeat and bad practice to avoid.

Invest in the right tool

That’s a lot of work for one person, or even one team.

Community managers have to work hard to grow the community and engage with it and keep the members happy. Luckily there are parts of the role that can be automated.

Due to the spaces in which these communities operate, a social media analytics tool is ideal for informing the day to day management of the role, as well as monitoring successes. Discovery, engagement and research are all simple and cost-effective benefits that social listening platforms can deliver.

The history of social listening has until now been dominated by listening to the people who already engage with you, whether that is potential or actual customers.

As social listening matures, an increasing number of brands are looking at a wider audience than that, and it is a model that will be useful for community managers too.

You might think that a community manager is only interested in people already in their community, already engaging with their brand.

But learning how to reach new target audiences is the best way to grow and diversify your community.


Listening closely to your target audience means you can understand what matters to them and tailor your approach accordingly. Brandwatch Audiences, our new audience analytics product currently in Beta, will make finding this audience incredibly easy.

We’ll be offering real-time insights into what your target audience is talking about, meaning you can discover trends you wouldn’t have expected.

Discovering popular topics will allow you to re-purpose and create content that you know will be popular with your target group. Monitoring the conversation will allow you to identify opportunities to join the topics and add value, rather than interrupt with content that fails to engage.

You can discover new influencers that you hadn’t been aware of.

Brandwatch’s influence scoring doesn’t just look at follower numbers but studies each individual’s ability to drive conversations, people whose opinions are sought after.


It is particularly useful for finding the influencers at a level below the superstars and celebrities. As influencer marketing matures, it is these everyday, real influencers who are thought to hold the real power on social media because they are trusted by their peers.

The combination of Brandwatch Audiences and Brandwatch Analytics makes it easy to measure how well your strategy is working.

Moving beyond the vanity metrics of retweets and likes, to real metrics that tell you if you are growing and engaging the community.

Once you have defined and set up a target Audience, you can make sure you keep track of when the key influencers within those groups are talking about your brand or following and engaging with you. You can also set up Alerts in Brandwatch Analytics to instantly know when any important individuals are mentioning you.

If you would like to see how Brandwatch Analytics and Brandwatch Audiences can combine to help you discover, manage and grow your online community, get in touch today for a free demo.

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