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Published June 4th 2015

Marketing: How to Plan, Manage and Grow Online Communities

Read our free guide to learn everything you need to know on community management.

Community management is one of the fastest growing roles in digital – and one of the most demanding.

There’s still often an insulting misconception by those who don’t know much about social that community management is sitting on Twitter all day, and doing the odd bit of customer service work.

This antiquated view isn’t anything close to what the role has evolved and developed into in the past few years.

A brief history of online communities

In a time before Facebook was a twinkle in Zuckerburg’s eye, there were spaces on the internet where people would come together, discuss, agree or disagree about a wide range of topics. These online communities served, and continue to serve, a very human need to connect to others.


In the early days of the web, brands and organizations rarely developed these communities, they tended to spring out of a particular need, or a motivated, passionate group of people or individual.

Until the mid 2000s, the platforms for communities tended to be pre web 2.0 technologies and their growth was tempered by a requirement for some technical skills to create, develop, host and moderate (remember the early days of Habbo Hotel, anyone?).


Now, the choice platforms on which to build an online community is wide. One of the reasons why ‘online community’ can be synonymous with social networks is that LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ and others provide ‘free’ and simple platforms to allow a good idea for a group of people to come to life very quickly.

But many organizations are investing considerable budget in creating communities on their own web spaces.

So what is community management? What does the word ‘community’ actually mean, especially in an online environment?

Can you ever ‘manage’ a community or does it have its own set of rules? And can brands and organizations ever hope to provide and gain value from the communities that they create and manage?

We feel so passionately about community management that we’ve written a whole guide on it, free to download.

The five stages of community management

There are 5 stages of an online community, as seen below in this model by consultant Michelle Goodall.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 10.08.15 AM


The very first is planning – establishing whether there is a need and whether you have the resource, time and budget to create, recruit, manage and sustain your community.

Before planning whether to develop a community, it’s important to consider what your aims are, and how you will benefit from developing and managing a community.

It’s critical to flip this around and understand the possible motivations and needs of your potential community members – if your community doesn’t serve their needs then you’re doomed to fail.

If there’s a cross-over of your motivations and the needs of your audience, you’ve got a good foundation. Now it’s time to lay the bricks.

Actioning insights and making a success of your community

At each of the five stages, a focus on finding helpful information and actioning any insights from the data is a key element of a successful, long-lasting community.

In the new Social Listening in Practice guide, Community Management, we go into detail on everything you need to know to plan, launch, grow and maintain a healthy, successful online community. It’s free to download.

We’re also hosting a Twitter chat on community management on Friday 5th June at 15.30 BST/10.30 EDT – join the conversation using the hashtag #CMTwitterChat and share your experiences, tips and tricks on everything about online communities.

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Social Listening in Practice: Community Management

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