The ultimate guide to making your customers feel appreciated, making your product feel loved, and building a vibrant community.
Are you as excited for this as I am?
If the answer is yes, then I did my job — I got your attention and I got you pumped.
In this case, I did it through sales (or maybe copywriting), but being able to grab people’s attention and draw them into your conversation is one of a community manager’s (not-so)-secret talents.
What good community management is all about: making people feel engaged and excited, supporting their needs (by answering their questions and providing guidance), and making them want — no, crave — your community experience.
I’ve been doing community management for Praxis for almost 2.5 years, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Back when I was starting from scratch, this is the guide I wished existed.
In this post, I’m going to break down the most important elements of building an awesome community around your service, product, or ideas.
Your #1 Job is to Build Engagement
This is pretty much the subtitle of your job description … but it can also be far harder than it sounds.
Unless your product or network has a built-in incentive for people to use your community (and count your blessings if it does!), getting engagement is tough. To a user, signing up and setting up feels like work (not to mention taking the time to check notifications to stay engaged). Regardless of the logical rationale, on an emotional level, the payoff doesn’t seem high enough to justify the upfront cost.
To get people engaged, you have to do two things:
- a) build in an up-front payoff (so people are excited to engage right away) and
- b) sell people on how awesome the experience is going to be once they’re in (so instead of this whole “join the community” thing feeling like work, it feels like something they want to rush through so they can get to the good stuff).
Once you’ve gotten your users into the habit of engaging, maintaining that engagement is far easier (the law of inertia is on your side). But how to ramp up that initial momentum?
Step 1: build a system that makes community engagement part of the process. The more integrated, the better. If you have a product, how can you integrate community into product onboarding? If you offer a service, how can you make your community a part of it?
If your community already is a feature, how can you make it more prominent? People do the things they assume they should. If you make your community a part of the assumptions about product/service usage, you’re going to get more traffic.
For example: at Praxis, engaging with the community is part of our product experience. It wasn’t always — there were phases in Praxis’s development when you could do the program but not engage with the community. But we realized the community was valuable, so we made it an inseparable part of the product experience).
CM Exercise: make a list of 10 reasons why your community is valuable in your customer’s onboarding process (think of these as your arguments for why it’s worth paying attention to), and then make a list of 10 ways you can integrate it into that onboarding experience.
Step 2: invite people personally to engage. People love feeling special. It’s easy to underestimate how much of an impact a small personal outreach can have.
As soon as someone joins your community/buys your product/enters your program, reach out to them immediately and get them pumped about getting plugged in and engaged.
Pro Tip: specific is ALWAYS better than vague. Use specific dates and times whenever you can. “Check it out when you get a chance” can mean either “two hours” or “two weeks.” “Can you do this before you log out?” or “Can you do this before tomorrow AM?” is much more specific (and gives you a concrete metric point for the conversation).
Step 3: set the tone right from the start. First impressions really matter — and so do the habits that are built through repetition. If you want your community to be engaged, you’ve got to get in there and engage first, and engage early.
When a community first launches, hit the ground running and with the energy you want to see your community have (no slow ramping-up phase. Are you in this or not?).
When a new member joins, get them integrated right away. If you’re in, you’re all in. Prompt them to take the plunge!
Step 4: provide a roadmap/offer entrance points. It’s hard to engage if you don’t know where to start. Make some curated suggestions for what people should take a look at when they’re getting started, or where they should jump in and interact.
“Post this in X channel!” “Share this with Y group!” “Check out these three posts with tips to get started!”
Step 4: follow up with people that don’t take the first bite. If someone doesn’t engage right away, give them another prompt. Assume they’re just wondering if you really mean it, and give them the extra nudge they need to be convinced.
Step 5: make it clear the community is the best place to be engaging. Don’t be shy about asking people to share questions or comments from 1-on-1 conversations in the group setting. If you want people to engage in the group, always be redirecting there.
Think of Yourself as a Content Curator
There are as many ways to be a community manager as there are communities, but as a generalization, content curation is a huge part of your role. You’re the knowledge bank for your community, the keeper of information, and the go-to when people have questions.
The “questions” part is key — it’s easy to limit your content curation to a reactionary activity (where you share things in response to peoples’ questions). Don’t limit yourself like that. Being proactive and starting conversations around content is important too.
There are two ways I curate content:
- Scheduled (making sure I have a fairly regular cadence for content, and a backlog of ideas to reference if I need them)
- Based on community needs (in response to things people are talking about or thinking about).
In general, I’d recommend using a mix of both. They balance each other out and keep your content pipeline strong.
Scheduled content— I try to follow a loose schedule for my posting — enough to make sure activity is consistent. Having standards throughout the week (such as #TipTuesday or #FeatureFriday) can be great, but if you do this, consistency is key. This rule applies to community management as much as it does to marketing — your customers need to know where and when to find you. I always keep a running document (Evernote is great for this, but Google Docs works too) where I keep ideas for content, so I always have a store to draw from.
Needs-based content — this is the fun part. As the person with your finger on the pulse of your community, you’ll notice trends — issues using the product, questions about the service, a slew of similar questions.
If your community is interested in something, it indicates that the iron for that topic is hot, and should be struck. Don’t just answer the question — turn it into the topic for a post. Write it out, curate relevant links, add additional points and notes.
Relevance is everything when building community engagement. The more relevant your content is to your community, the more direct value your users are getting. The more direct value they get, the higher the incentive for them to come back.
Pro tip: starting conversations only works if people actually engage and converse, and sometimes getting the initial bite is hard. The more specific you can be, the better. I love tagging people directly to get them involved in the conversation, or making a very direct ask (“I want to hear from each of you” or “don’t just read this post — take 30 seconds and respond to it before you leave this tab”). I see a huge difference in engagement when I phrase my CTAs with a direct ask or challenge. People love it.
Keeping Track of Your Members Makes You a Superhero
Good community managers make you feel seen and heard in the present. Great community managers make you feel known and remembered — by always being able to reference information about you.
It seems like a superhuman ability — being able to remember facts and details about all of your community members. Really, though, it just boils down to having great systems.
This is the fun part (if you’re not a numbers person, then yes, that sarcasm was for you). Operations and logistics and (shudder) spreadsheets.
Don’t worry. It’s not actually as bad as it sounds. Don’t think about this as admin work — think about it as outsourcing your brain and freeing up space to do the fun stuff (like having great conversations and engaging with cool people). The stronger your systems, the freer your mind.
Which means being organized is really, really important.
Depending on your organization, you may already have systems in place to track members/users. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have a CRM (and count your blessings if you do. A whole world of possibilities lies at your fingertips).
Spreadsheets are also your best friend. I’ve known community builders who kept a spreadsheet tracking every single member of their community, with cheat sheets and notes for each person. They logged location, occupation, skills, interests, conversation notes — everything they might want to remember. These same people built an incredible reputation as connection-makers — because they always knew what people were working on and what types of people it would be valuable for them to meet.
Start a spreadsheet and notes on each person in your community. If it’s easier, use a digital notes system, or a CRM — whatever works best. But log important notes on each person as you engage with them. It will make a huge difference in the quality of your interactions.
Systems for Outreach are Important Too
You want to make sure people in your community are getting regular (individual) touches, and those touches should be entirely systematized (so you don’t have to actively think about them). Trust me — I tried it the non-systematized way first. Your brain will be much freer if you outsource this to systems.
The frequency of touches will depend entirely on the nature of your community (and the things it’s built around), but touches are important — if you don’t have them, it’s easy for people to slip through the cracks.
If you have a product/service that operates on a standard timeline, you can organize your outreach around specific benchmarks in the customer journey. If your community is more loosely defined, you can schedule outreach by increments of time.
However you structure, build a digital system. I’d recommend:
- Digital reminders (for example, Google Calendar or a CRM task function)
- Context included in those reminders (or even pre-written messages you can customize and paste)
- A spreadsheet system to track everything (so you can log your outreach each time you make it, and reference at a glance every touch each individual has already gotten).
The same rule that applied to the first point (engagement) also applies to this: people want to feel seen and heard. Nothing will keep them coming back more than the sense of a personal connection, and the sense that they matter.
You aren’t just building community. You’re also doing internal marketing.
What’s new? What’s exciting? What should people be thinking about?
As the old adage says, “everything is sales” — and this is no exception. As a community manager, you’re constantly selling and marketing the benefits of being in this community to your members.
It’s less blatant than it sounds, but it’s really important to remember — especially if the community you’re managing is centered around a product. What cool features are you rolling out? What benefits do people get from being involved?
Obviously, you don’t want to sound like you’re marketing. But you also don’t want to be quiet about the cool new benefits, and run the risk of keeping your community members in the dark.
A few rules to keep in mind:
- If you don’t talk about it, assume they don’t know about it. Somebody’s got to share — otherwise people aren’t going to know the things you’re rolling out even exist.
- You’re guiding community conversation and internal brand narrative. What do you want people to know about/think about/be talking about? This doesn’t just have to apply to news — old content and features added into the conversation cycle count as internal marketing too.
- Think of yourself, in part, as crafting experience. My friend James Walpole (who works in marketing at a cool ATL-based startup called BitPay) was the one who first turned me onto the idea of “experience crafting.” The concept sent me down a mental spiral of exploration — what makes a good experience or a good narrative? How are the experiences I have with other people’s brands and communities influenced by the way they’re framed? How can I be intentional about crafting the experience of people in my community? Think about these questions constantly as a Community Manager — because the better your members’ experience, the more excited they’re going to be to keep coming back.
The Master Community-Building Playbook
Want to put this in action? This is where I’d start:
- Build a weekly engagement cadence. Map out a rough posting schedule, so you have a system for keeping engagement up.
- Design workflows for a) new community members, b) unengaged community members, and c) standing community members that need extra touches.
- For each type of touch, draft a basic standard outreach (that you can customize for each individual situation). You don’t have to use it, but it will save time to have it.
- Start a spreadsheet, and slowly add to it each time you learn something new about a community member. Treat it as your outsourced memory, and your personal community CRM.
At the end of the day, good community is built by constant upkeep, consistent engagement, and great energy — which starts with you, but is built up around you through the excitement of your community members.