Establish Clear Objectives and Priorities
Before moving forward with clients or employers, top-notch community managers work closely with their clients to establish clear goals and priorities. Failing to do so might leave one with vague requests such as "We want to go viral!" and "We want a lot of followers on Twitter."
You might have to suggest potential goals to clients to determine what matters most to them. Common priorities include:
- Increasing customer satisfaction
- Increasing customer retention
- Inceasing SEO
- Increasing word-of-mouth marketing and general discussion of the brand online
- Driving signups / subscriptions
- Driving views
- Driving sales
- Making a website more engaging and social-media friendly
- Establishing a baseline online presence
You will also have to explain that it is not practical (especially if a company's social media and community team consists of one person) to prioritize everything. It is really only feasible for a single social media and community manager to focus on two of the above priorities for a small business, and only one priority for a medium-sized business.
Set Key Performance Indicators & Track Progress
With more specific goals in mind, you will be able to establish key performance indicators (KPI) that will help you measure the efficacy of your efforts. Some companies build formalized bonus programs around KPIs; others ignore them entirely. What matters is that you have a means of tracking and proving your progress, so whether or not a company already works KPIs into its processes, we recommend using them.
Common KPIs include:
- Customer satisfaction metrics
- Net Promoter Scores
- Site views (aggregate views, unique visitors, and repeat visits)
- The number of inbound links
- The site's position in search results
- Traffic drawn from search engines
- Frequency of brand name mentions across social media sites and blogs
- The brand's presence in news stories
- Social media followers
- The number of social shares
- Kred and Klout scores
- Site registrations
- Whether accounts and digital properties have been set up and/or improved as desired
- The number of blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, etc. made by the on behalf of the company
Once you know which metrics to watch, you can set systems in place for tracking your progress (e.g. specially-designed referral links and URL tokens) and create processes for monitoring your performance.
Build upon Solid Foundations
Develop Strategies and Tactical Plans
While detailed procedures are impractical given the unpredictable nature of online campaigns, you should at least craft a broad strategy that will lead clients' companies from their present states toward their eventual goals. Strategies and plans should factor in:
- Which platforms are actually appropriate given the nature of the client, its target market, and its goals
- How activity on different profiles will be complementary (and hopefully work synergistically)
- How the target market differs across platforms
- Your resources in terms of time, tools, money, and staff
Don't be afraid to draw from case studies when crafting a strategy; cases can provide you with great ideas in addition to helping you avoid perilous pitfalls.
Collaboratively Create a Messaging Document and Style Guide
Because social media and online community efforts can play out across so many platforms and in so many formats, it can be difficult to maintain a clear and cohesive voice and message. Messaging documents prevent social media and community managers (and their colleagues) from accidentally diluting a brand's message.
Using a client's existing marketing material, create a centralized messaging document that contains:
- Reminders of the company's mission and social media/community-related objectives
- Short, medium, and full company bios and "about us" text
- Frequently used product and feature descriptions
- Guidance on tone and style (e.g. always use proper capitalization, smiley faces are OK, keep the tone conversational but grammatically correct, etc.) complete with examples
Make a point of getting relevant colleagues involved in editing and refining the messaging document (to make sure the content is on brand), and make sure that anyone who posts content on the company's website and social media channels adheres to the document's guidelines.
Set Up Beautiful Profiles
Just as a restaurant's decoration, table settings, and dishes set the tone for the food that is served, the profiles you manage set the tone for the content you share. Before launching a campaign, start with profiles designed to ensure its success.
Pay careful attention to:
- Proper image sizing and quality
- Maintaining a cohesive visual tone across platforms
- The manner in which a site's profile photo will manifest itself (on mobile devices, in feeds, in search results, etc.)
- Calls to action that should be integrated into background images or cover photos
Establish Community Ground Rules
When getting started with a new client, it is essential that you quickly and intimately familiarize yourself with its existing community rules. If it does not have rules yet, create them.
Community ground rules should address:
- General etiquette tips
- Style guidelines
- Conflict resolution
- Grounds for being banned
- Grounds for content removal
- Whether and how self-promotional posts will be allowed
In addition to maintaining (and possibly creating) on-site community guidelines and rules, be sure to establish rules and guidelines for external platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) that are easily accessible to those interacting with your brand through those channels. For additional tips on getting started, see our guide to developing a comment moderation policy.
Educate Clients and Coworkers
Social media and community managers are rarely the only people in an office using social media (either personally or on behalf of the company). When social media is not openly discussed within an office, opportunities can be lost and mistakes are more likely to be made.
Be sure to:
- Educate fellow employees about your work and how it contributes to the company's goals
- Show coworkers how they can help you with social media and community-oriented campaigns
- Teach employees how to independently engage with clients, customers, and followers via their personal social media profiles
- Establish clear social media guidelines for employees (should none already exist)
Any company with an online presence should have social media guidelines- even if that company does not maintain an active social media presence. It can reduce the potential for future conflicts and misunderstandings, plus prepare general employees for instances in which they are approached and regarded online as company representatives.
Company social media guidelines should address:
- Whether employees are expected to maintain public social media accounts associated with the company
- Whether employees are encouraged to talk about the company through their personal social media accounts or call themselves employees in their bios
- How employees should or should not engage with the company's active social media accounts and campaign(s)
- How employees posting to social media channels through accounts associated with the company should behave (e.g. whether trash talk or obscenities are permitted)
- Whether employees must refrain from sharing certain opinions via social media
- If there is specific intellectual property that must not be shared or discussed via social media (e.g. works in progress that are not to be presented as sneak peeks)
- How employees should field customer inquiries, complaints, or requests should they be sent directly to their personal profiles
- Whether it is important that employees be careful about implying endorsement by "liking" or following certain topics, people, or movements
- How privacy settings should be approached
- How employees are expected to interact with customers who communicate with their personal (or company-owned) accounts
Provide Significant Value
Behind almost every successful social media campaign lies some inherent value. Good campaigns provide utility, information, or entertainment even to those who are not interested in signing up with a brand or making a purchase. It is this value that ultimately inspires the word-of-mouth marketing that businesses so covetously seek.
Creating something truly valuable does not require impossible strokes of genius- just a bit of common sense. When designing social media and community-focused campaigns, look for unmet demands related to your client, then determine how you might meet one of those demands through your work.
Common solutions come in the form of:
- Guides and tutorials
- Behind-the-scenes access
- Entertaining or inspiring content
Guides and tutorials helping people through common points of confusion can boost customer satisfaction, retention, and SEO in one fell swoop- so long as they are well produced, well positioned, and truly useful. Should your client sell microwaves, for example, you might provide a series of gourmet meals from scratch that can be prepared using only a microwave.
Behind-the-scenes access may satisfy customers yet-unaddressed curiosity about your client's products or services. If, for example, your client is a fashion magazine, followers are likely to get a real kick out of behind-the-scenes images of photo shoots that will be featured in upcoming issues. Giving fans a peek behind the curtain can give them the feeling that they are more intimately and personally connected with your client's brand. That said, behind-the-scenes content is not appropriate for all companies. Firms providing troubleshooting help for corporations contending with enterprise software issues, for example, aren't likely to have behind-the-scenes dirt that will spark significant interest.
When companies wish to associate themselves with a certain type of lifestyle or build brand awareness, they often opt to create entertaining or inspiring content. An interior design firm might post a series of blog posts and videos on clients' beautiful houses and how their interior designs reflect their philosophies on life. Plenty of people are poking around social networks looking for inspiration or entertainment- should your client do work or provide products that could be spun into entertaining or moving content, by all means take advantage of the opportunity!
Invest in Ambassador Programs
Business professors repeat over and over how important it is to pay special attention to the 20% of customers who account for 80% of your sales, new members, or word-of-mouth promotion. Many community managers reach out to these individuals through special ambassador programs.
Ambassador programs typically revolve around:
- Giving top customers special recognition
- Giving top customers access to new features
- Giving top customers special privileges
- Equipping top customers with community manager-like abilities
- Grouping top customers into focus groups that provide feedback on new products and features
In addition to providing useful insights, suggestions, and recommendations on existing and in-progress products and features, members of ambassador programs can effectively amplify your work by taking on some of your community roles. They may do so by contributing to active online dialogue about your client, publishing guest posts on your company's blog, moderating your site's forums, or even driving sales (this can be encouraged particularly effectively through the use of affiliate programs).
Make Your Clients' Content Easy to Find
Pretty much any company with an online presence will be intent on improving SEO. It is of great importance that you make your content (especially blog posts, tutorials, and guides) easy to find via search engines. For an overview of the basic elements of search-friendly content, see our introductory guide to search engine optimization.
Understand the Basics of Marketing and PR
Social media, marketing, and PR are becoming highly intertwined. Though most social media managers understand the basic marketing principles that go into online campaigns, fewer are familiar with the basic tenants of PR.
Make a point of reading up on both realms. The following blogs can serve as helpful starting points.
Helpful Marketing Blogs
- TopRank: A blog that focuses on several themes related to online marketing
- Social Media Examiner: A blog offering a litany of helpful overviews, recommendations, and how-tos related to social media marketing
- Business 2 Community: A broad marketing blog with a flare for branding and PR (with some random lifestyle posts thrown in)
- Copyblogger: A blog focused around content marketing
- Inbound Marketing Blog: A blog by HubSpot, which produces marketing software
- GerElastic: The #1 subscribed ecommerce blog
- Adobe's Digital Marketing Blog: A marketing blog with added focus on analytics and technical tactics
Helpful PR Blogs
- ComPRehension: A PR blog run by the Public Relations Society of America
- The Future Buzz: A blog on PR with additional insights on digital marketing, SEO, etc.
- The PR News Blog: A blog featuring helpful PR tips from a team of PR professionals
- Bad Pitch Blog: A witty and entertaining (but useful) PR resource
- The Cycle: A blog by PR Week
- PR-Squared: A blog featuring conversations not only about public relations, but also marketing and social media
- Spin Sucks: A professional development blog for PR and marketing professionals
- Strategic Public Relations: A blog featuring commentary on marketing and media
- PR in Your Pajamas: A PR blog targeted at entrepreneurs
On the PR front, it is particularly important to have a crisis management plan in place. Should your client's business or one of its employees make a major faux pas, you need to be prepared to do triage through the company's blog and social media channels. Even if a dedicated marketing or PR manager within your client's company is in charge in such scenarios, it is important that he or she work with you to create a plan (and execute it, should that fateful day ever come). You are likely to be better equipped to respond to angry customers and random online commentators via social media than someone who focuses more on media outreach.
Understand the Basics of Customer Service and Support
Many fledgling social media and community managers do not realize realize how large a role customer service and support plays within the community management field. Some social media and community managers focus almost entirely on fielding customers' questions, complaints, and recommendations.
In addition to preparing for the likely eventuality that your work will, in some way or another, involve customer support by cultivating your:
We recommend reading up on customer support tactics. Here are some blogs and resources we've found to be helpful:
- Kate Leggett's Blog: A blog by Kate Leggett, a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research for Customer Service
- Service Untitled: A blog about customer service and the customer service experience
- Zendesk's blog: Customer service insights from a company that creates customer service software
- Church of the Customer: A blog by Jackie Huba, who has written three books on customer loyalty, and Ben McConnell, an author and consultant
- Customers Rock!: A blog on customer experiences and how to make them amazing
- ThinkJar: Insights from Esteban Kolsky, a customer strategist
- Michael Maoz' blog for Gartner: A blog by a Gartner annalyst whose work revolves around CRM and customer-centric web strategies
Get Involved with Other Community Managers, Local Charities, and Networking Groups
Along with moral support and helpful tips, fellow community managers can provide professional opportunities. In addition to being in the know about job openings, professional community managers may introduce you to freelance clients. Should you cultivate a close network of trusted colleagues, make a habit of passing clients to friends when your plate is too full (they may do the same for you in return).
Though giving back to local charities is inherently rewarding, getting involved with volunteer groups can be an excellent means by which you can gain introductions to small business owners who might need your services as a freelance social media and community manager. Many freelancers get their start through personal connections made through similar channels.
Local networking groups can also be a great place to find potential clients and may also serve as ideal venues for establishing partnerships. Many social media and community managers go on to establish independent, full-service social media agencies or online advertising firms. Through a networking group, you may be poised to meet a professional whose expertise compliments your own in a manner that would be ideal for creating some such business.
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