Communities can be tricky to manage and keep together. It only takes one or two people, with differing views, to cause an uncomfortable rift, for example.
We’ve all witnessed what happens when a local community breaks into two or more warring sides. Say a property developer was planning to turn the town’s peaceful green space into a busy commercial area, filled with apartment blocks, shops, and cafes. Some members of the community would see this as a positive change for the local economy. Others might see it as a damaging change for the environment, lifestyle, and culture of their township. These differences in opinion would probably create friction within the community, and cause it to break apart.
This is no different from a brand-led, online community. They are as vulnerable and as affected by outside influences and differing views as a local community is.
Perhaps even more so. A whopping 70% of brand-based, online communities fail every year.
What can you do to strengthen your own online community, if (or when) it fails?
Let’s explore the answer.
What Causes a Brand-Led Online Community to Fail?
We all know that traditional marketing tactics, such as TV or print ads, are becoming less and less effective for driving sales. Consumers are now too fickle, not to mention savvy, to fall for glossy ads that promise them the moon.
They’re looking for something deeper and more meaningful than a pretty picture or a catchy slogan. They want authenticity. They want inclusion. They want to be treated like a person, not a number. And they want to feel like they’re part of something when they choose to use, or buy from, a brand.
“84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.” – Duel, The Pros and Cons of Community Marketing
Dare I say it? Customers want company, relationships, and commitment.
That is why brand-led, online communities are the perfect solution for building trust, relationships, and customer loyalty.
An online community gives brands the opportunity to speak with real authenticity to their customers. It gives them a chance to engage their audience in two-way conversations, and treat them as real people with real values, thoughts, and opinions, and not just as consumers.
Although 88% of marketing professionals believe that building an online community should be a critical part of their marketing strategy, however, 88% of online communities do not survive.
Online communities fail because the results aren’t immediate
Building trust and nurturing relationships take time. But time isn’t something that we, marketers, have a lot of. We’re under constant pressure to find and exploit new opportunities, provide teams with solid leads, and convert uninterested people into sales. We need results, and we need them now.
So, when faced with the decision about whether to plow budget, time, and resources into a campaign designed to generate immediate conversions, or whether to invest the time, money, and resources into steadily building an online community, it’s not surprising that communities often get pushed to the back of the priority queue.
Online communities fail because customers feel like customers, not people
17% of online communities fail because brands use the space as an opportunity to sell themselves rather than to serve their community members.
Communities should be safe, neutral places that encourage natural, free-flowing conversations about industry-led topics. They shouldn’t be exploited as opportunities to ram hard marketing messages down people’s throats. Community members should feel like they can enjoy conversations with people who have similar interests, not like they’re in the middle of a non-stop sales pitch.
Online communities fail because community development isn’t included in budgets or strategies
31% of online communities fail because they don’t get the internal support that’s needed for them to flourish.
As we established earlier, community development often gets sidelined in favor of short-term campaign wins, so many brands won’t even bother to include community building as part of their wider marketing strategy and budget. It’s seen as a tick-box exercise rather than a key driver of growth, so it doesn’t get the time, budget, or resources that it needs to help it survive.
Online communities fail because performance isn’t measured
If you don’t measure the performance of a campaign, how do you know if it was successful and if it was worth the budget you allocated to it?
Measuring the performance of an online community is a problem that many community managers face. It’s difficult to measure things like the increase in brand awareness or the strengthening of a customer relationship, because how do you attribute value to intangible results?
But if you don’t track the performance of your community, in some way, you’ll never be able to demonstrate how essential it is for the growth of your brand, and you’ll, therefore, never get the budget, time, or resources that you need, to manage it effectively.
Online communities fail because there’s a lack of engagement and community management
24% of online communities will fail thanks to poor member engagement and weak community management. And it’s easy to see why.
Maintaining high levels of engagement within an online community takes up a lot of time, and it needs a certain type of person or team, with a specific set of skills, to do it effectively. Not only does this person or team need the natural ability to start conversations, carefully steer discussions, and push out key marketing messages (subtly), but they also need to be able to protect their members from online abuse or trolling and make sure that the brand reputation isn’t tarnished by disgruntled members.
But, without budget, time, or resources, maintaining this level of engagement and moderation is impossible.
If your brand-led, online community isn’t doing so well, hopefully, you’ve found some answers as to why, here.
But we’re not done yet. Keep reading to find out how to get your brand-led community back online.
6 Ways to Fix Your Broken Online Community
The most obvious way to turn a weak, unengaged community into a strong one (i.e., a thriving hub of constant chatter amongst engaged members who will passionately sing your praises to anyone that will listen) is to dedicate a large chunk of time and resources to the development of it. Appoint a talented community manager to run it.
But this requires more money. And right now, more money might not be possible, especially if the purse strings have been tightly drawn.
So, here are six ways to take control and fix your broken community without breaking the bank.
1. Figure out your “why”
Building a community that supports your brand, goes right back to knowing what your “why” is:
- Why are you here, offering people this product or service?
- What problems are you solving?
- What value are you offering?
Knowing your “why” will help you start the right conversations and steer interesting, topical discussions with the right attitude: Your purpose is to help them.
Whether you’re educating your online community members, saving them time, making life easier for them, or helping them spend less, realize that it’s not about you. It’s about them.
Recognizing that will help you start and continue conversations that are about your members and not about what you’re selling.
Here are some ideas that will make them see that it really is about them, and not about you:
- Introduce individual members who have notable experience in particular areas or an interesting set of transferable skills that could be passed on to others
- Run networking events to give members the opportunity to meet like-minded people
- Invite respected industry experts into the community to give talks on subjects that you know your members would be interested in
Community is about offering value, but expecting nothing but loyalty in return.
2. Define clear community roles
Another easy way to bring a community together, and keep it together, is to give people clear roles and responsibilities, like brand ambassador, creator, or storyteller, for example.
If people have a job to do, they’ll feel like they’re a part of something. They then will be more likely to commit and remain loyal to their community as a result. It’s also a great way to encourage shy or inactive members to join in, work together, and become an active part of the community. After all, one whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
3. Set and monitor success metrics
Setting and monitoring success metrics is easy, but only if you know which ones to measure.
While each business will have its own, unique set of goals and objectives for its community, there are a few common KPIs that 80% of successful community managers will use to gauge (and prove) how effective their community is.
- Number of monthly active users (MAUs)
- Traffic volumes
- Member activities
- Post engagement
And once again, it probably goes without saying – once you’ve defined how to measure the performance of your community, you’ll then need to consistently monitor those metrics and make changes as soon as you see a decline in any of them.
4. Establish rules and guidelines, without removing the right to free speech
This is a tricky one. You need rules and guidelines to encourage members to be respectful and tolerant of each other’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and to make it clear that there will be consequences for those who break the rules.
But you don’t want to dampen natural debate and dissuade people from speaking the truth, even if it might be a bit negative or controversial.
Rules do need to be in place, but careful monitoring and good judgment are what’s needed to enforce them without stifling people’s real feelings.
Let people say what they want to say without fear or retribution … but do remove content that’s outright offensive and offers no value. Step in if there’s been a breach of rules.
If a member has seriously breached one of your rules, you might need to ban that member to protect the heart of the community. Or, in less severe cases, you might just need to implement a “three-strikes and you’re out” type of policy.
Exercise good common sense, and put the greater good of the community before anything else.
5. Lead by example
Continuously creating engaging content for your community is a lot of work and a lot of pressure. A great hack for this is to get your members to do it for you. You need to get the ball rolling and set a precedent for starting interesting conversations, asking direct questions, and posting regular, authentic content that you know your members will value, but encourage your members to do the same.
Just ask them. For example: “Hey, Joe, do you have any experiences you could share with us? How about that time you went to a trade show and didn’t know anyone but wanted to network?”
Shower praise onto those members who regularly contribute content and participate in conversations. Nurture those people who are a little timid or reluctant to do so. They might just need a little encouragement and a little confidence.
6. Automate where possible
Automation is the golden ticket in regard to managing a community effectively and efficiently.
As we’ve just discussed, creating and posting engaging conten regularly is incredibly time-consuming. It’s the top frustration for 55% of community managers.
There are specific community management platforms out there that will take the manual labor out of running a community, but there are also social media management platforms that can do the same.
For instance, with a tool like Agorapulse, you can create content for your community, schedule it, publish variations of the same content onto different online communities, and also report on the performance from one, single place. You can monitor comments and discussions, set up alerts for specific phrases, and reply to direct messages and threads, too.
There’s no need for manual community management anymore.
Why not try Agorapulse for free?
Online, branded communities need time to grow, and careful and consistent management to make sure that they remain an asset to a brand, and not a liability. But they are worth it. A successful online community will generate deeper relationships, more trust, and a strong, fiercely loyal fan base.
Keep providing your community members with value, give them a little responsibility, and allow them to speak freely, but make sure that there are consequences for destructive and needless negativity. Secure more budget, resources, and time to develop your community by setting KPIs and monitoring them consistently, and free yourself up by encouraging your members to post engaging content themselves, and automating processes where possible.