7 steps for building an effective community management plan

The growth of social media in newsrooms has sparked the need for community managers — people who are responsible for regularly interacting with a site’s audience and executing a community growth strategy.

The challenge with a new profession like community management is the lack of a template to follow when getting started. Every community is different, but the following seven steps will help you kickstart a community management plan:

Define community goals

Community management starts with goal-setting. What do you want to accomplish? Are you doing this just because everyone else is? Or do you have a vision of what success looks like?

“Goals vary from brand to brand, but I always keep a few things in mind,” said Emily Miethner, community manager for RecordSetter.com and co-founder of NY Creative Interns. “Connect[ing] members of the community to each other to ‘magnify the mania’; spotlighting folks who are your biggest brand advocates and giving them the tools to get involved and feel like a bigger part of the community; and usually the overall goal is to drive traffic to a website.”

Begin with the end in mind before brainstorming tactics. As you measure and monitor the success of your approach, you will likely end up changing methods. Clearly defined goals will aid in this optimization process. Your goals might include the following:

  • Generating buzz around your name; getting people talking about the brand
  • Building up followers on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or your blog
  • Building up an email subscriber list
  • Building a more loyal audience
  • Increasing the reach of your content
  • Increasing the amount of time spent on your site

Profile your target community

Knowing your audience is essential; it’s Marketing 101. You can’t build a community if you don’t know who you want in it.

Brainstorm all of the different types of people who may be a part of your audience, then explore what makes them tick. What are their problems, passions, motivations and desires? What are their work habits? Their Web browsing habits? What’s on their reading list, and where will you fit in?

Write these user profiles down, updating them often as you prove or disprove your assumptions about your audience.

Identify influencers

What’s easier: getting 500 people to pay attention to you, or attracting one person with 500 friends who listen to that person’s every word? This is the idea behind influencer identification: find the people with loyal followers, and get their attention.

Take a deep dive into your target community and identify who it listens to, who holds sway, and who has the most followers.

Two useful tools for identifying social media-ites with large followings in your industry are WeFollow.com and MuckRack.com. Social leaderboards such as Klout.com and Hashable.com are also good resources for finding influencers.

Next, you’ve got to create content that these influencers will be likely to share.

Create social media-friendly content

Content is the backbone of community management. Communities rally around content, whether it’s short- or long-form.

“Without content, social media is a sports car with an empty gas tank: All show, no go,” writes Joe Chernov of the Content Marketing Institute.

Rather than simply promote your content via social media, help readers see how they can relate to, or learn from, the content you’re sharing. In the following tweet, Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik links to a useful article on a publication that is not his own (The New York Times), and then adds a comment linking to a relevant example, a Facebook Group he participates in.

Nielsen research shows that consumers trust content more than advertisements; however, when your content starts looking like ads, communities flee.

A community management plan should include strategies for sharing content on multiple platforms. This doesn’t necessarily mean creating more content. Tumblr and Twitter are great for regurgitating useful content, such as reposting excerpts from your blog or linking to content on other industry sites that your readers will find useful.

The idea is to create resources that will cause readers to trust you and think of your brand the next time they think about your industry.

Optimize content for sharing

Part of a community manager’s job should be to ensure that content is optimized for social media. Consider these questions:

  • Are sharing buttons placed on every post or article?
  • Are tweets short enough that followers can retweet them with your name?
  • Do pages include strong calls to action for sharing content?
  • Are headlines powerful and shareable on their own?
  • Is content interesting enough to share?

Many of these initiatives fall upon other departments — developer and writers, for example — to execute. But the community manager should audit and oversee the process.

Put a plan into place that will help you and other staffers continuously improve the shareability of your site’s content. Remove any barriers to sharing, so your community can spread your content as easily as possible.

Create interaction guidelines

What happens when someone posts an inflammatory comment on your site? How should you resolve user complaints blasted out on Twitter? Will you use only formal language when communicating with your Facebook audience? Are emoticons, Web slang and un-capitalization OK?

Every community management plan should include a guide for interacting with readers and users. The details of this plan should align with your news site’s overall community goals and style guide. The plan may be driven by your news site’s social media guidelines, but community managers ought to standardize their own practices, for consistency and future reference. Guidelines might include how to respond to complaints, how to respond to @replies, and what kinds of things you will retweet.

Planning for every scenario is time-consuming, but necessary. Community managers should keep an ongoing list of policies on interaction as new scenarios arise. That way you can maintain consistency that users can expect and trust.

“So much of community management is just being a good person and liking to be open and liking people and connecting with them,” Meghan Peters, community manager for Mashable, said in a phone interview. “Having that mentality and making sure everyone in your organization is open to that is really key.”

Monitor the community, then improve

“For me a big part of being a community manager is being Mashable’s number one fan and helping other people understand why they should also be a Mashable fan,” Peters said. “That should be paired with being an advocate for readers as well. I’m always listening to readers and trying to improve.”

Listening may be the most important part of community management. Plan to keep a finger on the pulse, using Google Alerts or Twitter monitoring tools such as HootSuite, TweetDeck, and Postling. Gathering community input for future product development is one of Jeremiah Owyang’s “Four Tenets of the Community Manager.” Whether the product is content or a good or service, social media is a great place to get insight into how a company is doing.

“The opportunity to build better products and services through this real-time live focus group are ripe,” Owyang writes. “In many cases, customer communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.”

Measurement is essential to any community management plan. Track which tactics work best, then pour more energy into them. Without monitoring analytics and social mentions, optimization is guesswork at most.

As the cliche goes, failure to plan leads to failure itself. This is true in community management as well as any other aspect of publishing. Start with your overall objectives, create content for your audience and listen as your community grows.

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