9197295814_c98a3aeba3_bCommunity management is about nurturing, guiding, and listening to all of the individuals who interact with your business. It’s also about guiding and listening to those who should be interacting with your business, and then building up those relationships. Contrary to what some believe, community management is not about social media – counting how many retweets or “likes” came through on your last post.

As community managers, I am hoping you realize the significance of your role. But I know from personal experience how tough it can be to get buy-in from the C-Suites, who (not for lack of trying) don’t always understand the ROI (return on investment) that a well managed community can drive.

When I was building up the community at Crunch Fitness, I constantly faced hurdles, needing to

  1. Make my contribution as valuable as possible to the organization, and
  2. Explain and persuade the higher-ups of this value that I created

Ten years later, and now working as a consultant, I’m connected to my roots in community more than ever. But, for today, I thought I would share some topline ways to think strategically about your role as a community professional.

1. Never forget your brand

Many people mistakenly assume that a brand is simply a mark (like the Nike swoosh) or a product (like the Apple iPod). A brand certainly is those things, but it’s not just those things.

Brand is the communication vehicle to reach customers, one that should be consistent in voice, imagery, and aesthetic across platforms. A strong brand is such because it resonates with its audience – people know the Nike mark and slogan, but they also instinctively know what to expect when they visit the Nike website or purchase a pair of Nike shoes. Brand is what a person thinks of when that person hears or sees your brand name.

So what does this have to do with you as a community professional?

The curation and understanding of community is inextricably linked to the perception and target of your brand. Your community should reflect your brand’s tone and image. The elements that make up the brand strategy should also emphasize the voice and vision of what you’re seeking to accomplish in your community. It’s the how, why, and what of your plan to communicate your mission and vision to your audience, the products that you deliver and the corporate culture you facilitate. Every part of your community should speak to your brand and vice versa.

2. Community is all about the customer

In the end, community management is about building meaningful relationships, through this brand, with the customer. Understanding the experience a person goes through in opting to purchase the business’s product or service helps to build that relationship. It’s important to have a solid sense of what the customer sees, thinks, and does in relation to the brand.

One easy way to get a grasp of the customer experience is to draw out the customer journey (i.e. the major customer-brand touch points and the general flow from awareness to purchase through product use) on a whiteboard.

A customer journey map via Service Design Tools
A customer journey map via Service Design Tools

Another way to get a grasp of customer experience is by listening to customer feedback and deliberately caring for customer relationships, community professionals can establish a real connection between the consumer and the brand. Instead of having the one-time journey, people develop ongoing relationships with these brands through social media. You might tweet at the manufacturers of your favorite products or you share photos of you using it.

All of this offers the brands the opportunity to reach back out to consumers and clients, either to enthusiastically engage with them or to answer complaints instantaneously when they’re unhappy.

The breadth of channels through which customers and businesses intersect provide a long list of touchpoints and marketing avenues that can drive increased awareness of the brand. The more “touch points,” the stronger the likelihood of conversion, or an actual purchase, because of engagement with the business. As a result, by capitalizing on the touch points that resonate with a businesses’ community, organizations can raise their sales numbers.

3. Work across departments

Successful community managers help embed this brand and customer-centric perspective all throughout their respective companies, serving as the eyes and ears for customers throughout many different departments. The connectedness, insight, and sense of belonging that come from members of tight-knit communities can provide the executive management team or product management team insight to help drive a company’s overall agenda, helping to maintain customer relevance.

As a community manager, you can best represent the needs of the community by summarizing findings and delivering those findings to the product teams for implementation. The community manager ideally has a firm grasp of the community and can best understand their feedback and can absorb their pain points. When you connect customer feedback with product developers, they can introduce new products to satisfy customer desires or make changes and upgrades to improve the user experience. If both the product and community teams are successful in these endeavors, then the product development cycle can fulfill both a valuable community role while also optimizing sales outcomes.

4. Think about the internal and external

Like customers, employees are a community! And when they are treated as such, with a company culture that drives internal satisfaction and productivity along with positive brand image, companies can really optimize success.

When people start thinking about company culture, they often think about extraneous things – whether or not there is a pool table or casual Fridays (or beer and pizza Fridays or Whiskey Wednesdays). But, when armed with a vision, community managers and human resource personnel can actually work to unite the customer brand and the employee brand. Community managers are often the eyes and ears of the customers – they should know how the customers perceive the brand. Human Resources can function as the eyes and ears of the employees. Both the community manager and human resources have the ability to roll out programs and events to curate culture. So, working in tandem, the two groups can inspire a convergence of brand identity.

5. Don’t underestimate (or let your organization underestimate) the power of community

Your audience is far from trivial – and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Technology has empowered communities and the customers within them more than ever before because the voice of an individual or group can carry across geographic boundaries and social networks.

Take, for example, the case of Lululemon this past year. The company took its first hit in March 2013, when a new supply of their classic yoga pant was deemed see-through.

As if that was not enough, in November of the same year, the founder Chip Wilson publicly stated that “some women’s bodies just don’t work in the pants,” insinuating that anyone overweight, or with thighs that run together shouldn’t expect the pants to provide full coverage or avoid pillage.

Wilson caused a massive uproar within what has been described as his “cult-like yoga community.” Members of his brand’s community, in all shapes and sizes, lashed out via social media, print media, and in face-to-face conversations. This scandal became the “hot topic” – and a prime example of the power of a brand’s vocal community organizing and turning against a brand.

Here are some of the tweets that Lululemon’s customers sent out in the wake of the incident:



LuluLemon’s revenue, which had been growing at a rate of well-above 25% per quarter, experienced a real drop in growth, not hitting about 20% since.


If those numbers do not prove the power of an organized customer community to you, I do not know what will.

This raises an interesting question for community professionals: if the CEO of your company can’t uphold the community values, can you do it alone? What would you do to combat this PR mess if you were on the community team at Lululemon at the time?

Image Credit: Henrique Simplio

Note: You can find Lauren Perkins’ new book, The Community Manager’s Playbook, online now. Get it right here. She’ll be giving an extended workshop on defining the business value of your community at CMX Summit on November 14. Don’t miss out. Get your ticket now.



Lauren Perkins

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