social media how toAre you trying to build a community for your company or brand?  Are you looking to go beyond just big numbers of Facebook fans or Twitter followers?

This article reveals three important tips you need to know to help build and manage communities.

What Is Community Management?

Previously I wrote examined the different roles for those who work with social media in business.   Among the many roles, the community manager is by far the most important because he or she is on the front lines of communication. Here’s how I define community manager:

A community manager usually manages an editorial calendar for a blog/community, a Twitter account and various third-party social media channels like a Facebook fan page or a YouTube account.

A community manager may also be responsible for managing a social listening platform like Radian6 and filtering/assigning conversations to others in the business unit for a proper response.  He or she may even organize in-person events (or town halls) to get feedback from the community. The community manager is the face of the brand.  Conversations are at the core of the job responsibility.

Over the years, I have worked for several big brands and have learned some valuable lessons about community.  When I refer to community, it’s not just a “social networking” site where users are required to login and create profiles. Communities can be built on Twitter, YouTube and even on a blog where the conversations are happening within the comments.

Here are three lessons to consider when managing a community:

#1: Embed within your community.

During the War in Iraq, there were several journalists from various news organizations who would embed themselves within infantry units in order to get access to “front line” reporting.  The result was that viewers were able to keep up to speed with what was going on several thousand miles away.

Community managers must also embed themselves within the community they serve and become integrated with the community.

The result is the collecting valuable data and insights from the community members and reporting back to management. The reporting is usually feedback on how to improve the company’s products, services or business processes.

Community managers will be successful if they are authentic and leave egos at the door.  Community members are smart and can see right through egos and many times they will call you on it. The best tip I can give to a community manager is just to be yourself.

During my time at Yahoo!, one of my core responsibilities was community management. In order to do this effectively, I had to earn the trust of the community. I accomplished this by taking off the mask of corporate America and doing what comes naturally: being myself.  I invested hours a day just getting to know others in the community and engaging in really simple and personal conversations. It didn’t take long for others to consider me a friend and begin to trust me.

#2: Don’t just focus on monetizing.

The biggest mistake a community manager can make is to start screaming “one-way” marketing messages at the rest of the community. The members will do one of two things: they will either leave the community or call you out on it publicly. Both are bad for business and should be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, situations like this still happen today. Brands and small businesses create groups, fan pages or Ning communities for the sole reason of monetization.  There may be some sales as a result, but there is little to no long-term benefit, much less repeat sales. Remember the old saying, “It takes more to acquire a new customer than to sell to an existing one.”

The most effective strategy to drive revenue for a business is to build the community, earn members’ trust and delicately ask for their permission to market your services, a wise proverb from Seth Godin.

#3: Don’t just listen, get the community involved.

Yes, the hot topic today is “listening” and the tools are just about commoditized with new applications launching every month. Building strong customer loyalty is not just listening but also acting—embedding yourself within the community and becoming a trusted voice there.  However, the challenge for every business in social media is to eventually “become believable.” And that means winning consumer trust.

Here is an example during my tenure at Intel how we succeeded through social media after a big consumer marketing campaign:

In May 2009, Intel launched a “Sponsors of Tomorrow” commercial featuring Ajay Bhatt—the co-inventor of the USB. Check out the video here:

The catch phrase, “Our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars,” aimed to put a human face to the Intel brand.  For a split second, one of the Ajay Bhatt fans in the video rips open his shirt to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with Bhatt’s image.  We were bombarded with requests for the T-shirt on Twitter, YouTube comments and on our blogs.  We then ran a T-shirt contest through Twitter and gave away 100 Ajay Bhatt T-shirts.

Intel now runs an Ajay Bhatt fan page on Facebook where I see the number of fans still growing today.

Do you manage a community?  What other tips would you suggest? I would love to hear your point of view, please comment below.

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  • camerontoth

    Great post. Still trying to find my way and community management is something that I have been doing without realizing it. I love the Intel case study. That was a great commercial and I am glad that it has had success. It was a game changer for the way people think about “rock stars”. Smart people can be cool too! I think kids need that message on TV more!

  • susanyoung

    Hi Michael,
    You have given excellent insights. I especially like your point about being embedded in your community. It’s critical for people to keep their finger on the pulse of their industry and field. This in turn allows them to identify challenges, trends and news. The result: topics for blogs, interviews and articles that help build credibility, attract a following and provide valuable information in Social Media circles.

  • Great post, Thanks so much!

  • Thank you Cameron. I am glad that the commercial helped change the perception of geeks; now my kids think I am actually cool now. : )

  • Hi Susan — thank you! The challenge for a community manager to embed themselves in the community is that it takes time to earn the trust from others. I appreciate the comment!

    – Michael

  • Great read, Michael! More specifically, I liked it when you said: “I had to earn the trust of the community.”

  • Great post! More specifically, I liked it when you said: “I had to earn the trust of the community.”

  • Sylvie Cajelait

    OK, this won’t sound original but… It’s a great post. To me, the most challenging of the 3 rules is the third one. Getting the community involved is quite a big challenge since everyone tries to get a reaction to something and frankly, as people and clients, we like to share our opinions. But there are only 24 hours in a day. We are to the point of choosing what topics matter most. So is getting the community involved requiring more and more imagination and savoir faire? Well I should think so.

  • For Social Media Management – one of the best new tools I have found can be seen over at This frees up soo much time, yet maintains a strong clear presence. I have learned that a consistent message keeps you followers informed and abreast of your updates and insights. IF your business is practicing or is considering a solid social media management campaign, then take a peek around. The Tour is amazingly insightful.

  • hi Sylvie — it makes me feel good to hear “hey, great post” multiple time. : ) A good rule of thumb in community management is to spend some time listening so you can understand what the community is passionate about. This will help drive editorial as well as engagement.

  • I feel like it’s my job to create an interesting fun place to hang out–like a cocktail party. Do you want to hang out with the dude that eats all the boiled shrimp and talks about himself all night? Me neither.

  • Great entry, Michael. I love how the Intel example illustrates the potential for integration and engagement with the shirts! well done. Alex George

  • Great post! I may add the importance of live streaming communication, transparency, being the bridge between users and the tech team -for ex. to report/solve usability issues-, and being able to accept critics =)

  • “The best tip I can give is to just be yourself” – well put Michael, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to accomplish. Being yourself but filtered through the company directives, the company tone of voice, really understanding not just what your audience wants to hear but how to deliver the message to that specific audience you’re trying to attract. Nice post!

  • I totally agree. I have found that by subscribing to and reading posts from all the other talented social media contributors, helps us to learn so many tips and tricks to be more effective and efficient. You definitely have to listen…to contribute is good too, but a healthy balance is great for the community 🙂

  • marymabrams

    Michael, well done. Thank you. I did not want your post to end as it left me hungry for more information and examples. Listening and assessment are key in any social media strategy but without the “acting” part the assessment is useless. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sammy

    I like the post, but I’m having a hard time applying this to the non-profit I work for. The niche audience for the organization is parents. The problem is that not a lot of parents are social media gurus. What are your suggestions to more effectively reach the 30-60 age range?


  • Very true Alyce, especially with organizations that don’t really embrace social media. Lucky for me was that Intel truly finds value in community management even though it’s hard to really measure.

  • Thanks Mary; I will continue to build on this subject for the next post. thanks for reading.

  • virginiasowers

    Like many people, I’m growing into my Community Manager title, so I was really excited to read today’s discussion. Thanks for the confirmation that monetization should not be a primary focus. Although it’s very tempting for nonprofits to lean heavily on these tools to raise funds, I’m finding much more resonance and two-way communication when I share stories and photos that make our work real and kick up enthusiasm. Right now I’m working on building a list of FB and Twitter followers who are quick to engage, add their two cents and champion our cause. These are the folks whom I need to know better and talk with more personally, though I’m still working on finding my “personal” voice vs. organizational voice. Thanks for the insights and attention to this role.

  • Sammy — if your target audience isn’t online, then perhaps social media is the appropriate channel for you to reach them. One rule of thump I use is to “fish where the fish are”; meaning … if your audience is in Facebook (or any other social network) then create community there. You can’t expect everyone to come to a community that they are not familiar with (or users of).

    Does that make sense?

  • Great write ups! Social media really helps in building real professional relationships and earning trust with others and easy to get real followers as well.

  • I think to really be great at managing a community, whether it’s via social media or not, one has to be a very good communicator. Communication is key and lots of times you’ll see people who really aren’t that great at it. A successful communicator can really make a difference and an impact to a companies bottom line and overall results.

  • Thank you for the post Michael, I’m going to check out your blog for more good info!

    It seems like a lot of people wanted a little more from this post (which is difficult to do with limited space). Perhaps you could do a follow-up post that gives the readers some more examples of what we can be using (tools) in order to more efficiently 1) “Embed” ourselves, 2) focus on contributing vs. monetizing, and 3) get our communities involved. We all have a ton to do – with little time to do it – so efficiency is key. We would love to hear what tools you use.

    What I currently use:
    1) Embed: (for participating efficiently)
    2) Contribute: (for scheduling valuable posts/articles)
    3) Get people Involved: This is where I’m stuck. I’m developing the Brand/Community Management division for my company (@CulverCareers), and would love any advice anyone has on this. I haven’t come up with a way to do this yet.

    Thanks again Michael

  • thanks very much, its great post

  • This was spot on. I manage a community site and blog. The two are all about building relationships and earning trust. The most important part of my job is being ME. It’s a pretty good gig!

  • Hey – is it too late to jump on the “wow, great post!” bandwagon? If not, consider me on board. Seriously – great post! Your comment about leaving your ego at the door (and the comment referencing the guy that “eats all the boiled shrimp and talks about himself all night” in the comments section) really resonated with me. It’s all too true! Fake comes across just as well online as it does in person and conversations are two-way – not just a “ooh, hear about me and my company!”.

    Katie Morse
    Community Manager | Radian6

  • This was a great post. I feel I am wearing so many “hats” lately!! I have a full-time job, and I’m also starting my own business and because of the last one I am fully immersed in social media/marketing, which is soooo of course my job/business. However, I LOVE being a community manager for me a my sister’s business!! I am glad my new “job” has a title!! :0)

  • Thanks for this post Michael,
    I like the Intel ad, it creates a smile and the reactions are unbelievable. you are right about having to act instead of just listening, something most companies are going for at the moment.

  • I guess I’m like others that have commented; I’ve been working to perfect community management without knowing that’s what I’m doing. After reading this post I’ll really be devoting more time to community management. Great post!

  • Awesome advice! I have to agree with everything you say here, building a community online is about more than just making money. If you do your job right then the money will come, but it should never be 1st priority.

  • Thanks Scarymommy! : )

  • Good idea Jeffrey. I am no longer a community manager but I know the tools like the back of my hand. I will work on a follow up post. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Hi Katie — please keep the “great post” comments comin’!..hehe. I really appreciate. I’m a huge fan of @radian6.

  • Good luck with your new ventures Vanessa!

  • Rich Harris

    Hey man…great post as usual…..I think it’s easy for us long time marketers to fall back into the routine of #2. We need to remind ourselves to not get lazy with this.

  • great post, thank for your advices!

  • A post worth sharing!

  • so thanks for you rsharea and i will be back to read it again.great

  • C.B. Williams

    Very informative post and comments! I am a Co-Chairman of a private financial executive community called myCFOnetwork. It has been a very fulfilling role but the consistent challenge is staying cutting edge with relative content that continues to engage community members. I look forward to your future posts.

  • Hi! I’m on whopping day 5 of my job as Community Manager and one thing I hear over and over again is COMMENT AND PARTICIPATE. But…I’m sometimes a little timid. Comment on what, exactly? I work for a company that does web conferencing software – so is it really appropriate/effective for me to comment on someone’s questions about uploading a youtube video? It’s important that I’m relevant but I also want to be connected. Any advice is welcome! (Did I mention? It’s day 5.)


  • whistlerheather

    Hi – thank you for the information on managing a community – I am just moving back to Whistler to start this position within Remax and Sea to Sky Properties… I really enjoy the jewels of information I receive from this site.. and really plan to strategize each point before I introduce it to my managment team… No one in Whistler is really utilizing Social Marketing to it’s full potential… Have a great day!

  • lizvos

    Lots to think about. I try to post things relevant to those who are on our Fanpage but not actually promote our competitors. It’s a tough balance. I decided to jump into Social Media for our business because I could see there were casual conversations occurring on Facebook and the community was often working together to answer questions. I try to provide what the other groups aren’t providing. I am not sure I am going about it the right way with both a FanPage and a Group but we shall see. We’ll also see if Twitter becomes an effective way to connect. Some of our customers do not use the Internet. Many are online but are not using Facebook or Twitter just yet. I don’t know if I am a little ahead of the curve or heading down the wrong road….

  • Sammy, don’t underestimate your audience. I deal with a lot of people in that age group who really use social media

  • sramyan

    It’s a great post and just in time. Am in the beginning of putting an online community together in your post was very helpful. Thanks.

  • Those are three great tips. Thanks for posting. Too many so called social media companies just think that social media is only good for bringing in the customers. It’s got to go beyond that. Companies need to learn how to go from Great to Good and community management lies at the crux of that decision. See for a vision of community management that, like your three tips, paints a wiser, kinder, and more compassionate picture of how to run an online community.

  • joshvittek

    I love this commercial, what a great PR piece

  • sonikp

    Good Post. Different about this “good” is that it comes all the way from India. Great insights, I am doing community management for a health cause on FB and Twitter and this comes at the right time. Some challanges I have are
    1. How do I grow the community ?
    2. How do I make it a two way communication ? Currently it is one way from my side and others are silent recipients.

  • Amanda Kautzer

    I truly enjoyed your Intel example. Advertisers love to create characters who don’t necessarily connect with the brand. Intel does do a great job of pulling from what they have and opening up communication in a fun, airy way.

  • Short but simple and very useful! Thanks Brito!

  • Have been on this site the past hour and am loving it! Thanks to my friend, Nico Schweinzer for this. Yes, my community is almost five (5) months old and it’s only now that am getting a hang of it, investing a few dollars to make it look good. I fully agree on the embedding part since as I engage more with my fans, I gain a better traction with them.

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  • Great post. Notes taken, and to be taken into practice. I’m consulting for two brands and managing one and co-managing another. These three tips are pretty solid, but I think I’m so late to this post that the video link has been removed. I still get your drift though, so I thank you again.

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