Community management: a complete guide (2021)

There are some businesses that seem to skyrocket to success quickly with their enticing branding and engaged customers. It’s natural to want this success for yourself as you struggle to see your social profiles and brand awareness picking up any steam. You’ve likely heard the term ‘community management’ come up, but feel it might not be necessary considering you already have a social media marketing strategy in place. 

Community management is a core part of establishing a thriving and loyal following, both on and off social media. It can help build strong and authentic relationships with your followers that can improve your digital and social presence. This, in turn, can give you more control over your brand’s narrative while nurturing long-time customers into dedicated advocates. 

In this post, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about community management, including what it is, different types of communities to manage, how to create a management strategy, and why you may need a community manager. 

What Is community management? 

Community management is the process of building, facilitating, and guiding an authentic and engaged community of customers, employees, vendors, and followers. These practices can be used in-person and online, and you can create a single community across multiple platforms. 

It gives your brand a more human voice that allows for actual relationship building while navigating complaints, advocacy-building, influencer connections, networking with brands, and gaining feedback. It also allows for brands to have a voice in any conversation happening about their brand, so they can be a calm voice in the comments section. 

The idea is to create a strong network with the brand at the center, making the brand invaluable in the process while allowing the managers to help shape the narrative of the brand itself along the way. 

It’s important to note community management is a broad industry — these are just some of the things community management allows your business to do.

“Community management” is really an umbrella term, which often ultimately encompasses multiple different individuals and departments in larger brands, including your customer service, social media, sales, marketing, and communication teams at the least, though it’s common for your social media team to typically be the most frequent and consistent customer-facing “figurehead” of the efforts. 

Community management vs. social media marketing

It’s not uncommon for small businesses to lump the concepts of community management and social media marketing into one single entity. There is, after all, often a great deal of overlap.

However, there are core differences between the two.

Social media marketing involves the strategic and developmental efforts of social media content production and publication. It’s responsible for finding ways to engage new customers while creating high-performing content that will help them stay in touch with existing followers. There’s an enormous focus on metrics like reach, impressions, engagement, and on-platform growth.

Community management, on the other hand, goes far beyond social media publishing even though social media can be an important part of community building. It’s part customer service, part sales, part marketing, and part social listening. You can find ways to help foster that group feeling with things like challenges, discussions, and conversations. You want to be active in discussions that relate to your brand, as community management is all about those small, direct contact moments. It’s community marketing in its own way. 

Why is community management important?

Community management is crucial for small businesses, especially those who are making a name for themselves. 

The biggest advantage is the ability to make your brand “bigger” than just your brand, product, or service to your customers. 

Let’s say that you have a boutique gym. People come, they work out, they leave. They like the experience, but eventually, they may leave if there’s something cheaper, or newer, or even if they just get bored. If, however, you facilitate a community with group exercises, in-person challenges, and online Facebook group discussions, members become more invested. They feel like part of a group, they make friends, and it becomes much harder to simply walk away for a cheaper service. 

Community management also offers the following benefits: 

  • The chance to gain new ideas and feedback from your customers and audience members from direct conversations
  • Offers support when it’s needed
  • Boosts product and brand awareness amongst your target audience 
  • Gains new insight into your audience’s needs, expectations, and motivations 
  • Increases the number of interactions, conversions, and sales within your brand 

If you aren’t actively investing in community management, there’s a good chance that you could miss out on the following opportunities:

  • Quickly address, manage, and resolve customer complaints
  • Turn customers into advocates and loyal clients 
  • Identify, attract, and recruit influencers, brand ambassadors, and affiliates
  • Find other brands to partner with 
  • Get honest product feedback on both established products and beta tests 
  • Be a part of the conversation 

Types of Community Management: The SPACES Model 

When you’re determining what specific types of community management that you want to focus on, breaking things down by the SPACES Model is a good start. The types of management reflected in this model include the following:

  • Support. Members can receive support from both you and other group members on questions they have, often with the goal being to improve customer satisfaction, success, and cost reduction. This community may act as a forum in some cases. 
  • Product. A primary focus is to gather feedback and insight from members to improve products, offerings, and the overall branded experience. You can also get ideas for new products or features to help your brand stand out and continue serving your target audience. 
  • Acquisition. Lead generation and customer conversions amongst new customers is a goal here, along with converting users into brand advocates or ambassadors. In some cases, valuable communities may also be leveraged as an offer that comes with a purchase. 
  • Content contribution. These groups actively seek contributions from users. This can range from financial contributions for product funding like you’ll see on Kickstarter, content contributions in the form of user-generated content for business promotion, resources to make introductions, or actions to help promote a cause. 
  • Engagement. This can be either external (customers) or internal (employees, vendors, volunteers, alumni), but the goal is to increase engagement, loyalty, retention, and brand-building through a shared community. These may not be as action-based outside of putting together group activities either online or virtually.
  • Success. Connect users and customers to share best practices of the product or the industry in general. Plenty of SaaS tools have groups relevant to their industry, but even a company selling vegan food could have a private group where people share their favorite tips, recipes, and ingredient substitutions. 

How to build a community management strategy 

Community management requires active, ongoing effort. It also requires putting a strategy in place so you can determine what actions need to be taken to both build and maintain the community that you’re shooting for.

Here are the steps you need to take in order to build a community management strategy.

Step 1. Choose a social media channel 

You can have multiple social media channels for your business (and in fact, this is encouraged), but choosing a single major touchpoint for community building can be a good choice. 

Think about your target audience and where they’re most likely to be. Younger users are more likely to be on TikTok, for example, than anyone over 30, and LinkedIn is a go-to choice for professional groups.

Facebook’s Group feature is always an exceptional choice; most demographics have Facebook accounts, and this tactic allows you to include customers into closed, exclusive groups. This can generate more discussion, engagement, and honesty as a result. 

Keep in mind that you actively engage in community management across multiple platforms all at once, but having a singular touchpoint like a Facebook or LinkedIn group for heightened focus can be a plus. 

Step 2. Identify your audience 

You’ve got a social media channel (or two, or three), so now it’s just time to find your audience.

You need to understand which segments of your target audience are on this specific platform, how they want to interact with brands and the type of content they love.

Market research is a good choice here. You can take a look at high-performing competitor accounts to gain insight into what’s helping them get results. Do they have flourishing private Facebook groups? Long-form content on LinkedIn, or regular contests on Instagram? 

Pull the best ideas from your different competitors if you think they will work for your audience. 

Step 3. Set community rules and guidelines 

Do you have in-person meetings, an office group online, or some sort of forum?

You get to set community rules and guidelines, and you should. 

This is harder to implement for a Page or public account, where you should still moderate comments but the focus isn’t necessarily on community building.

Any sort of group, however, allows you to create rules that members must follow if they want to be allowed to participate.

Remember that you want your business community rules to represent your business well, too. They will act as a portrayal of your brand, and that matters. Rules prevent your group from taking on a life of their own in the worst way possible and can ensure that your community is working for you instead of against you. 

Here’s how you can set rules for your community:

  • Put everything in writing, and keep it visible at all times. Facebook groups actually have a rules section that you can ask new members to agree to. You can also have a link to a file online that outlines the community guidelines. If there are ever new rules added, announce them to the group so no one misses them.
  • Be clear about the consequences. It’s common for first-time rule breakers to get a warning, second-time violators to receive a suspension, and third-time violators to receive a permanent ban depending on the broken rule, but this is up to you. Make sure that you’re clear about what happens if rules are broken.
  • Ask users to flag anything they’re uncomfortable with. If they know who the mods and admins are, they can reach out directly if they see broken rules or something they’re concerned about.
  • Be thorough with your rules. Consider including guidelines like no discrimination, no political arguments or discussion, and no screenshotting posts in the group and sharing them outside. 

If there are multiple team members moderating your community, get everyone on the same page about procedures for handling issues.

Step 4. Set your brand’s voice and tone 

Maintaining a consistent brand voice at all times is essential. This is a key factor in authenticity and brand-building, especially when it comes to online interactions. 

If your account sounds like it’s run by Kristen Bell one day and Mickey Rourke the next, people will be confused and leave. 

Each brand should have its own unique voice. Are you going to be purely professional and information-based? Friendly and casual? Helpful while still witty and entertaining? 

There’s a difference between a gym that’s all about hardcore strategies and “not being a wimp” than one that focuses on inclusivity and health for all as their core message. 

Think about what you want to go for, and then train any team members interacting with the community about how to implement that voice. For this reason, training your social marketing team is critical, but your customer service, sales, and marketing teams overall need to be familiar, too. 

Step 5. Monitor conversations related to your brand 

You want to keep an eye on any and all conversations happening about your brand. 

Social listening is the practice of seeing what people are saying about you, even if they’re not saying it to you. You can find these discussions on social media with quick searches, or by using social listening tools like Mention

Track what people are saying, what the sentiment is, and look for new opportunities. If you see a customer service crisis, jump in and offer to fix the situation. If it’s not something urgent and it wasn’t directed at you, you can always sit back, take note, and not engage directly if the interaction wasn’t left on your page or tagging you. 

‘Monitoring’ is the keyword here, and it can help you assess the health and reach of your community. 

Step 6. Keep conversations alive 

Online and offline conversations can be the lifeblood of your community. You want to keep them alive without being overbearing and requiring your presence for conversations to happen.

Pop in here and there to add a comment to some existing posts that you want to gain more visibility, which can encourage engagement from other users.

If the group starts to die down, post engagement-oriented questions like “If you could add one feature to our tool, what would it be?” and “What do you think are the next actions we should take?” 

Remember that everyone loves to feel appreciated, and they love to share their opinion. If you’re able to remember those two concepts and put them into practice, it can help nurture conversations like you wouldn’t believe. 

Step 7. Moderate comments and conversations 

You should always be moderating all comments and conversations, even if you’re doing it quietly and unobtrusively in the background. 

Part of this is for social listening purposes, of course, but you also want to be keeping an eye on everything to make sure that things are headed in a positive direction. You can intervene if things start to go off the tracks, steering the conversation closer back to where you want it. 

You can learn a great deal while also ensuring that your community stays a fun, positive, and engaging place to be. That’s a critical part of the puzzle. 

Step 8. Measure and analyze your results 

As your community grows, it’s essential to track progress. Otherwise, how will you even know that your community has grown?

While metrics will vary depending on the type of community you have, the specific goals that you’ve set, and the places where your group is located (including online vs. offline), the following results are typically helpful to track:

  • In-person attendance
  • Number of posts made by users within your group, forum, or on social pages online 
  • Positive reviews
  • Follower count 
  • Sales, especially if you’re offering trackable promo codes for different niches of community members 
  • Site traffic
  • Requests to join your group 
  • Number of positive conversations happening around your brand 

There are multiple different methods you can use in order to gain this information, including the following:

  • Social listening tools and active monitoring of your social accounts. When using social listening tools, make sure that you’re searching for your brand name, product names, and branded hashtags. Taco Bell, for example, would want to be monitoring for “Taco Bell,” “Crunchwrap,” and “#CrunchwrapSupreme.”
  • Third-party analytics tools. Your e-commerce or sales software can help you track increases in sales, which coupon codes were used, and new vs. returning customers. You can also use tools like Google Analytics (which is free) to see where site traffic is coming from, how users are interacting with your site, and how it’s resulting in purchases.
  • Native platform analytics. All social media sites have their own analytics available for business accounts, and many offer them for on-platform groups if the feature is available. Take advantage of these to assess month-to-month changes in engagement effectively. See how users are engaging with your content and with each other, and look for opportunities to boost engagement moving forward. 

Step 9. Explore new ways to engage your community 

If you want your community to thrive both now and in the future, it’s essential to make sure that you’re finding new ways to keep everyone engaged.

Sometimes, a new group or community can be fun and exciting just because it’s new, but then the luxury fades away and engagement drops off sharply. This is, unfortunately, all too common.

In order to continue building your community, keep it fresh, diverse, and interesting. Adapt to changes in your industry, along with community-building practices, as both will shift over time. 

Here are a few examples of how you can implement new strategies to keep everyone engaged:

  • Host guessing games, where people who guess the right answer first win a prize 
  • Have community contests with tiered prizes 
  • Try using new platform features, like Instagram Lives, TikTok, or Facebook Watch Parties 
  • Continually add new resources to your community, like new educational video series or even modules in Facebook’s groups 
  • Create diverse types of content using diverse media to keep people interested in what you’re posting next 
  • Have local events for local communities outside of the norm like asking people to donate gifts to underprivileged children for Christmas, or have a barbeque for all members to celebrate your year anniversary 

If you’re ever getting short on ideas, remember to ask your audience what they want. They’ll almost certainly tell you, and they’ll likely give you some outstanding ideas that you may not have thought of otherwise. And since they tell you exactly what they want, it’s much easier to deliver it in turn. 

Community Management Best Practices

  • Set goals & KPIs. Determine exactly what you want your community to accomplish before you start posting content and the key performance indicators you’ll use to measure progress towards those goals. Track them over time; community management is a long-term strategy. 
  • Set rules. Rules help keep your community organized and representing your brand well. Create custom rules as needed.
  • Monitor your community closely. Stay on top of your community. Check in to see what’s posted, and read the comments, too. If things spiral out of control, your brand will be the one whose reputation takes the biggest hit.
  • Keep a consistent brand voice. If you want to create a strong brand reputation, you need to be consistent in how you’re communicating and engaging with your community.
  • Offer relevant, timely content. If you want community engagement to go up, incorporating relevant-right-now content is an important step.
  • Offer value. If your community is valuable to someone, especially if the information is shared or connections are formed, they’ll stick around and engage more often.
  • Use social media management tools. While community management doesn’t only involve social media, the two are closely integrated into many cases. Using social media management tools can help you stay on top of all comments, timely posting, and quick response times.
  • Be authentic. When engaging in a community, members want to make real connections with real people. You’re not “just” a brand; show them the faces behind the brand, too, even if they’re carefully curated.
  • Be grateful. People are taking the time to not only purchase your product or service but also to engage in a community that you’re building. Be grateful for all of it, and remember the words “please” and “thank you.”  

What is a community manager? 

It’s easy to see that an enormous amount of work goes into community management, even if you’re a small business just starting out. 

That’s why hiring a community manager can be so important, especially for small businesses that are already strapped for time and overwhelmed with everything else that they need to do.

Community managers act almost as a liaison between a brand and its customers. They’ll handle community management strategies and development by providing community support, distributing content, and engaging across your key (or all) platforms. Their goal is to establish true, authentic, and honest relationships both online and in person as needed. 

You can hire community managers in full-time roles, or you can hire a third-party consultant or agency to act as your community manager. Some businesses prefer to outsource so they don’t need to pay for training, as community management requires ongoing learning of new trends in the customer service, business, and technology industries. 

What does a community manager do?

Community managers, as discussed above, play a central part in community management.

Their typical job responsibilities include:

  • Planning, scheduling, and publishing communication and social media campaigns 
  • Strategizing about new community-building initiatives 
  • Responding to customers in a timely manner 
  • Organizing and managing events to boost brand awareness and recognition 
  • Coordinating with marketing, PR, sales, development, events, and communications teams 
  • Track, monitor, analyze, and report on feedback, online reviews, and engagement-focused data 
  • Work on relationship building one-on-one with customers, industry professionals, and members of the media who can help boost your brand 

Because this job is so important, it’s crucial to choose someone who is a go-getter, capable of being a self-starter who will take it upon themselves to stay up-to-date with all the latest trends in social media, digital technology, and business best practices. 

How to find a qualified community manager 

When hiring someone, ensure that they meet all of the following criteria:

  • They have past and proven work experience as a community manager, or something similar like a hands-on social media manager 
  • They can identify and track relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) for your community
  • They have outstanding communication skills, both written and verbal 
  • They’re a “people person,” with great interpersonal and customer service skills 
  • They’ve got a history of social media management and hands-on experience
  • You’re confident they have experience planning, organizing, and hosting community initiatives 
  • They’ve got strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills 

Ideally, look for someone with at least two years of relevant experience in marketing and customer service, and consider looking for a bachelor’s degree in marketing or communications. 

Boost brand awareness, retention rates, and customer loyalty with community management 

Community management is no small task, but it’s well worth the effort thanks to the exceptional benefits that you can experience as a result.

Well-executed and consistent community management can lead to increased brand awareness, higher customer retention rates, more sales, and more passionate and dedicated customers. As your community grows with your brand at the center, you become more valuable than just your products or services, because your audience loves the community, too. It can even become part of their identity in some way, making your brand a bigger part of their lives.

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