creating_an_online_community_b2b_expert_tipsCreating an online community can be incredibly rewarding. You get to interact with amazing people who are passionate about a purpose. And, if you build it right, you can watch your community grow into a lively exchange of ideas, advice and new, lasting connections.

But, of course, the road to community bliss is not without its challenges. So, to help you get through the rough patches, we’ve pulled together some community management tips from those who’ve already gone through it.

1. Identify and nurture those who love what you do

Alex Shebar, Yelp Community Director for London, talked about the important role advocates play in driving community growth through word of mouth at a session during this year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD).

“I cannot understate brand advocacy working for Yelp because we would not exist without people who love what we do,” he said.

“You can’t exist by just buying newspaper ads or buying a television ad, or doing anything that you used to do 30, 20, or even five years ago. The industry has shifted. Without these people who love you and want to spread this word of mouth, you are done from moment one.”

Find and identify your brand’s advocates through NPS surveys, talking to your customer success team, and searching social networks for fans.

2. Know how to scale

Harmony Eichsteadt, Evangelist at NationBuilder, believes in driving personal, one-to-one interactions in communities. However, it’s impossible to scale this kind of relationship building with just one community manager, or even a small team.

This is why she recommends using technology and your advocates to extend your reach.

“As you grow, you can’t be face-to-face with everyone,” she said during a CMAD panel. “That’s when technology helps you find out: Who are the people who are your biggest product evangelists? Who are the people who have a lot of influence in their communities?

“Then get your face in front of those people’s faces and ask them to put their face in front of their community’s faces. That’s the only way you can be successful scaling an engaged group of folks.”

Encourage your brand’s top advocates to help drive community activity and membership growth with the right mix of rewards and recognition.

3. Be a good neighbor

“When you’re building a community, you have to be a good neighbor first,” said Destin Haynes, Co-founder at Community Collective, during a CMAD panel she hosted. Rather than bombard your community members and advocates with asks, you need to take the time to build relationships. Provide them with something of first.

“If you move into a new neighborhood, you wouldn’t go over to your neighbor’s house right away and ask to borrow the lawn mower,” she said. “You’d go over and say ‘Hi.’ You’d take them a pie. Give, give, give. Give some more. Then you’re ok to ask.”

Gather feedback and work with your community members to create content, programs or discussions they will find valuable.

4. Go beyond your own community

Rafe Jeune, Community Manager at L Marks, stressed the importance of bringing outside conversations into your community during a panel discussion at this year’s CMAD.

In order to strengthen your own community, you need to find out where else your members are spending time online. “Search the web to find out what your community is doing, and leverage that to create more engagement,” he said.

“You can see which other communities they’re interacting with through Twitter, and which conferences they’re speaking at. From those, you can leverage that to start other conversations about what they spoke about.”

5. Humanize with employee advocates

The best B2B communities are built on long-term, person-to-person relationships. That’s why humanizing your brand is essential to your community’s success.

During a CMAD panel discussion, Brian Fanzo, Chief Digital Strategist for Talking Fast and Tweeting Faster, recommended brands look to their employees for help.

“Focus on turning some of your employees into the rock stars so that they can then be the face of the brand, more so than just the logo,” he said.

Employees can become relatable advocates for your company. Give them the tools and guidelines they need to act as a voice for your brand, and you’ll reap the rewards.

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