There’s no such thing as office hours when it comes to internet—it’s 24/7, which is why a brand’s community management team must also operate around the clock. What’s more, the rules of customer care no longer fit into a neat box. Whereas customer service used to be contained—there was one number to call with one department to handle complaints, with the prefoliation of platforms, the sky’s the limit.
Today, when customers have an issue or concern, they feel empowered to share it with the world and demand attention when and where they want it. And they don’t want to be directed to a more traditional customer service outlet. They don’t want to switch channels, and they don’t want to wait, which is why constant moderation of comments, direct messages, tags and message board conversations is essential.
It cannot be overstated: community management is now synonymous with customer service. Customer demands are greater than they once were—customer care now encompasses public relations, crisis management, market opportunities and more.
Customers demand human connection
It’s said that a good reputation is more valuable than money, and when it comes to brand perception in the digital sphere, the two go hand in hand. For Gen Z and younger millennials, how brands behave online has a huge impact on their spending behaviors, and with Gen Z set to become the biggest consumer segment, all eyes and ears need to be tuned in to their reactions.
“Gen Z holds a connection with brands far more strongly than any other generation,” Katie Gillis, director of strategy at ICUC explained. As a digital customer care agency, ICUC has seen a 67% increase in brand loyalty when online communities are engaged.
“For them, it’s very important where a company stands on issues, and being heard on social media is a huge component,” Gillis continued. “They are not about to give their loyalty if they’re not being acknowledged, and that’s why community management is essential. When you’re doing it right, it’s a huge win.”
In his latest research, author Jay Baer, a customer experience and digital marketing expert, found that 83% of consumers expect businesses to respond to their concerns as fast as if not faster than before the pandemic. What’s more, Gen Z has less sympathy for businesses than older generations, with 43% holding businesses to this higher post-pandemic standard. His consumer patience survey, titled Time to Win, revealed that 66% of respondents believe that speed of response is as important as price, with 50% adding that they’re less likely to spend money if a business’ customer service is slower than they’d like.
With 76% of customers surveyed adding that they’ve contacted or mentioned a business or brand and never received a response, there’s clearly a wide customer service gap that community management needs to fill.
Knowing the role of the community manager
Community management is now an essential part of both a social media strategy and the customer service playbook. While social media managers run creative content campaigns, a community manager takes on the essential role of the engaged brand enthusiast and the community liaison. From the outside lens, these humans behind the chat bot, social media comment feed or Twitter DM are sifting through, responding to and escalating thousands of customer inquiries a day.
Strategically, a community manager is forming authentic connections with a brand’s online community, protecting the face of the brand and its values, while intently monitoring what is being said and where, 24/7, across the digital sector. Community management is an entirely separate role within the social media or marketing department, and it’s a tough one at that, which is why so many companies now outsource the job to trained teams.
Outsourcing proves to be both efficient in price and in results. When vehicle glass provider Safelite brought on ICUC to help with its community management, they were able to cut traditional staffing costs by 43%. What’s more, Safelite offloaded 25% of its around-the-clock case volume, and ICUC trimmed a 2-hour service level agreement to an average of 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Niche groups relate in niche platforms
Beyond the big social media players, community-driven platforms like those found on Discord, Reddit and Twitch are quickly becoming powerful arenas where brands can capitalize on the conversations. On social media people tend to either lurk or broadcast, while in online communities users actively spend their time finding like-minded peers who have similar interests. They then build a forum from there, where they share information, expertise and support.
According to a recent Global Web Index report, more than 75% of internet users participate in online communities, and often prefer them to social media feeds. Why? Over two thirds of people are able to better connect with others with similar interests, ranking community sites 36% higher for the topic, “I can have meaningful conversations,” than social media sites.
Gillis explained that brands need to begin including these platforms under their community management umbrella, because four out of five consumers are open to brand participation here. With authentic contributions, customers can develop what to them feels like a one-on-one relationship with a brand.
“COVID has really made everyone feel a loss of connection,” Gillis said. “And connection, when it comes down to it, is the focal point of social media and online communities, not just friend to friend but also friend to consumer. That’s really important because we all know that the more emotional connection someone has with a brand, the more loyalty and repeat business will be naturally generated.”