One of the biggest worries for any business starting a community forum is time. They know the benefits of a customer community, but they simply don’t think they have the staff bandwidth to accommodate one. It’s an understandable worry, but it relies on the false assumption that a customer forum requires new, dedicated staff to run. If you have the right processes in place, your existing staff can easily manage your customer community without extra costs. In the event that your forum grows large enough that further staff are required, additional staff can be justified as the ROI of ticket deflection and lead generation make themselves manifest.
Being a great community manager isn’t about the amount of hours you put in behind the keyboard. It’s about putting the proper systems in place to allow the forum to run smoothly without mindless busywork. Look for community managers who improve up front development in order to enhance efficiency down the line. Crucially, they can then use the time they’ve freed up to concentrate on improving your community in other ways. Here are a few ways a great CM can improve your forum community:
1. Encourage Peer-to-Peer Activity
One of the most important things in a support community is ensuring that your users are talking to each other. Another big advantage of these communities is the potential for customers to help solve problems for each other, rather than waiting for your support staff to step in. A great community manager will foster this environment and ensure that users feel valued and rewarded for helping out.
They can also ensure that users are able to solve intra-forum problems (such as troublesome or disruptive users) quickly, by bringing problem posts to the attention of staff. Report systems are hugely efficient for this. Rather than having to read every thread and hunt down trolls, CMs and moderators can give users a way to bring troublesome threads to their attention. Not only is this a labour-saver for your staff, it also allows your members to feel like they have a say in how the community is run.
Your community manager is key to getting these elements to work effectively. They should ensure that your users are properly onboarded, with well written and clear guidelines on what does and does not constitute acceptable behaviour. They should set up systems (e.g, gamification) that give users positive feedback for lending a hand. With the right preparation, a CM doesn’t need to spend all their time in the trenches and neither do your support staff.
2. Make it a team effort
Having the right staff on board is hands down the most crucial aspect of an effective support community. While the CM should always be ready to take the lead, having other staff share the load helps everybody. Each question that is answered on the community has an amplification effect. Rather than simply answering an email or call, your staff can add to the growing knowledge base of the community and deflect inbound support. Users would always prefer to be able to find an answer to a thorny problem with a google search rather than a phone call.
Your community manager should take the lead in encouraging your staff to pitch in, rather than adding new headcount. You may, of course, want to add dedicated staff in time. Once the community is established, the ROI from deflected support tickets combined with the marketing benefits of a community forum will make extra hires easy to justify.
3. Control your community from the outset
Your community manager should be a steady hand on the tiller in the early days of the community. Without an effective plan, a community forum will meander aimlessly. Is your community dedicated to support, best practises, brand evangelism or all/none of the above? Whatever your goals, they need to be clearly outlined before launch.
A great community manager will have put the work in before the starting gun goes off, to ensure that new users know exactly what to expect (and what is expected of them in turn). They’ll ensure that your users are properly onboarded, that the role of the community is well-defined and that it doesn’t shift to something else over time. They’ll know how to take your internal mission statement and project that to your customers. Whatever your goals are, they’re responsible for ensuring that the community is working towards them from day 1.
Putting in the groundwork improves your ROI in the long term
The benefits of a customer community are many, and foregoing them because of fears about staffing can be a costly mistake. Once you have the right practises in place, the running cost in staff terms of a forum are very low. A business that’s too reticent about putting these practises in place pays the price in the long term as their competition reaps the benefits of a well run community.