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A few years ago, the role of community manager as we know it today didn’t exist. Social media was in its infancy, and as brands joined in they started to see the real value in having 24/7 access to their prospects, customers and partners. This new role of someone to wrangle the information and people involved became the community manager. Instead of just pushing info out, brands began inviting their community in. The community responded with loyalty and valuable input.

Retailers could learn a thing or two from them.

The best community managers listen first to their members.

The community managers who figured it out early were the ones who realized quickly they were engaged in a conversation with their community members, not at them. By finding out what members wanted, the community was built around the member needs. The best ones offered lots of what members requested and kept the promotions and sales to a minimum. Online communities created safe places for members to engage in real dialogue. The community managers who responded as real people were the ones who earned loyalty and trust. Retailers don’t often encourage customers to get involved in the development of stores or experiences. And why not? Customers might have the best ideas. Tie in online community with offline to encourage suggestions, ideas and feedback from customers.

Buick recently invited community members to create Pinterest boards of inspiration for their interior and exterior design concepts for the Buick Encore. Retailers could adapt this same crowdsourcing attitude for store layouts, online experiences, mobile apps, and more. (Sears and others opened virtual stores in Second Life back in 2007, but the crowd reach now with these tools is far beyond what it was then.)

Community managers stay current on how their members like to engage.

Do you like getting called on your home phone from companies you’ve never heard of? Of course not, but there was a time when that was more acceptable than it is today. Community managers pay attention to how their members participate in the conversation. If they prefer Twitter over email for customer service, the community manager responds accordingly.

Retailers could learn from this. While traditional stores recoil at the idea their stores are becoming showrooms for online retailers as customers scan items to check prices and order online, some innovative retailers have embraced this as the way their customers do business. Bonobos remains an online-only shop, but created a physical place where customers could try on what they like and order online right there. And Hointer is creating store spaces that hide pretty much all the actual inventory. You see a sample of what you like in the store, scan a code and enter the dressing room where your desired clothing is waiting for you. It’s automated to the hilt, and yet it feels more like a personalized shopping experience.

Instead of casting a wider net, they create a more compelling magnet.

Community managers know their job is much more about creating a space and nurturing their community than trying to gather as many people as possible in the tent. Casting a huge net to get Facebook likes or Twitter followers doesn’t really serve any brand. Creating a place where people love to hang out is where the real magic happens. Communities that work attract the best kind of members through creating the place where they want to be. Community members begin sharing more and contributing because they enjoy it, not because they’re incentivized to do so.

The success of pop-up stores that cater to who is around and the context of their experience — like Kate Spade holiday pop-up store in New York — is much more appealing to shoppers than a shopping experience that doesn’t consider them at all. Creating the experience around the customer means paying attention to what community managers already know. Your brand is not the star. If you’re very, very good and even a little lucky, your customers will feel a part of a community.

How are you helping your community members feel engaged with your brand experience?

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Jeannie Walters

Latest posts by Jeannie Walters
Jeannie Walters
Jeannie is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and the CEO/Founder of 360Connext, a Customer Experience consulting firm based in the Chicago area. Jeannie's solid grasp of the entire spectrum of challenges and services involved in the totality of customer experience is unparalleled and is what earned her a place in the 2012 TEDx Naperville experience. She's also been quoted in CRAIN'S Chicago Business, Investor’s Business Daily, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times.
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