Why I’ve stopped answering when people ask ‘what is community management?’
Why I’ve stopped answering when people ask ‘what is community management?’

Why I’ve stopped answering when people ask ‘what is community management?’

The next time someone asks you to define an online community, turn the tables and ask them three simple questions.

5th December 2016

I found when I started at Quiip it was difficult for people to understand what ‘online community’ is as opposed to social media.

It took me a while to figure out how to explain it in a meaningful way. Part of the problem is, in our industry, there is a lot of confusion between online community (as we define it) and social media audiences.  Online community has become a phrase used to describe social media sites and a brands’ followers on the sites. Online community as we talk about it, is forums or blogs and other owned sites that foster peer-to-peer conversation around a shared interest. Alternately, connections on a social network are built around a person or brand’s social graph, or groups of acquaintences.

But that’s a lot to explain in an elevator pitch, right? So I’ve learned how to stop answering that question.

Now, whether it’s a potential client or my grandmother, when I get asked ‘what is community management?’, or ‘what is an online community?’, or, ‘you do Facebook right?’, I turn the table and ask them these three questions:

What forums do you visit?

One solution I found was to start using examples. Sometimes I use clients as examples, like the communities we’ve built for AMP Capital or Play Safe (NSW Health), but those weren’t relevant to everyone except those interested in self-managed superfunds or how to use a condom.

But when I started asking, ‘what forums do you read or are a part of?’, everyone had an answer. My mother-in-law is a Ravelry fan. My husband reads 4×4 forums whilst at work. Another friend is an Etsy member. Interestingly enough, my father-in-law is the most prolific forum member I know; he frequents TripAdvisor, Choice and car forums.

Think of the last time you searched about best NBN deals, you remember seeing Whirlpool, right? Or the last time you were looking for hair or makeup advice? You probably saw Vogue or Sephora. Or maybe you wanted some parenting advice and found sites like BubHub, Essential Baby or Belly Belly. These are all online communities, more commonly referred to as forums. Personally my favourite is Strava.


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When you visit that site, do you get a feeling that it’s a safe environment with a sense of community, tone of voice, in-jokes and social norms?

If I were to try and explain all the intrinsic motivations for participating in forums, I would need your attention for a week and would be blue in the face citing references on human behavioural science.

I’ve found it much quicker to ask someone to picture themselves scrolling through their favorite forum and imagining the feeling that they get when they do so; the feelings of familiarity, social acceptance, and trust right through to possibly friendship, responsibility and belonging.

It’s what every marketing manager dreams of igniting in their customers.

Has a forum ever influenced you in a purchasing decision?

The answer is ‘yes’ every time.

The most obvious case is when people are influenced by a product or service being reviewed elsewhere (Whirlpool, Zomato, any of the million car forums).

Increasingly though, people are influenced by the company having it’s own community to help (Thermomix, Lenovo, Lululemon).

In the case of others, the community makes the customer feel like a bigger part of something and that connection encourages a purchase. Sometimes the connection encourages a purchase because people subconsciously identify with a social group, and at others it is as simple as keeping the product top of mind and therefore a stronger contender (Etsy, Starbucks and Airbnb).

Maybe the community actually introduced the purchaser to the product (Westpac’s The Ruby Connection, CommBank or Porsche’s Woman with Drive).

Most likely, it’s a combination of them all.


In the 60 seconds that it takes me to ask these questions, most of my work is done. All that is left to do is point out that Quiip makes point 2 happen in order to produce point 3: we build thriving communities that people are motivated to be a part of in order to fulfil a client’s business objective, often increased sales.

Side note: if you are wondering, yes we do do social media. All of our community management knowledge, engagement and risk management principles can be applied to social media to elevate our client’s pages from the crowd.

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