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The engagement age: Community professionals fostering business growth

We’ve all grown increasingly dependent on virtual interactions because of the pandemic. As a result, marketing departments are growing wise to the opportunities that increased online interactions create for fostering customer satisfaction and building engagement.

Enter the rise of the community professional. They’re employees whose primary role is to increase engagement and create better digital experiences for both employees and consumers. We’re seeing evidence of the rise of virtual communities with the growth of the use of community tools like Slack, Discord, and Google Meet in the workplace.

According to CMX’s Community Industry Report, 22% of companies report having a dedicated community department, which is up from 15% in 2021. And across the Software Development, Digital Experience and Social Media industries we’re seeing more focus on the importance of community engagement for fostering inclusivity, building customer loyalty, acquisition and engagement.

In this article we speak to three experts from across various sectors and we ask them to share their insight on the rise of community professionals.

Inclusivity and connection

The need for businesses involved in software development to establish online hubs for communities where like-minded developers may share information and discuss relevant subjects is expanding. And for consumer-centric organisations, the creation of community management tools helps build insights around the customer experience.

‘The thing about communities is that they provide a person with the feeling of inclusivity,’ says Greg Gatherer, Account Manager at Liferay Africa, an open-source company that helps businesses create digital experiences.

Gatherer adds that in the modern workplace, inclusivity is essential to ensure that the corporate culture drives the need for belonging and feeling connected to your team and your company, even if you are working remotely.

‘When it comes to employee engagement, digital experience platforms (DXPs) enable companies to unify the workforce on a single platform allowing for collaboration, driving productivity and ensuring that the sense of belonging to the organisation is achieved,’ says Gatherer.

Engagement and social media 

Across industries, this personalisation of customer experience is growing in importance. Customers want to feel that brands embody their personal values and as The World Economic Forum reports, over 80% of consumers from South Africa to Great Britain are more likely to support businesses who emulate their customer communities’ personal values in their brand messaging. Doing so is not as simple as picking a value set aligned with a business’ industry, especially for industries where there are large customer groups, each with their own nuances who need to be communicated to as individuals, such as the hospitality industry.

As Radisson Hotel Group’s Senior Area Director for Marketing and Communications, Stephanie Aboujaoude comments: ‘In the hospitality industry, the pandemic has most certainly bolstered the need for social interaction. With unpredictable restrictions slowing down the volume of travellers, our need to virtually reach and engage with our guests, both current and prospective, has grown.’

Monitoring customer sentiment, gauging tone of voice and timeously responding to current and potential customers online is what has fuelled the growth of the Community Manager role in the hospitality industry. Community engagement and audience monitoring helps to inform marketing and communications managers on the tone and content for future marketing strategies.

‘This has meant that all our marketing and communication strategies had to adapt and our teams needed – even more so now – to be agile in these strategies. From social media content strategies to personalisation on our websites, we focus on gearing up and tailoring the communication and content we share via our various platforms to ensure we are not only grabbing our audience’s attention but also creating a relationship and building loyalty with them.

‘We do this by encouraging our team to interact with our communities using our specific tone of voice and through creating emotive content. They look at every platform and study the way our audiences engage with our brand and adapt our communications to hold attention for longer and when customers make bookings, to make their hotel experience that much more tailored.’

Social to customer interaction for home buyers 

In the home loans industry personal relationships matter a great deal, says Carl Coetzee, CEO of BetterBond. ‘Each home loan application gets handled with care and attention because we know property ownership can be life-changing as it can help secure your financial future.’ A community manager makes it possible to engage directly and immediately with individual homebuyers on social media.

These interactions can range from answering a simple question about being pre-approved for a home loan or getting a bond, to sorting out something more complex that might be delaying someone’s home loan application. ‘It’s also a powerful way of raising brand awareness and doing consumer education – especially around home loan affordability – to help South African homebuyers make more informed choices when purchasing property,’ says Coetzee.

The pandemic made it a lot more urgent for us to provide the option of online home loan applications. It accelerated our work on what we call Get Started – where a client can take the first step on their way to getting a home loan at any time of day or night by uploading their own documents.

‘Ours is an assisted system so we still offer human interaction too. Our consultants contact our customers and keep them informed at every step of the bond application process to make sure they always know what is happening. We also constantly re-evaluate our online environment to identify friction points and implement tweaks and changes to make the customer journey more enjoyable and smooth,’ adds Coetzee. ‘Whether on social media or on our website, we know we must remain agile and responsive to our customers’ changing desires and demands.’

A necessity – not a nice to have

According to the CMX research, only 5% of communications teams currently have at least one full-time member dedicated to community operations. Today, online consumer engagement has evolved into a requirement rather than a nice to have, thanks to the pandemic driving virtual connections with companies and the growing demand for personalised customer experience.

Image credit: Damian Zaleski / Unsplash

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