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The complete guide to social media community management


In today’s new social media landscape, engagement is right up there with entertainment and with good reason. Active social media communities build hype around a brand, providing organic amplification for launches and promotional activities, alike.

That being said, community management in social media and owned community management are two entirely different beasts. On social, you’re beholden to the engagement standards of each specific network. That means working across different platforms, managing multiple conversations at once and staying up-to-date on network updates and trends.

Paula Perez, Community Manager at Oatly, leads the brand’s community management efforts on TikTok. Her work powers the brand’s consumer communications team by creating transparency and promoting advocacy on a fast-paced network.

“We keep things going in the comment section, reach out to superfans, create fan experiences—anything that builds a sense of brand loyalty.”

We spoke with Perez to get the inside scoop on Oatly’s approach to community management, plus her insights on what it takes to grow a thriving community. In this guide, you’ll find interview highlights along with best practices that will help refine your brands approach to social media community management.

A text-based graphic that says, 'What is social media community management? Social media community management is the process of engaging audiences across social media networks to increase brand loyalty and grow authentic connections.

Social media community management is the process of engaging audiences across social media networks to increase brand loyalty and grow authentic connections. This function oversees the one-to-one or one-to-few interactions that strengthen relationships and promote brand advocacy.

Nearly every social media network—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitch, even Discord—has features that support creating and maintaining active communities. A social media community management strategy defines the cross-network approach a business takes managing conversations with brand advocates.

That said, not all communities are created equal. Tactics should be refined based on where the community lives to yield the best results.

What is a social media community manager?

 Social media community managers are responsible for engaging audiences across networks to further develop a community. At a high level, this may sound like a social media manager’s responsibility, but there are distinct differences that separate the two roles.

While you may see her in an Oatly TikTok from time to time, Perez says community managers do not create social content. “I’ll star in a TikTok on occasion because I’m comfortable in front of a camera, but I don’t plan or create any of the content that goes on our social media profiles. Our creative and social teams work together on that.”

You can’t overstate the role of community management in social media. It’s its own discipline, separate from creative production or content strategy. When done well, it becomes a powerful tool for boosting brand perception. Here’s how:

It strengthens customer relationships

Brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. According to a recent McKinsey study, nearly three-fourths of U.S. consumers have tried new shopping behaviors since the onset of COVID-19, and more than 75% express a high intent to maintain those behaviors.

To prevent churn, you need to invest in your customer relationships.

When brands reallocate effort toward relationship-building, they create stronger relationships that can drive ROI. A Q1 ‘23 Sprout Social pulse survey found that consumers are 77% more likely to increase their spending with brands they feel connected to, up from 57% in 2018.

It increases brand visibility

Social media algorithms are notoriously mysterious, and what works today may not work tomorrow.

Building an active community is the best way to grow your reach when the algorithm works in your favor, and maintain it when it doesn’t. Actively participating in conversations on social media pushes your brand past the boundaries of your owned profile, introducing it to new potential fans.

Perez says these efforts helped establish and build Oatly’s brand presence across the social media landscape. “Whenever I tell people I work at Oatly, they always tell me they see our page in comments sections all over the place.”

It promotes brand authenticity

We’ve come a long way from the beautiful, curated feeds of the early 2010s. Now, brand authenticity is the goal to strive for. Consumers want to see personality, even if it lacks the polish that was once a social media standard.

A Tweet from the McDonalds Twitter account (@McDonalds) that says “got my finger stuck in the soda lid”. The sentence is misspelled just enough to be funny while still being easy to understand. Another Twitter user (@trcogs) replied to the Tweet, saying “McDonald’s, hold on I’m coming to help” in all caps.

Perez believes that social media community management is crucial to humanizing a brand. “Community building creates a more authentic exchange, as opposed to standard promotional posting.”

Brands stand to gain a lot by prioritizing community management in social media. That said, your approach has to be consistent to reap those benefits. It takes more than just a few likes and comments to create lifetime fans.

Use these five tactics to get the most out of your social media community management strategy. 

1. Prepare to answer difficult questions

If you’re going to do community management, you have to do it all the way. That means engaging with it all—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Don’t worry. Engaging with a rogue hater doesn’t have to be stress-inducing if you don’t let it be. Oatly’s figured out how to make it fun.

“We try to be really responsive, no matter what,” says Perez. “We even have some fun with people who give us criticism. We know we won’t convince that person to love Oatly, but there’s also a chance someone else might see our response and think it’s funny.”

Maintaining this responsiveness means prepping your team to answer the hard questions. At Oatly, this looks like regular knowledge shares on issues relevant to their product and mission. “We get a lot of questions about niche ingredients, packaging, our commitment to sustainability—we’re given the resources needed to speak on all of it.”

A Tweet from Oatly (@oatly) responding to a question on why their oat milk is labeled gluten-free in the US but not in Austra. Their response says, “Hey, the oats we use for our European products are not gluten-free, but we guarantee that they contain a maximum of 100 parts per million (mg/kg product) gluten. For a product to be labelled gluten-free, the gluten level must be less than 20 ppm.”

2. Reward your superfans

As you grow your social media community, you’ll begin to notice some friendly faces. These are budding brand evangelists. Getting them to that stage requires some thoughtful engagement.

The first step is identifying your superfans. Look for people who drive community conversations forward by engaging with your social content: it might be someone that always tags themselves at your location on Instagram, or maybe they’re the first to comment on posts in your Facebook Group.

From there, show them your appreciation. Perez knows that even the simplest gifts can be a major relationship builder.

“We send out gifts all the time,” says Perez. “Coupons, stickers, handwritten notes—things like that make people feel like they really are a part of a community.”

3. Prioritize proactive engagement

Brands should strive for balance between the reactive and proactive elements of their social media community management strategy. One reinforces the strength of the community, and the other grows it in size.

If you look at the comment section of any viral TikTok, you’ll likely see a few brands chiming in.

Screenshot of McDonald's top comment on a viral TikTok posted by @IAmBobbyMcFly

This style of proactive marketing—an audience engagement strategy that leverages conversations around brands or industries that don’t explicitly mention a brand handle—is a masterful way to increase reach and expand your community. A top comment on a viral post gets a healthy fraction of all those impressions.

4. Establish a content creation feedback loop

Social media community managers may not be content creators, but that doesn’t mean the two roles don’t work closely together. In fact, Perez attributes much of Oatly’s TikTok success to the collaborative efforts between the two teams.

“We’re their eyes and ears,” says Perez. “We’re constantly passing along information we find to help inform content strategy. If we find a creator who’s an Oatly fan, we’ll pass their information over to our social team so they can kick off that relationship.”

This feedback loop strengthens both functions by democratizing insights so that both teams can act in lockstep. When creative teams, community and social media managers are aligned, the result is a more consistent brand experience for the fans on the other end of the message.

5. Empower your team with the right management tools

Social media is an ever-expanding frontier. Conversations about your brand or industry can—and will—pop up anywhere. If you want to keep up, you need to set your team up with community management tools.

Sprout Social is designed to handle the evolving needs of social media community management teams. Our platform offers a suite of tools designed to provide visibility into fan activity cross-network, including:

  • The Smart Inbox: Unify your social channels into a single stream to monitor inbound messages, tags, keyword use and more.
  • Social listening: Act faster on customer-informed engagement opportunities, whether your brand is directly mentioned or not.
A screenshot of the Sprout Social Listening Query builder. In this screenshot, the Brand Health topic type is selected.
  • CRM Integrations: Link inbound messages to database contact profiles in Salesforce, Marketo or Microsoft Dynamics 365 to provide superior customer service.

Thriving brand communities bring people together over a shared connection to a company’s mission, vision or goals. Learn how to translate your business needs into a thriving fan base with these three social media community management examples:

1. Oatly

Oatly started their TikTok account in October 2022. Less than six months later, they have more than 600,000 followers and 8.5 million Likes on the platform.

“We leverage a lot of the organic conversations that happen about Oatly on TikTok,” says Perez. “It’s given people a new way to communicate with us. There are so many of our fans on TikTok that we weren’t able to reach until now. It’s a new touchpoint that proves the value of being where your fans are.”

The brand’s approach to social media community management helps grow their account by capitalizing on every opportunity to showcase their personality. In some situations, the comments they leave on other accounts receive the same amount of attention as their own posts.

For example, when UK comedian Simon David shared a video poking fun at the Oatly theme song printed on the side of their cartons, the brand was quick to act in the comments.

A screenshot of a post from Paula Perez’s LinkedIn page. The post says “What do you do when your brand theme song gets roasted on TikTok? A couple weeks ago, a comedian found our cartons and had so much beef with the Oatly anthem that he made his own version - piano instrumentals and all. Within the hour, we had almost 100 people tagging us to make sure we saw the new version - we knew this creator was just having fun and maybe was already an Oatly fan, so our community team decided to engage. It took over 2 hours of teamwork to craft the perfect responses and set up a gift mailing, but the feedback was totally worth it: - 18K likes on our response (almost 30% of the total video likes) - Tons of Oatly love in the comment section - A bonus interaction with another plant-based brand”

“Our comment got around more than 20,000 likes—almost 30% of the total likes on the video. It was a really fun interaction and it wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t keeping an eye on our brand mentions.”

2. Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University is home to a large community of students, teachers, staff, parents and alumni. Some of these individuals still call College Station home, but many more have ventured beyond campus limits to start their post-grad lives.

There’s a ton to borrow from the Texas A&M playbook. But, if you’re going to replicate any of their successes, you’ve got to start with their approach to social media accessibility.

“Creating accessible content has been a priority of our team for several years, and things like including image descriptions are just part of our workflow,” says Krista Berend, Director of Social Media at Texas A&M.

A screenshot of a Tweet from the Texas A&M University Twitter account (@TAMU). The Tweet says “Whether you’re only gone for a week, or haven’t been back in years, Aggieland can’t wait to welcome you back home”. It includes an image of Albritton tower. The alt text says “The sun sets behind Albritton Bell tower and a quiet Aggieland”.

By prioritizing accessibility, the Texas A&M social team creates an inclusive community that caters to all Aggies, no matter their physical or cognitive abilities. Berend and her team use Sprout Social to ensure their content creates an inclusive experience for all Aggies, not just some.

“With the software we were using before, we had to do all of that natively across social channels,” explains Berend. “With Sprout we can do all of that within the platform, which makes our workflow so much easier. Plus, as social channels add more accessibility features, we’ve noticed that Sprout almost immediately has those in the back end for us to use.”

A screenshot of the Sprout Social compose window. The “More Options” drop down is selected. The mouse is hovering over the “Add descriptive text” button, located in the drop down.

3. Lyft

Lyft’s approach to social media community management is a consumer and marketer favorite, because they respond to everything—complaints, jokes, random anecdotes about Lyft experiences. If you mention their brand online (with or without a tag), chances are they’ll be in your replies shortly.

A screenshot of a Tweet from @stinkyclownbaby that says “my Lyft driver doesn’t know I’m listening to the muppets on Spotify rn”. The @Lyft Twitter account responded by simply saying “go off queen”.

These efforts humanize the brand by reinforcing their voice. A quick scroll through the Replies tab of the Lyft Twitter account surfaces countless examples of the fun and irreverent personality they’re known for.

Cracking jokes and laughing alongside their fans gives them the brand authenticity needed to earn loyal fans in a crowded market.

Strengthen your community management strategy

 A solid approach to social media community management can bolster organic reach, create brand ambassadors and further cement your brand’s personality in an authentic, human way.

To create audience connections that drive ROI, check out this guide to building a solid community management strategy. It’s filled with practical examples that will show you how to put everything you just read into action.

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