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Below is a guest post by Jeni Asaba, Senior Manager in Community and Advocacy at Jamf. As an award-winning community manager, Jeni uses her passion for people to fuel her work. She shares her interests (travel), fears (crocodiles), and weaknesses (baked goods) with her community members as a way to forge genuine connections and trusted relationships. In addition to overseeing Community at Jamf, Jeni founded two nonprofits (Building for Bridget & Project Prom) and is inspired when groups come together to support a cause bigger than themselves. She’s a wife of nearly 16 years, the proud (and slightly exhausted) mom of two boys, and an endless dreamer.
Follow Jeni Asaba on LinkedIn for more tips and tricks about how to run a successful community.
We all know relationships are important. We consistently strive to generate real, human connections with others. But we sometimes fail to extend this practice to our brands’ interactions with customers. In these situations, we too often set aside our natural abilities to cultivate genuine connections, and instead institute transactional practices.
Simply put, we need to knock it off. When we interact with our customers, we need to bring more of our natural relationship-building tendencies into the workplace. In a recent report, Gartner® predicts that “by 2026, basic buying and selling experiences will be commoditized, and businesses will differentiate based on connected customer and employee experiences.”  Building genuine relationships with your customers has become essential, and that trend is only going to grow.
When we think about the pandemic, it’s easy to focus on the pain and uneasiness it brought into our lives. But we should remember — it also brought closeness. It forced us to explore (and implement) new ways to strategically connect with one another. For instance, over the last two years, you probably had more video calls with family and friends than ever before.
But did these new connection strategies extend to your customers? If you’re like many brands, the answer is probably no — you used the same pre-pandemic strategy for customer engagement. This was sometimes true even for brands that use digital-first customer engagement solutions, such as online communities.
Communities are vibrant and full of interaction. That’s why it’s essential that we bring our relationship-forming skills from our private lives into the (virtual) walls of our organizations. Because remember, our community members are human too. The good news is that you already have the tools to do this. You may just need a bit of help recognizing which tools to use where. Here are three proven steps you can take to build stronger, genuine relationships in a digital community:
In the book Radical Candor, author Kim Scott asks why it’s so much easier to be empathetic when we’re not in the workplace. Consider that for a moment. Is there a chance you stray a bit too far from your natural empathetic inclinations when you’re acting in your professional capacity? For most people, the answer is yes. Scott highlights that as humans, we’re conditioned to avoid hurting people’s feelings. But in the workplace, we shift our behaviors to protect ourselves, rather than addressing issues as we would among the comfort of our family and close friends.
But is it necessary to set aside so many of your personal traits when interacting with customers? When you bring your quirkiness, your humor, your vulnerability to your community, you start to lay the foundation for building strong relationships. Allow your users to get to know who you are. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.
Below is an example of how I introduce myself within one of the communities I oversee. I share a bit about my history at my organization, as well as fun (perhaps unexpected) facts about myself in an effort to allow community members to get to know me. This tactic works. I can’t even tell you how many times someone’s messaged me just to ask where this photo was taken. Open up to your customers, and they’ll return the favor.
I love running communities, partly because they’re so unpredictable. As with any customer engagement hub, communities bring something new every day; I never know exactly what to expect. Two years ago, I had a solid strategy for how I’d operate and grow one of the communities I managed over the upcoming year. I was excited about my plans, and I knew they’d greatly benefit my company. Then the pandemic hit, and in what felt like an instant, community members needed something entirely different. I put down my plans and began ideating new ways to give them what they needed at that time — connection. Immediately, customers thanked me for listening. By being agile with my strategy, I was able to best meet the needs of the community, and they responded with increased (and passionate) engagement.
Over the last two years, I’ve created opportunities for community members to connect. And through a variety of experiences, we laughed a lot, cried a little, and built genuine friendships — all through digital mediums.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen community managers make is building their strategy around what their organization needs from their users. Don’t do that. Please.
Instead, you need to put your ear to the digital wall and listen to what your community members need from you. This may be requesting routine feedback to check in on their needs; paying attention at virtual meetups to see what issues/struggles are mentioned; connecting with members on LinkedIn for visibility into career changes; or participating in Slack conversations with members. There are many ways to hear your members’ needs if you’re willing to listen. Be creative, show you care and you’ll get the clarity you need to move your community forward.
If they need more resources, make sure they’re getting first looks at new e-books, blogs, and upcoming webinars. If they want more visibility into your organization, introduce them to leaders of your product team. Or have your CEO share a special message just to your community members. If they strive for more connection (ahem, they do), find strategic ways for them to get to know each other — on their own terms. This could be through the opportunities I outlined above, or it could be by simply creating more dynamic user profiles so they can learn about others in a less engaging way.
Focus first on giving community members what they want, and your company will benefit from a strong, knowledgeable, appreciative community.
These three steps will help you cultivate relationships within your customer engagement hub on a global scale. In the same report I referenced above, Gartner predicts that “by 2026, 60% of large enterprises will use total experience to transform their business model to achieve world-class customer and employee advocacy levels.”  The future of your organization largely depends on how your customers feel about interacting with your brand. As empathetic, genuine, creative and curious community managers, you have the ability to impact customer relationships. And those relationships will help your organization thrive for years to come.
A huge thanks to Jeni Asaba for contributing her experience and expertise to the Khoros blog. If you’re looking to learn more about building a winning brand community, we’d love to meet.
 Gartner, “Future of Work Trends: Top 3 Customer Experience Trends”, Don Scheibenreif, Tori Paulman, 18 October 2021. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.