Imagining the Future of Online Community Management

The internet is a fast-changing place; the way we communicate is very different than just 10 years ago, and it’s tough to predict what technology will be like years from now. Still, community managers must stay ahead of the curve and envision future digital landscapes to best serve their businesses and communities. With every new platform or technology announced, new ways of communicating emerge—typically with some unforeseen challenges.

To get a better idea of the future of online community management, we’re assessing some online community management trends and what they might lead to in the future. These ideas include:

  • Immediate, always available communication between brands and their communities
  • The rise of location services and AR
  • Horizontal decision-making processes that empower users
  • The inevitability of AI and automation

Community Management Will Need Immediacy & Approachability

When you look at platforms springing up today, they all have something in common: an immediate, intimate connection between users. Even legacy platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are pushing for live content from their users.

In the coming months and years, we’ll see a rise in communities built around live content and gatherings. Look at platforms already available like Twitch and Rabbit; and with VR apps on horizon like Facebook Spaces, it’s easy to see a move toward communities that thrive on real time conversation.

Why it matters: Platforms thriving on immediacy can connect influencers to their communities like never before. But this also requires immediate community moderation and ‘round-the-clock community management. This is because conversation might move from comments to fast-moving chat rooms.

Because platforms centered around live content often allow independent content creators to build an audience, community management tools will need to be approachable for individuals—not just enterprise teams. Independent content creators also face very real threats from trolls that larger businesses don’t.

As the divide between online and offline experience blurs, community managers will have to innovate and work harder to provide a safe environment for all. Ideally, platforms would offer the tools for this natively, with startups moving to fill in the gaps.

Location & AR as Online Community Management Trends

Remember last year’s Pokemon Go craze? Have you ever used a custom Snapchat geofilter? Like these apps, future digital communities will bring users together geographically—centered around events or places in one’s city—perhaps fueled by augmented reality. Such communities will provide brands new ways to interact with their fans, as demonstrated by Pokemon Go’s deal with Starbucks: users can visit the coffee shop to catch Pokemon and receive in-game freebies. Facebook recently bought into the location-based trend with its location stories for Instagram.

Why it matters: Just like the point above, here we’re seeing engagement around specific events or attractions—this time “IRL” instead of within digital spaces. This provides brands with a means to integrate themselves with local communities and spaces that were previously viewed as “offline.”

Furthermore, AR-based features like Snapchat or Facebook camera lenses present novel ways for users to identify with brands in everyday spaces. One could imagine how such tools could enable calls for user-generated content by actually embodying the brand, or provide incentive for users to visit a certain event, store or other branded space.

Community managers would do well to brainstorm opportunities for inserting brands into IRL community activities and events using these technologies—especially those they already sponsor—as a means of growing their communities and engagement.

Online Community Management Will Relinquish User Control

As tech companies become bigger, more powerful and retain more data, users will want to take a more active role in making decisions behind those communities. For example, users might want to nominate and vote on policies that affect them. In this way, digital communities of the future may function more horizontally or collaboratively.

Some businesses leverage social platforms already to make key decisions. For example, LEGO established its LEGO Ideas community to tap into its consumer base for set ideas. The community of die-hard LEGO fans can show off their creativity and have a say in which sets might go into production. It’s a great example of building an online community to improve the product development cycle.

Why it matters: Emphasizing community feedback when building new products and services provides intrinsic value and invests the user. It makes the business more approachable and human, and makes a community actually feel like a community.

A community built through public feedback empowers users. Think about how revolutionary the up/downvote was in Web 2.0 for providing everyday users with a small editorial influence. Now think of how crowdfunding platforms can build entire communities around products that haven’t even made it to market yet; users actually take part in the building of the business and its community.

The businesses that truly build communities around their brands will make a point to invite user feedback every step along the customer journey. They’ll show that they’re listening by speaking to their communities just as they would to investors.

Integrating Automation into Online Community Management

In the discussion above, we noted the need for immediate comment moderation. How does one provide this? Social platforms and community managers will need to use automation and artificial intelligence. These technologies can allow for fast, always-on comment moderation that can keep up with the pace of conversation.

Automation doesn’t need to replace human team members, though. By using these tools, community managers can work more efficiently and respond to engagement rather than drown under an avalanche of spam and inappropriate comments.

Community management may also benefit from data on user behavior, analyzed by AI. These key insights will help them better identify opportunities for engagement and devise strategies to build their communities. Because the future of online community management is to forge deep connections with users, it’s very important that community managers understand their audience and what they need—both of which sophisticated AI can help them learn.