by Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) What makes for  some of the most wildly successful social media communities in South Africa and beyond?

There are brands that use social media successfully to engage with their growing communities, to interact with customers and garner positive reviews. There are some that use social platforms as smoke screens to juggle customer complaints and position themselves positively in public without truly engaging.

In all instances, there are community managers at the coalface of customer interactions, who engage daily with brand communities and whose recommendations can build great communities that brands can rave about.

Template Design Phone Idea with Social Network Icons Background by photoraidz courtesy of
Image by photoraidz courtesy of

I contacted some of the most-seasoned managers and social media strategists, who’ve cut their teeth as community managers for some of the leading brands in SA, from the top agencies in the country. Part of the search was to find out what has made some of the most-successful communities they’ve built and what matters most — in their experiences — from both client and agency perspectives.


Community managers and strategist need to juggle strategies that become obsolete over time, brands that need to manage reputations at all costs in the midst of ever-increasing customer complaints, and cushioning responses in a way that does not tarnish the brands they represent.

One of the most common themes that emerged is that brands should trust the community managers more, that they should give them a bit more autonomy. Speaking to this, a Durban-based senior digital strategist says, “Autonomy is to be void of external influence, yet if you look at social and [online] media, that is not what really happens. Brands and companies market themselves to persuade and influence consumers into using their products and/or services. Also, no matter how much people say they are looking at the situation as a whole, they are influenced by a set of rules and regulations. You don’t just blindly accept one bank over another, but rather look and compare benefits from each before you make a decision.”

Anele*, a Johannesburg-based senior strategist turned entrepreneur, cautions both brands and community managers, suggesting that community manager should be well-read and empower themselves with the latest news and industry changes. She points out that, aside from an increase and growth in platforms, people are becoming smarter on social media and they challenge brands more than before.


Another Joburg-based strategist, John*, who’s one of the top community managers for award-winning brands, believes that “getting a marketing manager to trust you is 100% about fostering a relationship. A lot of content managers don’t get that and then they ask, ‘Why don’t they love my brilliant content plans?’ I found that out when I discovered that I wasn’t some rogue bastion of social media genius. Clients want collaboration.”

The openness of brands and their senior brand managers to trust and collaborate with community managers may lead to some of the most-successful and -engaged communities on the social web. Part of the challenge that some brands embrace and work with is that community managers and their day-to-day challenges happen in the blink of an eye and, before you know it, it’s all gone viral.

Lose the content strategy

Content strategy and planning tend to be the holy grail of social media planning and delivery, as they should be. No brand wants to shoot from the hip with a lack of direction, but there are instances when content plans and the most-thought-out strategies fall short of crises in the virtual world, when community managers have to respond issues that — at times — have not been within their control.

The social media strategists I spoke to agree that, alongside the trust that brands need to have in their community managers, they should let them use the strategy as a guideline.

Brands are known to experience difficulties that are beyond the social media platforms onto which customers go to vent; deviating from the content strategy to apologise on behalf of the brand often dowses the fury of community members. To repeat, it all begins with trusting that the community manager understands the community dynamics better than brands do at times.

It starts with the brand

Most brands have gone past the teething problems of hopping onto the social media bandwagon; some of the smart ones understand the content-marketing revolution and are embracing it exceptionally well. Yet there are others which still think that social media may be used as a set of platforms to create the semblance of excellence and where the brand fails to engage positively.

A Jozi-based social media strategist agrees that “[i]t’s not really rocket science. The top brands on Facebook are generally good brands. All the great content in the world isn’t going to make your brand awesome.”

So, aside from great content plans and appreciating the work that community managers put into creating engaging content, brands need to get their houses in order at customer-engagement level, which social media platforms will mirror, in turn.

How to start growing a successful community:

  1. Interact more with the community manager
  2. Interrogate recommendations
  3. Make room in the content strategy for changes and human responses
  4. Notify the community manager of crises internally and of system challenges
  5. Trust that the community may understand the community better than the brand

*Disclaimer: The community managers, social media strategists and agencies their agencies agreed to provide comments on condition that they remain anonymous. Names have been changed in order to do so.


Mongezi Mtati


Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) is the founding MD of WordStart ( Apart from being a kiteboarding and sandboarding adventurer, Mongezi connects companies and brands with measurable word-of-mouth. He contributes the monthly “The Word” column on word-of-mouth marketing and social media strategy to MarkLives.


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