By Kelly Ehlers, president of Ideas That Evoke.

Today's digital workplace is equipped with more resources than ever to help brands understand their end consumer, and yet, in spite of research studies and SWOT analyses, brands are still losing touch with the consumer sentiment that could potentially set them apart from their competitors. In fact, in the search for impressions, sales and ROI, brands are ignoring the most articulate expression of the consumer's voice in relation to the brand: social media engagement.

Over the years, we've witnessed social media change not only the way we interact with each other, but also how brands are directly engaging with consumers. Gone are the days in the B2B and B2C worlds where the consumer is a silent party, only speaking with his or her wallet.

Today's consumer is loud and proud of it. If you want to understand your consumer, you might consider investing in professionally managing your communities. Community management is defined as the personalization of the brand on social media channels. It is the voice of the brand that assists, supports, engages and enhances your consumers' experience.

Because community management represents the personalized voice of the brand, it's important to make these conversations relatable. Successful social media demands a human touch. This is why social bots fail. While this 24/7 approach may sound demanding, it's possible to create and implement a scalable model.

Below I've listed tips to start initiating community management in your marketing plan:

  1. Define your voice. This isn't your customer service line. Community management is a friendly conversation, and it's important to maintain the same familiar, branded voice.
  2. Keep it personal. Fans will know if you're recycling comments, so don't use blanket responses. Personalize your outreach for every fan. The goal is to continue the conversation.
  3. Don't be passive. Reach out! When you see fans or potential fans engaging in conversations that are natural for your brand message, it's time to jump in.
  4. Leverage user-generated content (UGC): Quality UGC is valuable for brands, tapping into the influencer marketing mindset. If fans are engaging with your brand through UGC, jump on the buzz they are generating. Repost, share and "like" their content.
  5. Respond to everyone. No one likes a friend who plays favorites, and the same applies to brands. Be a friend to every fan, no matter how many (or few) followers they have.
  6. Listen and learn. Community management shows you how your fans talk, what they post and, most importantly, the emotion that you're evoking from them. Use this to your advantage as often as possible to make your content look, feel and sound like their content. Community management offers a real-time focus group for your brand.

Consumers are talking about your brand, for better or for worse, and community management is your entry into the conversation. Simply driving consumers to purchase through social media marketing isn't enough -- today's consumer demands more attention.

Community management works to grow loyalty and engagement while also strengthening your community -- and their image of what you offer them.

Kelly Ehlers is president of Ideas That Evoke, a social media agency named "Best Entrepreneurial Company in America" by Entrepreneur Magazine.