I attended two meetings about Community Managers this past week, and both got me thinking about how businesses always benefit from connecting with their customers like a community.

What is a community manager, you may ask? Tim McDonald of the Huffington Post Live likens it to being like a “magnet” that brings people toward your business. Community managers typically work on the social media and web presences of companies, helping guide conversation with a light hand and keep fans of the company engaged. If you could add in great friendly communicator, customer service maven, metrics fan and a desire to get everyone on board with your company’s brand – that would be a community manager. Sounds like a helpful role for someone who is starting a business.

At New York’s Social Media Club (which I run), a panel of community managers including McDonald, Ilana Kapan of Digitas, Edward Ford of Thompson Reuters, and Todd Olmstead of Mashable discussed their jobs and insights. (An excellent full summary of the meeting is at ProfNet Connect.)

I also attended the Community Manager UnConference, co-run by McDonald and the team at MyCMGR.com (My Community Manager), where I learned from some of the best in the industry about how community managers help grow business connections, positive feelings about brands, and customer retention.

Improve Internal Collaboration

Some key insights from the Social Media Club meeting include the notion of bringing employees together for better communication. Edward Ford’s job is to ensure that employees share best practices, and encourage collaboration internally. While Thompson Reuters may be bigger than your business, I know no business that wouldn’t benefit from having employees collaborate better. Some of Ford’s techniques include doing recaps of some of the best internal discussions on the company’s social network, and helping bridge connections between people in different areas of the company.

As a leader or owner of your company, you may not think you have time or resources to dedicate to sharing insights and best practices or making sure connections happen. But it really is quite the opposite. Your business is the sum of your employees, their happiness, and their productivity. Community managers know how to get everyone working together on the same page, and how to recognize the great things happening and call them out. These are ways to improve morale and connections across your company.

Treat Your Customers Like Friends

At the Community Manager UnConference, I was not surprised to hear many of the people who manage communities for top companies like HootSuite, Vimeo, National Geographic and more talking about building relationships with customers.

Angela Maiers talked about building community by telling a story about how a community came together when her small town in Iowa experienced an F5 Tornado, and many buildings were destroyed. The people who she said hello to in the supermarket, the people she knew from the church and the neighborhood were the people who were helping them rebuild. In business, many of the same dynamics occur. Those businesses who reach out, in person and online, and take care of each customer may be surprised at who supports them when tough times happen.

Maiers said “Tell people that they matter. It isn’t a nicety, it is a necessity.” That advice goes for customers and employees. It may sound corny, but how nice would a workplace be if everyone knew they mattered. How would they treat customers if they were well treated as employees?

Don’t Give Away Freebies, Provide Access

One final insight that came from a discussion with Richard Lovrich, a marketing director was about how to serve your best customers. Lovrich works with a theater company in Schenectady, New York. He’s found that giveaways of tickets don’t generate the new business and repeat business his company was looking for. But in over-serving top fans, he was able to successfully get some of those desired outcomes. Instead of giveaways, backstage access for fans makes them more happy, more likely to share the experience, and talk about the event. Laura Horak, community manager for HootSuite concurred. Some top fans of various software packages are given early access to new features, and asked for their opinions on how to make the product better. Building loyalty makes customers into fans and recommenders, and builds the community around your business.

How are you running your business like a community? Share more insights in the comments below.