Just the other day I was having coffee with an old colleague of mine who is working for a small startup as their community manager and was seeking some guidance. The company she is working for is asking and expecting certain tasks and goals to be fulfilled by her that she feels she is not necessarily capable of achieving nor is it really the responsibility of a community manager to do. I’m fully aware that in a startup you need where many hats, but those hats should at least fit even if they don’t look good!
This is a common problem – companies are not hiring the right community manager to represent their product, service, or brand!
I’ve been a community manager for many years at various levels for every kind of corporation, startup, agency, online community, and for my own projects. I’ve made many mistakes over the years, but with mistakes comes learnings, and those learnings have served me well not only as a community manager but as a community builder, evangelist, and all around social guy. It takes a certain kind of person to fit this role “correctly” and yes there is a correct way to do it!
If you google “What makes a great community manager” or something along those lines you will come across a ton posts on the subject. Most of the information you will come across is pretty standard and for all intense purposes true, however, no one has ever really defined concisely what the roles and responsibilities are for a community manager ! It’s not like defining a plumber
The title community manger gets thrown around a lot these days and is in-accurately used in most organizations. I come across job postings daily for community managers where they list responsibilities like email marketing, search engine optimization, ppc campaigns, etc. What about community management experience, or forum moderation, or people skills … they’re not looking for a community manager they’re looking for a marketer – not the same!
I was going to list what I thought were skills that a great community manager should have, however I came across the following posted by Patrick O’keefe founder of iFroggy and wanted to share it with you.
- Attention to detail, to ensure that every moderation decision made is the right one, that mistakes are corrected and that details are taken care of.
- Strong communication skills. The written word is tricky enough and a lot of people aren’t able to communicate in a sensitive enough way. Being able to do so cuts down on the number of challenges that you face.
- A mind for policy. Writing guidelines for the social spaces that you manage is important because it helps everyone to understand what is and isn’t OK. The ability to write and adjust policy is important.
- Good reading skills, enabling good moderation. A big part of the job is ensuring that your community remains focused at it’s core audience. You have to be able to read content and determine whether or not it is a violation of your guidelines.
- Being kind, fair and consistent. You have to be able to apply those guidelines in a way that is fair and consistent. If they are violated, you have to fairly and evening apply them to everyone – no matter who it is.
- Organizational skills. You will likely have a lot of balls in the air.
You have to be able to keep it organized and not get overwhelmed.
- Leadership capabilities are important. They need to be able to lead a team that believes in one another and can take direction.
- Technical savvy. They don’t need to be a programmer or a web designer, but some basic proficiency with the web and how it works goes a long way.
- A strong self awareness. Members of the community take cues on how to act from you. I am very careful about what I say and how I say it. You have to be a good influence.
- The ability to participate and talk with the community about things that aren’t to do with the management of it. So, participating in normal discussions, for example, that don’t specifically have to do with the community. The best community managers tend to be active participants in their communities.
- Passion for community. This is tough because everyone will tell you they have it. A passion for a topic is not the same as a passion for running a community around that topic because most everything you will do in managing a community takes you away from simply discussing and enjoying the topic.
- Patience and being able to laugh things off. People will call you every name in the book (Hitler, Stalin, Gestapo, soccer mom). You have to sort through that and not let it bother you too much.
- Comfort with being accessible to people. Members of your community will contact you and they won’t always do it through the proper channels. You still have to help them and guide them back through those channels. You can’t flip out because they found your personal email address online.
- You have to be able to make a decision. You can weigh options, ask for feedback, listen to people and consider it all carefully. But, you must be able to make hard choices in a timely fashion.
Back to problem!
Let’s say I’m hiring a community manager for an Interior Design company. I should be asking very specific questions about the industry: Are you an interior designer or do you have any interior design experience? Are you familiar with the products we use? Are you passionate about design? Do you stay current by reading magazines, blogs, or watching interior design shows on TV? Are you familiar with or know key influencers online in this area? Do you belong to any interior design offline or online communities, associations, etc.? Have you ever managed a community of interior designers? You get the point!
Yes, all the skills listed above are crucial and experience as a “real” community manager online is essential, but that is not good enough! The right community manager should be passionate and knowledgeable about the industry they are representing – otherwise the community will see right through scripted responses and sales pitches. A strong community manager needs to earn the trust of the community they are managing.
I’ll borrow another great quote from Patrick:
Great community managers work at great companies that believe in the idea and value of community. Companies that ask their community managers to routinely and repeatedly prove the value of community don’t offer the environment where a community manager can flourish. Community is a long term game and you can’t build long term if you are concerned that they’ll shut you down short term.
Above and beyond – community managers need to take risks, be adventurous, and most importantly they need to constantly ask them selves what’s best for their community and the company they are representing.
I don’t have any hard sats to prove the following but from experience this is why most companies fail in their efforts to build, manage, and maintain successful communities – they don’t believe in or understand the value of community and hire the wrong community manager!
I hope this helps!
I’m interested in hearing your stories or thoughts on this subject.