What makes a good community manager?

Too often people hire community managers when they’re really looking for a social media marketer, an SEO specialist, or customer service officer.

These can all be helpful skills for an online community manager (and are frequently expected of a community manager), but recruiting to those backgrounds is looking in the wrong place.

It starts with knowing what you need, which is another blog post altogether…

Let’s say you know you need a community manager. What should you look for?

In my experience, there are some non-negotiable characteristics, and a range of qualities or skills that relate to the role you’re recruiting for and the culture of the organisation doing the hiring.

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Community manager must-haves

Relationship builder

A popular misconception about community managers is that they’re inherently social – at a party, they’ll be the centre of action, directed at them.

Yet some of the best community managers I know are shy, even socially awkward offline. Popularity has nothing to do with community management. Let’s get rid of that myth once and for all.

A popular misconception about community managers is that they’re inherently social.

What the great ones have in common is that they’re native relationship builders – people who believe building relationships is a good and useful thing, are skilled at doing it and care that it’s done well.

They need to be able to connect others with others, not just themselves. They make members the centre of each others attention. Beware community manager ‘rock stars’ – it could be warning sign they’re more about personal glory than shared results.

Influencer

I’m not talking about the kind you measure with Klout. Successful community managers, particularly those who grow into senior management or executive community roles, have finely honed influencing instincts and skills.

You need to motivate prospective members to convert and remain; current members to activate and connect. You must coax quieter voices into contribution and less useful voices out of the way.

You need to persuade prospective members to convert and remain; current members to activate and connect.

You need to persuade staff to engage with – and be accountable to – the community, product creators to adopt member considerations, and lobby leadership for the resourcing to reach objectives. You also have to detect influencing capacity in others, and harness it constructively.

Patience & resilience

If you’re someone who requires a steady stream of quick wins, I wouldn’t recommend community management. Though the world of social media can deliver some professional dopamine hits, community managers need to work across months and years to execute and refine their approach and end run.

In every community you’ll run into bad behaviour. The topic, technical platforms and social culture will determine the costumes and arsenal of the offenders, but it’s inevitable.

You need to roll with the many punches you’ll take from – and on behalf of – your community. You have to manage and distill the impacts of conflict, then weather the haters, trolls, sock puppets and crazies.

Great communicator

This isn’t about literacy. You could have a Pulitzer and not be able to ‘read’ the room in a community and communicate effectively with members.

It’s about being able to take on the voice of a community, in their language, and create content and context they care about.

You need to interpret and articulate stories, needs and issues within the community and back to the organisation, and help members express themselves effectively.

You’ll do this within a communication framework for the community that drives toward overall community goals and outcomes.

It’s about being able to take on the voice of a community, in their language.

A chameleonic empathy that can extend in every direction is also a community manager lightning rod.

Business nous

Commercial acumen matters. Your community manager doesn’t have to be shooting for the C-suite, but they must understand how and why the community is part of business strategy and operations, and analyse data to create actionable insights about community content and direction.

Although community managers are more social scientist than salesperson, their work can and should support and empower world class marketing efforts.

When you demonstrate the relevant business case for the value of community management, you help the entire profession, not just your own career. You also make sure your community gets the recognition it deserves as a business asset and revenue generator.

When you demonstrate the relevant business case for the value of community management, you help the entire profession.

Nous also provides objectivity. Good judgement and common sense will see your community manager through plenty of trials.

Duty of care

Work ethic is always important, but it’s even more significant for community managers. We’re not curing cancer here, but we are accountable to a group of people that, if we’re succeeding, will place their trust in our intentions and efforts.

There’s a responsibility implicit in that transaction we can’t afford to blind spot.

If a member turns to community management, you’ll need to find a way to deliver – whether it’s you personally or not.

Other things to look for: curiosity, agility and a genuine interest in how and why people tick – and stick (that’s why the social sciences are an ideal foundation).

Square peg, square hole

What matters most of all, is that your community manager is a fit for the community you want to build, or need to nurture and grow.

For certain communities it won’t matter if they’re not an expert in the subject matter – only that they understand and empower it’s value. For others, fluency around topic and purpose is a non-starter. Fan communities are an example of the type to swiftly out an imposter community manager  if they don’t know their material.

Don’t hire a soft-spoken person who loathes sport as the community manager of a large, loud football community. They won’t match topically or tonally, and they won’t last. The brusque, tough-talker isn’t the best candidate for a community dedicated to families dealing wit palliative care.

A credible frame of reference is essential. The employee needs to fit company culture and your community manager needs to match community culture. If you haven’t launched your community yet, they should reflect the culture you want or need to create.

Your community manager needs to match community culture.

Once you’ve ticked the boxes on these must-haves, then you consider the relevance other skill sets to the role you’re hiring – SEO, social marketing, customer service and more.

You’ll notice passion isn’t on this list.  Why? It’s there in everything else. You don’t attend to a suicide threat in the middle of the night if you’re not passionate. You don’t work long and hard to convey member sentiment to the business if you don’t really care about that business.

Passion is awesome, but without these other qualities, it’s just unfocused energy.

I wrote about other qualities a good community manager needs here, unpacking ageism in the industry.

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