The Forgotten Role: Community Manager

Laura McCullum

Community Management is a role that is frequently overlooked until after problems begin to surface. Many companies roll out a community with a simple “If you build it, they will come” mindset, and that is a scary belief to have. For a community to be successful, the right people are needed to oversee and maintain it, and that role is often filled by a Community Manager. This individual is the beating heart of the community and when this user is successful, they are one of the main reasons members choose to utilize and return to them. They add personality, differentiating a community as more than just a website. They care for it, nurture it and make sure it excels as it grows. 

I have seen dozens of communities built and launched, and too often I start the project with a client and learn they don’t have a staff to run it. Existing teams are handed a community project by their executive sponsor and are expected to ensure it meets business objectives. Unless this team is prepared to add community management to their day-to-day tasks, this new community will be unable to flourish. Organizations must realize the value and necessity of a community manager and include that role as essential to their Community Plan.

“The good news? Orgs are realizing that *everyone* needs the skills of community management. The bad news? Not enough people with those skills to train, coach, and mentor others – and executives aren’t yet willing to pay for it. Result: community teams that are overwhelmed ~ Rachel Hoppe, founder of the Community Roundtable

Typical Community Manager Roles

The Community Manager can play multiple roles in a community, and it takes more than one person to create a successful community experience. The CM should not be a “lone wolf,” but rather have the support and assistance from others throughout the organization. Working with communities requires a complex set of skills. This can be handled by a large team comprised of members from different departments, or by a dedicated group of people who support a single community manager.

The Community Team is expected to connect the dots between what community members need and what purpose the community is supposed to achieve for the business. This requires a team that can manage everything from the business side, such as budgets and ROI, to the technical side, like developing custom components and administration duties. As the community grows and evolves, the team must grow with it and enhance their skills to keep the community healthy and strong.

Here’s what some of the essential roles for an effective community management strategy look like.

Executive Sponsors

Executive sponsors serve as the initial team that creates the community strategy, business objectives, budget and road map. They remain heavily involved in the evolution of the roadmap and strategy.

Program Manager / Business Owner

(also known as a Community Director in some orgs; in smaller orgs, this role can be taken on by the community manager)

These members own the Community Strategy and Roadmap. They work with the Community Manager to ensure the community is hitting community goals and business objectives.

System Administrator

Owns the technical side of managing the community. They typically manage other aspects of the org, are familiar with how the community is structured for other departments (such as sales) and are frequently Salesforce Admin Certified. System Admins are able to build customizations to assist the Community Manager with continuously evolving the community.

Community Manager

Community Managers execute the community strategy, manage the day-to-day tactical items in the community, own content management and curation, handle light system administration, development and support.

Supporting Roles

These roles may not have daily tasks in the community, but should be in-the-know on what is happening and available to assist the community manager with content, member engagement, knowledge sharing and question support.

  • Legal & Compliance
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing & Communications
  • Customer Support
Content Owners & Creators / Group Owners

Oversees pages (such as topic pages) and groups to ensure questions are being answered, thought leadership is being shared and users who are engaging in the community are satisfied. They are responsible for keeping content relevant, accurate and fresh, while promoting engagement with members. Content owners work closely with the Community Manager to create and publish content, such as News, Blogs, Events, Knowledge Articles and Discussions.

Community Moderators

Moderators help route questions to appropriate experts, answer questions and escalate flagged items to the community managers. They are the eyes and ears on the ground ready to react at any time. This role can also be handled by the Community Manager, depending on the size of the org or community.

Subject Matter Experts & Advocates

Experts and advocates are the secret ingredient for effective peer-to-peer support. They are community members that have been promoted in the community as experts, advocates or champions to assist the community team. They can answer questions, assist with writing questions and even help with cases.

So what does that all mean? How do I find and assemble a team with the capabilities listed above? One of the most fascinating things I have found is that there is no one answer to that. Where one community can be staffed from the marketing department, the next could be staffed by IT. I love hearing the stories from each team about how they got involved and why they are working with communities now. Finding the right people to manage your community isn’t simply about filling a role; you are looking for people with the right skills to facilitate the growth and effectiveness of your online community.

The Community Roundtable explains it nicely in their Skills Framework.

Don’t forget about the Community Manager and their team. They are the ones that will ensure the longevity of the community and allow it to flourish. Communities are not about investing in a platform; they are about investing in the full experience. From the behind-the-scenes code to the members that make your solution vibrant, it is essential to have a Community Management team that can oversee every aspect of your community.

Laura McCullum

Laura McCullum is a Business Analyst at 7Summits. She brings years of community management experience, consulting clients to ensure community success and growth. She is passionate about Community Management and the importance it has on the growth of engagement.

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