I’m often asked: “why do I need a community manager?” I usually answer with a question: “How many successful projects do you know without anyone in charge of its success?”

Communities are no different than any other complex initiative that touches just about every part of your business. At the same time, they are drastically different from any other initiative because success of a community is based on strength of relationships between its members – and relationships take a long time to build.

While your community may self-organize and be engaged, your community will never reach its full potential without a fearless leader who ensures community health. More companies are realizing this than ever before, and the larger the commitment to community management, the larger the value realized, as the State of Community Management 2013 report notes.

Of course, the business value of any community is measured against the business goals it was set to address and varies greatly across types of communities. While engagement itself is not business value, it is a necessary intermediate goal without which your community will never reach business value. But just in case you wanted some numbers… The SOCM report has shown that active community management can shift the 90-9-1 rule of engagement (90% lurkers, 9% curators, and 1% creators) to an average of 55-30-15 (and 17-57-26 in outstanding communities).

What’s the big picture purpose?

Although strategies and tactics vary greatly across communities and companies, all communities have something in common. If the goal of a community is, generally speaking, to help people with a shared purpose come together and create something meaningful, then the job of a community manager is to facilitate an environment where people can and choose to do so. What gets people to work together?

  • Trust: In a world where knowledge becomes obsolete faster than ever before, holding on to information isn’t the competitive advantage – sharing and learning is. However, sharing – especially sharing tacit knowledge – only happens when there’s deep trust between the parties, says John Hagel – one of my inspirations on the topic.
  • Shared purpose: Individuals brought together in a community must have a common set of beliefs and goals. Why are they in this community? How can the community help them meet their personal and professional goals?  A good community manager will design the community to enable connection based on a shared purpose. 
  • WIIFM (what’s in it for me?): A community is a healthy ecosystem of consuming and contributing – readers (a nicer way of saying “lurkers”) and contributors. There has to be great content to consume and people to create this great content. People are inherently self-interested, and will contribute to a shared space when the value they receive is greater than what they put in. You can’t just tell people to create stuff – but a good community manager designs around members’ WIIFMs.
  • Shared ownership: To actively contribute to a community, people must also feel like they own a part of it. A good community manager knows how to design and build community with community from the very beginning and to uphold these collaborative standards.
  • Planned serendipity: A community is magic because it helps people not only find answers to what they know they don’t know – but also, discover something (or someone) that they don’t know they don’t know. Serendipity is a powerful concept, and is where good ideas come from. The community manager will design the conditions for people to serendipitously discover people and content.

 Why does this matter? Because everything a community manager does will be aimed at enabling the conditions that support trust, shared purpose and ownership, WIIFM and serendipity.

What does a community manager actually do?

So what does a community manager actually do to ensure the conditions for the community to thrive? Specific strategies and tactics will differ greatly across community types (internal vs. external, B2B vs. B2C, high-touch vs. low-touch), where the community team reports, and its stage in the maturity cycle. However, in general terms, all community managers do some version of the following:

  • Identifies community’s and members’ goals and ensures that they continue to be met
  • Sets strategy and measures impact
  • Ensures stickiness by making it a valuable resource and a part of people’s jobs – not another place competing for their attention
  • Advocates for and furthers interests of the community to company, and vice versa
  • Nurtures and develops community champions who share ownership of the community and act as the extended community team
  • Works as a cross-functional “hub” to support the community
    • Ensures that each group that touches the community has ownership of their part of the process
    • Promotes conditions shared ownership and purpose
      • In external communities, think through recruitment, vetting and exit, as well as member journey between communities
      • In internal communities, work with the C-suite to create an overall vision and department-specific/team-specific visions and goals
      • Fosters trust by upholding terms of service and takes action when necessary
      • Uses human systems and technology systems to help people meet, connect and build trusted relationships
        • Technology: social intelligence and discovery, ease of navigations, user profiles
        • Human systems: “welcoming” committee, group of community champions to steer and ignite the conversation
        • Promotes engagement, ensures a cadence of events, blending online and offline
        • Encourages storytelling by promoting existing stories and community “heroes,” making it easy to share, asking really good questions and getting out of the way
        • Makes sure that the “what if’s” never happen by promoting productivity and limiting destructive behavior

If you’re in the planning phases of your community initiative, make sure to resource the human side of it from the beginning. Unlike a traditional technology project, you can’t just “set it and forget it” – communities need daily commitment and attention. If your community is already underway without a community manager, I’d strongly advise you to account for it in your next budget. Even if an FTE isn’t an option right now, there still needs to be someone in charge of its success, who gets measured on it.

Now that you know what a community manager does, how do you hire one? What are the skills and innate characteristics to look for? How many community managers do you need and how do you structure your team? We’ll be uncovering this in future posts. In the meantime, check out more tips on how to build communities that thrive:

5 Steps to Communities that Thrive from Salesforce

 Photo via: Jacob Pilich