Community management is gaining traction as communities are increasingly seen as a source of business value (we even have our own day now - happy CMAD, everyone!) In fact, active community management has been linked to significant increases in engagement and other benefits. While job descriptions vary greatly across communities, there are definitely some commonalities.

To demystify community management a bit, we organized a Dreamforce panel featuring Phoebe Venkat, Director, Enterprise Collaboration and Community Management at ADT, Erica Kuhl, Director of Salesforce Community, and yours truly. Instead of doing a "Yet Another Best Practices Panel," we wanted to have some fun with it - because when you think about it, community management is just like improv. We've outlined the similarities in the post below or you can skip to the bottom for the full infographic!

1.) Show up

There wouldn’t be an improv show if the artists simply didn’t show up, just like there wouldn’t be much of a community if no one participated. Showing up can be scary -- it opens us up to criticism and requires us to be vulnerable. Vulnerability takes courage, and the community manager must not only show up herself, but also influence others to do the same.

"Part of being a successful community manager is being a good leader -- and good, I’d say even, great leaders know that if they expect their community members to take risks and bring their whole selves to work...they must do so first." - Phoebe Venkat

2.) Be vulnerable

Community managers are leaders, and one of the most important traits of leadership is vulnerability.  Vulnerability is not weakness; rather -- in Brene Brown’s words -- it’s a “combination of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Communities are by definition messy, and there’s always uncertainty and risk. By dropping preconceived notions and admitting upfront that she doesn’t know the answers, the community manager helps build trust and get other people to participate. Wouldn’t you rather work with someone who made you a part of the process vs. a know-it-all who hands down orders? Being vulnerable in the public eye is not for the weak of heart, but is so worth it!

"Being vulnerable is almost something that should be on a job description for every community manager.  The way you gain trust is by admitting that you are wrong when you are.  I always say that being in this role, you have to work out loud.  Making yourself vulnerable is scary business, but it’s key to a successful community.  When you communicate openly and transparently, your community members cut you a lot more slack during the tough times.  They rally behind you -- and because they know you are human, they don’t expect you to be 100% perfect.  They just want to be “in the know” and hear the truth." - Erica Kuhl

3.) Pass the baton

While a community manager needs to lead by example by engaging directly, there’s a fine line between being active and accountable and dominating the conversation until it suffocates. It’s important to resist the urge to jump in -- especially since community managers tend to have a “helper / fixer” DNA. When someone asks a question, give someone else an opportunity to contribute – and encourage (and make it easy) to share proactively.

"Step out of the way! Better yet, step out of the way and help other helper/fixer/connectors leave their mark on the community." - Phoebe Venkat

4.) Juggle

A community manager is often one of the most taxed individuals in any business. Not only does the community manager physically juggle priorities, events, projects and tasks – but she also serves many masters as a simultaneous advocate for the company and the users. How do you juggle without dropping the balls – or is keeping balls in the air even important?

"It’s important to juggle, but also know which balls you can let drop.  You just can’t do it all; know what your main goals are -- and focus on those.  Once those are off the ground, you can pick up more balls to juggle.  It will always be a constant juggle of internal and external priorities.  While you constantly need to tend to your members, you also need to invest in your internal stakeholders, as they are critical to the growth of the community."  - Erica Kuhl

5.) Use props

Sometimes in improv theater, the performer chooses to use props. When used masterfully, props enhance the performance, but are never a substitute for good fundamentals. While the only way to grow engagement sustainably is by helping members build relationships, you should also be proactive with your programming.

Proactive programming spurs discussion, increases opportunities for collaboration and relationship building, and brings previously silent people into the conversation. 

"Help surface, create and build communities of interest. On my company’s Chatter network, we set up groups for bookworms, ADT history buffs, and other cool, non-work related topics. It’s great to see people coming together to talk shop about things that are important to them besides ADT!" - Phoebe Venkat

6.) Treasure feedback

The beauty of any community (or a scary thing, depending on your vantage point) is that it’s never static. Like an organism, it grows and contracts, hibernates and wakes up, learns and adjusts. It gives you feedback – sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit – whether or not you ask for it. A community manager must always be on the lookout for member feedback, as well as actively solicit it via surveys, community posts and member meetings. Your goal is thus to help build an environment of trust where people feel good about giving each other (and you) constructive feedback.

"I see negative feedback as passion.  If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t take the time to give the feedback in the first place.  These passionate community members are usually easily turned around when they feel validated and listened to -- and when action is taken.  We had a perfect example of this when we introduced a product that our customers were going to have to pay extra for.  They felt VERY strongly that this product should be included for free.  They were very vocal and offered constructive feedback -- and because we have such a trusted relationship with our community, our executives listened.  Our executives then responded publicly and took action based on feedback.  What was once major negativity, turned into glowing admiration for a company that really listens to and honors their customers."  - Erica Kuhl

7.) Be a troupe

Just like improv, community is a team sport. Because human relationships are inherently messy, conflict is guaranteed to happen. At those times, it’s easy to feel like you are in a “zero-sum” adversarial relationship with your community -- but you must remember (and remind others) that ultimately you are in this together. Being transparent across the board encourages trust, which helps the community persevere through tough times and flourish in the good.

"I look at my community members (especially the top contributors) as extended members of my team.  We give them enhanced capabilities on our community and they are the eyes, ears, and pulse of the greater community.  They model the behaviors we want on our community and police it to keep it trustworthy and clean.  This is also an extremely scalable way to run a community.  If you invest in them and build the community with them - they are empowered and have ownership."  - Erica Kuhl

Happy Community Appreciation Day, improv artists! To celebrate, we made this infographic just for you:

Community Managers: The Ultimate Improv Artists from Salesforce

And because one day is just not enough, we are kicking off a whole week of activities in our own Success Community - anyone with a Salesforce login can join!

Learn more about community management with the free e-book below.