8 Ingredients That Make a Community Manager

by on 01/24/2011 • 34 Comments | Social Media

Welcome back. Today is an important day. It’s Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD), an effort started by Jeremiah Owyang last year that asks us to take a minute to thank the people who fight on the front lines of our brands every day.  They’re people worth celebrating because, while being a community manager may seem like the best job in the world, it also comes with a tougher side that can often feel thankless and troll-filled.  Through it all, community managers must show up to the job with an enthusiastic smile, regardless of how many people they want to punch in the face.

Over the past few weeks, it’s been hard not to notice all the community manager job descriptions passing through my Twitter stream. The demand for these positions continues to rise as corporations realize the importance of having someone on their team responsible for outreach. They’re looking for someone to help them wrangle the fans, keep conversations flowing, and to act as the peacemaker when tough situations arise. Of course, that’s not all they do. Community managers can be spotted in various company roles:

  • They’re brand ambassadors: They wear the corporation on their sleeve and it’s their job to evangelize it, put a ring face on it, and find a way to balance their corporate responsibility with being an advocate for the customer.
  • They’re brand monitors: For better or worse, community managers are often the ones responsible for a company’s early online reputation management efforts. The actively monitor Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, review sites, blogs, forums, message boards, etc, looking for mentions, good and bad, so the brand can respond accordingly.  Community managers are a company’s eyes and ears.
  • They’re brand communicators: Community managers spend their day communicating your brand to other people. It’s their job to get the message out in a way that gets the crowd amped and excited. And they have to do it without sounding salesy or slimey, which is a surprisingly difficult task.

That’s a bit of what a community manager does, but how do you find that person? Here are eight traits I recommend you look for, plus some real-like examples of people who encapsulate all of them.

1. A Good Connector: When you’re on the hunt for a community manager, you want to find the person who had the phrase “social butterfly” scrawled across their grade school progress reports or, perhaps, their Twitalyzer profile. Look for the natural connectors, the ones for whom conversation isn’t work, but who they are. In a social economy, these people will be uniquely skilled at attracting people to your brand.

2. Strong Communication/Social Skills: So, yeah. There are two types of people – those that know how to talk to others and those that rock back and forth when you make them try. Hire someone with good communication skills who will be able to get across your brand message in fewer than 140 characters. Someone who knows how to play well with others, respect differing opinion, and who won’t fall apart if someone challenges them. Do not put someone who is socially inept in charge of your brand. It will not end well. I promise you this.

3. Passion About the Brand: While there are lots of different day-to-day activities that go into being a great community manager, their core responsibility is promoting the brand. That’s hard to do if the person isn’t passionate about it. If it’s not something they naturally want to tell their friends about or if they don’t feel comfortable hawking what you’re selling. If it’s your garbage man who is passionate about what you do – make HIM your community manager. Then bring in a therapist to see what the heck is wrong with the rest of your staff.

4. Relatable: Another reason your garbage man when trump the rest of your stuff, is that your community manager needs to be relatable. Someone that people will want to interact with and that they’ll feel comfortable enough to talk to, but who also holds the power to put them in their place if they get out of line. Just because they’re personable, doesn’t mean they’re a push over.

5. Void of Ego: The role of a community manager is to highlight the brand, not the person. Someone who is a good fit for your company will be able to participate in the conversation without making it all about them. While self-referential talk is okay to some degree, it’s a slippery slope to becoming iJustine.

6. Has A Round-the-Clock Mentality: When you’re the face of the company, it’s not a 9-5 job. Your community manager needs to be around after-hours, on weekends, and whenever needed to deal with a community that never sleeps and a business that never closes. It also means you need to pay like them a certain bit of combat/holiday pay.

7. Desire to help: Your customers, contacts, colleagues and friends will be hitting up this person every time they need something – whether it’s a quick answer, a status report or an all-out favor. If your community manager isn’t the type of person who enjoys going out of their way for others, then this may not be the best position to put them in. There’s nothing worse than a resentful community manager.

8. Business Savvy: They need to understand how their job fits into everything else. You’re not just creating a position to “play nice” in social media, this is a marketing position. Your community manager should understand how their job plays into lead generation, brand awareness, customer service, operations, etc. Without that knowledge, there’s way too much temptation to start tweeting about their cat or snap at someone when they’re having a bad day.

Those are the traits I think are most important to developing a good community manager. If you want to see someone who epitomizes them and has done a fantastic job reaffirming a brand – look at Jenifer Sable Lopez (aka Jennita) and how she handles the community at SEOmoz. She’s doing a killer job. Other people to watch and learn from? Amber Naslund and Jason Falls. While I wouldn’t label them as regular “community managers”, per se, they’re great examples for how to connect, engage and be smart about it.

It’s Community Manager Appreciation Day – who do you think is doing it right? Highlight your All Stars below.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

34 thoughts on “8 Ingredients That Make a Community Manager

  1. Carl Plant, our community manager at NHS local, ticks all the above boxes, a(part from the one about being devoid of ego.) We think he’s great.

  2. Great article, Lisa! I think you hit it head on! It’s an honor that Jeremiah gave the CM a day of our own. There is so much more that goes into the job description of a CM. It’s more than just, “update a Facebook status.” Great article again! Thanks!

    • Ha, it’s definitely more than updating a Facebook status or hanging out on Twitter all day. Community Managers don’t get nearly enough respect. Nice to see them get a shout out today!

    • Totally agree about Melanie at PostRank! She helped me get some data for a blog post & has always responded quickly to tweets & even we mentioned PostRank in a post.

      • Aww, thank you.

        The startup world is definitely a big shift from multinational insurance companies, but a lot more fun and I get to meet so many more fabulous folks. :)

        Given we just had her present on community management from a startup’s earliest days at our Communitech Community Management Peer 2 Peer group, I put forth Erin Bury from Sprouter, who is great at communicating wisdom from the trenches, as well as being so relentless busy and upbeat I occasionally suspect she’s a robot. :)

  3. Thanks Lisa! I really appreciate the shout out. :) I absolutely love what I do and love that your post really covers the most important aspects of my job. It’s so difficult to explain to people what I do and why the role is so important. My mom just thinks I play on Twitter and Facebook all day long (not that she’s entirely wrong ;).

    For me one of the most important aspects of being a Community Manager is to also be a part of the community. Whether your community is full of SEOs or crafters, you have to be able to relate. So that means for me, I do SEO consulting on the side (you know in my spare time.. heh) to stay up-to-date. I can’t imagine managing a community of SEOs without being one myself. :)

    I also struggle with the title of “Community Manager” but I’ll leave that for another post. :)

    Thanks again Lisa! Although your title isn’t “Community Manager”, you kick ass in all of these aspects for Outspoken Media as well. You just have a cooler title!

    • Thanks, Jen. Being part of the community is definitely super important and, again, helps people feel like they can relate to you. I know I’ve told you this many times (and mentioned it many places), but I really respect and admire how you’ve handled the SEOmoz community since you’ve come on board. It really speaks a lot to who you are and how the company is.

      I don’t have an issue with the term “community manager”, but I do think EVERYONE is a community manager. But, like you said, that’s definitely another post for another day. ;)

    • I know, it’s almost disgusting how much I love Amber. ;) She may not technically be a community manager but I think she’s done a lot to teach all of us what one should look like and how to be human in this social media thing.

  4. Erica Kuhl from Salesforce.com is doing a great job motivating us community folks to be more active. She even started a community recognition program this year which both gave everyone something to shoot for (recognition), and also something to give folks who have been recognized thanks & motivate us to contribute more.

    Thanks for a great blog Lisa!

    Garry

    • I love that! Community members really take to things like recognition programs because no only feeds their own inner egos (it’s okay, we all have one. Trick is to know when to silence it. ;) ), but it also shows them that you’re listening and that you SEE them, which I think is really important. Kudos to Erica and the folks at Salesforce for that!

  5. I really admire @PaughGinney from Brazen Careerist (www.brazencareerist.com). The site was just named one of Mashable’s top 5 online communities for starting you career, and from my perspective as a member it’s largely due to him!

    • Cool, thanks! I’m a very, very passive members of Brazen Careerist so I’m not too familiar with Paugh, other than seeing his name in my inbox regularly. I’ll have to do my homework. :)

    • Thanks Nikita! My favorite part about being a community manager is being able to interact with so many cool people (like you) on the regular. It’s a lot of work, but I have a lot of fun doing it.

      Lisa, stop by sometime and get active. If you need some suggestions for getting started you should email me. I’ll give you some personalized advice.

  6. Glad to see another post celebrating the merits of community managers. It’s such an abstract job that goes so far beyond the, “Oh, I handle Twitter and Facebook”–in addition to managing all client-facing communication, you have to establish yourself as an authority in the industry through considerately curating content, too.

    I guess what I noticed from your breakdown was that a CM, in a way, has to think, “What if the brand were to become an actual person–how would it behave and interact?” And then they have to do just that.

    Anyway, great post as always. Thanks, Lisa.

  7. Eric Carpenter here at Care2 is amazing. We’re still a bit old school and call him our customer service guy, but he really does an awesome job at working with our 14.9M members (almost 15M) and helping them to get the most out of our website as possible.

  8. Lisa thank you for this post. As a community manager I get asked a lot how I got into my role. My degree is in graphic design and my background has been in marketing so I kind of transformed into this role over the years.

    I loved the mention “this is a marketing position.” Even though it is a position that can be taught and learned, I think too often it does not get enough credit. I have many people come up to me saying that they’re going to jump into the sphere because there are a ton of positions out there, and it does not seem that any experience/background in marketing or PR is needed.

    Thank you for the credibility for those of us who do have the background and experience.

  9. Great list Lisa, and it describes my Community Manager position with MoneyMindedMoms.com perfectly. My 7th grade English teacher wrote on my report card, “Julie socializes in class too much and needs a muzzle.” I always took that as a compliment.

  10. It never ceases to amaze me how many jobs are available these days that just didn’t exist when I was in college–like “Community Manager.” What a cool job that would be! I guess I have fallen into doing a little bit of that myself for various clients without intending to, and I do find more and more people asking me if I will help them manage their social media, but I don’t market myself as a “Community Manager.” I have no idea how one would prepare to do that in advance. I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before college courses in social media will be available?

  11. Lisa -

    Thanks a million for the shoutout, lady. And while I think community manager as a “job” has great purpose right now, community management as a *skill* is something that needs to be cultivated throughout an organization. I think we’ll get there, with those holding those job titles helping teach and steward those skills in others.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. Some great folks out there doing really good work.

    Best,
    Amber

  12. Lisa,
    I think you did a fantastic job defining the make up a a great community manager. I would refine number 5 as Must Have a Balanced Ego. Certainly the brand must come first, but the individual must have the confidence in themselves to interact with the audience.
    I also believe community managers have been around for years. They didn’t have the channels of communications available today and they certainly weren’t called community managers. They may have been in customer service, sales, operations, but they were always the ones that had the “special” report with the customers. The person that both external and internal people went to for just about anything, regardless of their job title.
    Layering that with the knowledge of how to interact on all the channels available today, makes it a whole new position.

  13. What you’re describing, more than anything, is a marketing manager who handles a company’s brand message online. I’ve met a multitude of community managers through my career who are nothing like you’ve described here, but have done fantastic jobs keeping communication open, transparent and in motion. Many of them are introverts and not very “social” on the physical plane – but virtually, they know how to make the necessary connections that create vibrant online communities. Online community managers are not of one ilk – they are of all sizes, shapes, personalities and intent, yet marketers like to think people who work on the Internet – especially when it comes to a company’s outward face – all need to fit into those little boxes that corporate types seem to like to push people into. As a community manager, myself, I am a bit insulted by this post.

  14. Lisa,

    Lovely list of things to keep in mind when building an online community. Puts a premium on just being actively helpful and available.

    Although I was hoping for something more. I wanted some mention of how this post applies to non-brand, or non-comercial communities. Most of it applies directly, and I can figure out the rest as I write this comment. But a paragraph or two would have enriched this post. I know that even a self-help group or local team has a brand of sorts, and you might talk about the marketing of that brand. But another approach for #3. Passion About the Brand: might be “Passion about the Brand or Mission of The Organization” It is vital to community to keep some single idea central, whether it be the brand or the mission.

    Thanks for making me work for it.

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