What Exactly is an Online Community Manager?

Elliot Volkman
Elliot Volkman Co-Founder and Community Manager, Digital District

Posted on August 2nd 2011

 

bow to the community manager

You've been to communities, you may have even created them, but what roles are evolving within them? Online community management by no means is a standard job, so I decided to seek out what other online community managers are currently doing. Like the start of all things we are curious about now, I began this fact finding mission by doing a basic Google search to see what exactly an online community manager looks like.

A Dictator?

According to the top ranking images on Google several alarming images are presented that shows a community manager on a pedestal above members, leading a pack, or holding a magnifying glass (can't find his users?). There was also this random image displaying what appears to be a community manager hugging an 8-bit version of himself too, but that is an entirely different article.

bad community management

Or a Role Model?

The other side of the spectrum was also present on Google, as there are images of community managers leading users, helping them to connect or create a circle (community). Essentially becoming part of the community, acting as their voice, and being a role model to their members.

good community management

Cheesy visual graphics aside, it would appear at least for now that there is still a solid balance between a community manager being a role model and a dictator. Google wasn't being particularly helpful, so the next best thing to do is select a few community manager job opportunities at random to see what employers are looking for. Surely an employer would know what a community manager is if they are hiring one, right?

Community Manager Job Opportunity Comparisons

After looking through a few dozen job opportunity postings (80 or so) seeking community managers, the following appear to be common requirements and qualifications:

  • Create original content with SEO value (boost brand awareness, and generate leads)
  • Generate Buzz (undefined)
  • Generate social campaigns with ROI in mind
  • Grow membership, traffic and engagement
  • Interact with community members
  • Generate the webinars or informative content for sharing socially
  • Advise the development team of possible improvements to the sites and bugs
  • Use social media to drive traffic/sales/goals/etc.
  • Identify relevant trends and steer content creators towards it
  • ROI, ROI, ROI, and don't forget ROI

Average Qualified Candidate will have:

  • Education - Bachelors degree in a marketing, communications or business. Positions geared towards a marketing goal appear to want MBAs or those with masters degrees.
  • Experience - Anywhere from 2 to 10 years of related experience.
  • Strong writing and editing skills
  • Knowledge of basic HTML
  • Knowledge of CMS clients like WordPress or Drupal
  • Be team players
  • Be able to work alone

Some additional, but irregular tasks and skills listed for community managers would be to set up events (not online), create press releases, develop websites, generate online ads, Web traffic analysis, and my personal favorite viral planners.  Sadly some people still think content should be designed to go viral, rather than making awesome content that naturally spreads well. Hey, it worked for Old Spice. TheCHIVE on the other hand, not so much.

According to the current job listings community managers appear to be content wranglers who support the community by generating new content or features, and mans the social media warships that increase brand awareness with a human touch. To further reinforce this idea I asked the Community Manager, Advocate, and Evangelist Facebook group how they would define their job in seven words or less.

Listening with the goal to delight customers - Greg Meyer (@grmeyer) The moderator and voice of the community - Louise Griffiths (@LouiseGriffiths) Translator between different constituencies - Rachel Happe (@rhappe)

So What is an Online Community Manager?

In the past community managers evolved from forum moderators and developers. They would enforce their community's policy, social norms, and retain order. While there are some similar requirements and educational backgrounds that companies are seeking in community managers, the only general theme between them is that they are seeking brand evangelists. These brand evangelists will shout from rooftops (blogs), converse with friends and connections (social media), and occasionally toast to it as well (tweetups and meetups).

Unfortunately communities who are oppressed by dictator figures don't last for long periods of time, and at the very least reduces the quality of discussions being created. Reddit is a prime example of a thriving community with a broad base of users, and this is partially due to the community deciding upon what comments should stay or go (by voting up or down).

Community managers are no longer simple forum moderators, but role models that listen to the community and relay that information to the those who can improve it. While some may also take on the role of social media managers they may not place emphasis on marketing content and tactics, which is ideally what users want anyway. A friendly voice who will listen when they have a complaint, and fast response with solutions to their problems.

This article is part of a series on community management. I am currently working on a graduate thesis, and will be polling for data on what motivates an online community. Findings and results will be presented after the data analysis. Questions? Email or tweet me @thejournalizer.

TL;DR - Community managers are no longer forum moderators or community dictators, they are brand evangelists who acts as the community's voice.

Elliot Volkman

Elliot Volkman

Co-Founder and Community Manager, Digital District

By day I work with startups to help them build out their brand, by night I support my non-profit, Digital District, that focuses on improving digital literacy.

See Full Profile >

Comments

Posted on August 2nd 2011 at 11:04PM

Your list of requirements looks to be consistent with what I've seen advertised and having moderated several communities in the past 12 years I would say that there is nothing in that list of requirements that address the community needs and while these might be good requirements to have most of these can be learned. Attitude isn't a skill you can train and managing an online community that respects members without dictating and sets the foundation for the community to become stewards of their environment and allows for open discussion within largely voluntarily self-regulated behaviour is to me the difference between a community that works and one that is just unhospitable.

Elliot Volkman
Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 5:31PM

Lindy your comment was exactly what I was waiting for. This article, though filled with my own experiences, is primiarly based on research for what companies are currently seeking. Companies large or small still are unsure of what a community manager is, and should be. These items that I have listed are ideally what a company would seek in a digital marketer, brand evangalist, or something of the like. Managing a community requires a person with interest in the communities needs, and the reason why the community exists.

Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 10:10AM

I agree with the last paragraph (the one before This article is part…) but there are a few things that I completely disagree with.

Firstly, community managers are not brand evangelists - at least no more than the receptionist. However, a community manager enables brand evangelists. A community manager knows who their strongest influencers are within a community and works with them to turn them into brand evangelists. And any brand evangelists from within the brand itself would probably be better described as social marketers.

Secondly, most established community managers roll their eyes at that list of job requirements. Mostly because, again, it sounds like a social marketer. Community management isn't about SEO value or generating buzz or driving traffic/sales/leads. It's about working with people/the community to fulfill their needs and give them a feeling of belonging. All of that other stuff will come, but without a community to help you, you're just shouting into the wind.

There's an adage amongst those CMs who have been around the traps for a while that goes "the hardest part about being a community manager is knowing when to do nothing." I think that greatly reflects the reality of the role. A great CM is passionate about their communities and their members and knows that for a community to grow it has to learn to operate without the CM having a hand in everything it produces. A great CM is one that's always there but never seen, ensuring the limelight is always focused on their community.

Elliot Volkman
Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 5:35PM

Greg you are absolutely correct. What I did with this article was simply identify what companies now feel a community manager should be. If you have a thriving community, do you really need them to double as a brand evangelist? A large portion of the job opportunities that I drew this information from were from large companies, that likely have a great deal of discussions going on. What they probably need is a community architect who can help guide discussions into a joined area.

If a company was in start-up mode on the other hand, having a community manager who is also a brand evangelist would be ideal. Solid communities work best when left to decide their fellow members fates.

erinbush
Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 10:58AM

Elliot, I'd also add that it seems that lately community managers are being asked to straddle strategic roles and tactical ones. Given that most community managers are often the only ones in the room who really "get" online community (or they damn-well better!) they're often asked by their marketing, customer service or content colleagues to weigh in on the strategic direction. Often then they are the ones who have to take that strategy back to their desks and find ways to tactically implement it. It's an interesting crossover, right now... at least in what I've been seeing.

SGehman
Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 11:47AM

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Elliot.

TomHumbarger
Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 12:58PM

Community managers are very important to the health of a community - as noted in a blog post I wrote 2 years ago (The Importance of Active Community Management).  Communities that are not actively managed will not thrive.

In addition, you don't want just an "average" manager unless you are striving for mediocrity.  In another post (Community Managers and Quarterbacks), I compared the community manager role to quarterbacks - and if NFL teams want any chance in the playoffs, they need an A or A- level quarterback.  The C level quarterbacks lead their teams to losing records.

Posted on August 3rd 2011 at 5:11PM

Nice summary.  I was just in the process of writing a job description of an Online Community Manager so this was very helpful.  I would love to know a reasonable salary range for someone at the less experienced end of the spectrum (say 2 to 3 years experience).  Full-time position with benefits.  Thank you!!

goldfries
Posted on August 4th 2011 at 4:06AM

:) the Dictator part seems funny :P

I'd like to share from my experience as an administrator of a local community of over 400,000 members. (On a random afternoon like now we have ~10454 user(s) active at once.)

My role grew through the years, after about 7 years on the forum I was promoted as Administrator which was unprecendented, much thanks to long years on contribution of not just knowledge / experience but also forum handling. Many thanks to the founders having faith in me.

At present, my role would be handling the forum community. I deal with users, their problems and feedback, and also the same for the moderating crew.

Am I an Online Community Manager? Yes I am. Is a moderator an Online Community Manager? IMO they're not, they just help keeping the board organized. :)

A community is something of larger scale (btw the community I'm handling is lowyat.net ) - so in this particular community I'm involved - we also have other individuals handling the site content and such, along with video clip production, organized outing (we had a Captain America screening last week) and many other things going on.

So in the end - the definition of Community Manager is loose, and it's not necessary a one man thing.

I'm not appointed as the brand ambassador of the community, my role as administrator alone passively involves me some ways as a brand ambassador. :P I am however, the brand ambassador of my own brand(s).

Gregory Stringer
Posted on August 4th 2011 at 5:32AM
Posted on August 4th 2011 at 3:58PM

Shouldn't "communities" in the last line be "community's" (possesive form of community, not the plural form?). Also, it struck me as odd that your first few paragraphs were based on Google image search results. Not really credible source IMHO.

Elliot Volkman
Posted on August 5th 2011 at 11:30AM

I only used the word "communities" once in the entire article, and that was not on or around the last line. I'm not quite sure what you are reading. Additionally the Google image search was just to create a clear representation of what a community manager looked like because pictures are stronger than words. The research found below it is where the credability can be found, and my experience as a CM. However, I do appreciate your effort to troll my article. A community wouldn't be complete without their trolls.

Posted on August 8th 2011 at 9:22PM

I can definitely agree with the idea that a community manager is a role model. The best way to really understand the members is to talk with them, and go through what they go through. Hard data is important for understanding trends within the community, but the depth of understanding one receives from participation is easily tenfold. You can really get a sense of the people, and how their unique personalities and interests form the community, and even the smaller clicks that spring up sometimes. 

I don't know if I would say dictator though. I see a community manager as a judge, but only only as a last resort. I know I personally don't make administrative decisions unless it's clear that someone has violated some rule, or they're being malicious to other members. Our job is to create and maintain a healthy, safe, and open atmosphere. It's really important that you take the most objective stance that you can to make a promote that open space. Allowing things to develop as naturally as possible is one of the best way for the communities to grow, and ultimately feel like the community belongs to the people and not the manager. 

Posted on August 15th 2011 at 2:02PM

Interesting that everyone creating presentations on community management seems to have access to the same cheesy clip art.

Sunil Singh
Posted on November 24th 2011 at 1:04PM

To manage your community if you do not have a philosophy as it is a good community manager is not possible. Mission statement, not how you want to develop some kind of culture do we know? How do you know what type of content should be encouraged? You want to build a successful online community, how do you attract the kind of members you want? Do you know what the mission is important: The mission of the community will have an impact on the rules and guidelines. How do you grow will be determined, it purpose.So of the community's (and your members) to remind you to come up with a mission, and how? When I build a community from the beginning the mission and come to love yourself. Community grows, and I'm requesting (typically, it will be), see if you need to adjust. In this step, you do it also themselves.However band together to create a mission statement to be able to invite members, just to make sure that you have a community.

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