In an ideal world, every online community would have a perfectly suited team of community managers working full-time to make the community awesome. Unfortunately, the reality of business needs and priorities often means that communities have to prove their value before upper management will commit to a full-time employee for them. This common situation, in turn, makes it difficult to really focus the time and effort that's needed to get value out of a community. It's a Catch-22.
We work with what we get, though, and here are some ways to help your community succeed without a full-time community manager (and signs for when it's time to hire one).
The most common solution, when you can't hire a full-time community manager, is to add community duties to existing employees. This typically fits best with the support/customer service, marketing, or product teams, depending on the type of product and community you have. For the best results, don't dump it all on one employee; have a collection of employees from all these departments, with one point person.
The point person takes primary responsibility for the community:
In addition to responding and moderating, they should take the opportunity to bring in members of the other teams when appropriate.
Customer asking about upcoming features? Let the product team representative chime in.
Got a post to make about a contest or promotion? The marketing team rep is perfect for that.
Important notice about planned (or unplanned) downtime? Support team rep is on it.
Most importantly, this point person should be responsible for keeping track (at least loosely) of the amount of time they and the other employees involved in this shared duty are spending on the community. Why? We'll get to that in a bit.
If no current employees are interested in/have the bandwidth to take on community management duties, look to hire a part-time community manager to fill the gap. Freelance community managers are becoming more common. In my experience, Cloudpeeps is the best place to look for one, since it focuses just on community and marketing opportunities and professionals, but Upwork (formerly Elance and oDesk) or posting the position yourself are options as well.
First, identify what the key tasks you need performed are. Are your needs mostly in moderation and content management or are you in a growth phase and really need someone to work on recruitment? It could be that you're still developing the community strategy and need someone to focus on listening to the customer and find out what they want out of a community. Maybe your needs are in events or thought leadership content. Narrowing your needs to one or two categories helps to define who you're looking for.
When you've selected a community manager, make sure that it's clear to them (and to you) who they'll be reporting to, how they'll be measured and what outcomes you'd like to see. Even if you're paying them a flat rate rather than hourly, ask them to keep an approximate count of how much time they're spending on what kind of tasks. This will help you in the next stepâ€¦
Volunteers can definitely help to augment a community manager's efforts. However, they can rarely exist without some guidance from a main moderator or community manager. Especially for branded customer communities, a manager is required to direct the volunteer guidelines, take insights back to the company, and (most importantly, impact the bottom line) make sure that the community is still reflecting well on the brand itself.
Volunteer management can end up being a whole role unto itself. That said, if you have a few early community members who you can really trust, bringing them into the fold and giving them some responsibilities like moderating content and welcoming new members can definitely boost the power of your interim community management solution.
Regardless of which of these options you choose, eventually, you'll need to commit to a full-time community manager. If you've been keeping track of things like we suggested above, you should have some good stats about the increase of time community tasks have been taking. Other metrics like volume of activity, volume of members, or business needs like needing to incorporate the community into company processes can help make the case to expand the headcount, as well.
A full-time, dedicated community manager is a key ingredient in creating a successful branded community. On the way to justifying this internally, there are a few ways to utilize existing staff, part-time specialists, and volunteer community members to ensure that your community is growing for when your company is ready.