There's a lot of talk about succession planning these days, as it's becoming more and more common for people to change jobs every few years or so. The bulk if not all of the succession planning seems to be at the senior level. While this makes sense, since senior leaders have large groups of people reliant on them, are we missing the boat by ignoring other positions?It's no secret that community managers are at high risk for burnout and subsequent turnover, so why don't we have a plan in place for them, too? As community managers, we have at least a dozen different to-do items on our plate at any given time. It’s a lot to handle at once, and missing an important touchpoint with a member or not closing the loop on strategy and procedure can be a big hit.
Community management is built on relationships and consistency, which can be very difficult to have others help with even for just one day. So imagine leaving an organization and attempting to fit your wealth of knowledge into two weeks’ worth of meetings and documentation or, perhaps worse, walking into a new job having to figure out where all of the puzzle pieces fit from a predecessor.
One way to plan for the unforeseeable is to take the time now to put together a handbook for current and future staff. Not only will this help if and when you decide to move on, but it also serves as a great way to show all of the work that you do. It's also a lot easier to convince internal stakeholders to be invested and involved in the community if you can easily outline how to most effectively participate.
It sounds like a herculean effort to take for something that's only potentially in the future, but I assure you it's worth it. If you're in a lull, now is the time to do it. Another bonus is this will make taking a vacation easier since everything is laid out - we all need to recharge sometimes!
For additional tips and tricks from real community pros, download the Community Manager Handbook: 20 Lessons from Community Superheroes.
Here's how to tackle this project:
Some common section headers include:
Think through the major tasks and goals of your community. Try to look at this through the eyes of a brand new employee. Start with some basic background and history and fold in some Staff and Member FAQs. Also include any sort of special procedures regarding the code of conduct, moderation, engaging volunteers, or member recognition (Member of the Month, for example).
Reporting is also huge, as trying to recreate a report someone else has pulled is one of the most challenging things out there! If you get the feeling you're missing something, then it’s a good time to pull in a second set of eyes that are least partially familiar with the community to help fill in the gaps.
As you start to go through this process, you will likely find you've already written about 50-75 percent of this content before. Either you've explained a process to your boss, or a colleague has written something out for you, or you've sent detailed instructions to a member. Comb your sent folder and your community site for those FAQs, Code of Conduct, and special instructions for volunteers or super users. The important thing is not blowing through this all at once. Focus on one item a day or three per week. You'll get on a roll before you know it!
The key to the handbook is to make it easy for someone to jump right in on a specific topic. No one is going to sit down and read the handbook cover to cover like a New York Times bestseller. They are looking for a quick answer to a specific question. Organizing the content in a way that makes sense is super important. If you have a lot of documentation above and beyond simple background and explanations, it might be useful to create an appendix. That way, people aren't flipping through a three-page Code of Conduct in the middle of learning about the internal escalation process for a negative post and the email template you send to members who have violated the terms.
Once you have a working draft done, congratulations! The bulk of your work is done. Having this starting point will make any future iterations that much easier. A community manager's role and responsibilities change all the time, so this handbook will be a living, breathing document. If you can get in the habit of skimming the handbook for updates every month, you will always have a relevant, helpful document for everyone to reference. Make sure to post the newest version to your intranet or shared drive for easy access.
A community handbook is a great way to prepare for the unforeseeable (you might win the lottery, after all!), act as a support document while you are out of the office, and help to show all of the hard work you do on a daily basis to support the community.