Whether you’re a community professional, or looking to hire someone to run your community, it’s important to reflect on what makes community managers successful. Sure, they need some inherent characteristics, like an interest in online communities and a comfort with technology.
But, beyond the basics, what makes a community manager successful?
Just as there are thousands of unique communities in the world, there are an equal number of unique community professionals making sure they work. Are there some qualities that all community managers -- no matter the industry, audience or strategy -- have in common?
No matter how hard you work, if you don’t understand what your members want and need, you’re going to have trouble cultivating a successful online community. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are, if there’s a disconnect between you and your members, or your organization and members, building sustainable engagement will be an uphill battle.
Listen to your members and watch what they do in the community to recognize patterns -- that will help you understand if you’re on the right track or not. Regularly conduct surveys and have a formal feedback program. Make sure you include everyone -- if you leave out groups you think might not have an opinion, like lurkers, you’ll never end up with a clear picture.
This also includes knowing your community’s culture. Your office space -- where you work every day, representing your organization’s culture -- may have a different feel than your members’ culture. And understanding your members’ culture will help you learn what motivates them and what they find valuable.
This may sound like a no-brainer -- of course the organization should support the community! But getting the full support of your entire organization, including executives, can be a challenge for community professionals. And how successful can a community be if it’s considered an afterthought, a side project or just another checked box in the list of “what-all-cool-companies-have-these-days”?
Simply tolerating community within your organization, or knowing it’s good but not fully embracing it, is equally as bad as not caring. In their State of Community Management Report 2016, The Community Roundtable found an organizational culture that’s neutral towards community is the same as a culture that is constraining or toxic towards community.
AirBNB does a great example of weaving community throughout every example of their organization. With their efforts, they’ve proved that when community is more than an afterthought, it can hold up the entire organization.
Moderation is a learned skill, and involves striking a balance between trusting your community members to behave and maintaining control so nothing blows out of proportion. It’s a tough job that requires strong judgement and, occasionally, thick skin. Not everyone is up to the challenge.
But, as much as good moderation involves experience and sound judgement, you also need comprehensive community guidelines. The guidelines serve several purposes. One is to teach members what is and isn’t appropropriate community fodder. The other is to give the community manager power -- when they see something wrong, they can point to the guidelines and prove that a member’s post is out of line.
Although moderation is a big part of being a community manager, it’s not the full job description. At least a basic knowledge of metrics and KPIs -- and a desire to learn more as your job progresses -- is important for any community professional.
Part of any job includes some guesswork or gut checks, but if you really want to grow your community to its full potential, you need to fully embrace data. Embracing data and metrics doesn’t mean embracing ALL of it -- you need to be discerning and only track what is truly helpful for you.
What are your goals for community? Increasing overall member engagement? Creating a more effective ambassador program? Decide on a goal and only follow information that helps you achieve that goal and track your progress.
That’s why not only knowing how to decipher data is important -- you need to know what data is important and have effective ways of measuring it.
The good news is there are many platforms to choose from. The bad news is they’re all a little different. So, even if you’re a seasoned community manager and have incredible moderation skills, you still need to learn your platform’s strengths, tools and unique quirks.
There will be some overlap between platforms, but if you switch jobs and now operate with a new platform, you’ll need to adapt to get the most out of it. Wouldn’t it be a shame if your new platform had automation rules but you didn’t know how to use them? Or if you missed out on a valuable dashboard configuration? Sure, the platform isn’t everything -- your tactics, strategies and skills are crucial -- but your community will suffer if you don’t know how to use all the tools your platform has to offer.
Take advantage of all the platform-specific trainings you can. You never know what you don’t know -- so get out there and learn!
Community is about connecting. No matter what your larger goals are -- retaining new customers, cutting support costs, increasing brand awareness -- at the end of the day, all that value is created by simply connecting.
And a big part of connecting is practicing empathy -- nonjudgmentally recognizing a person’s perspective and being able to communicate that emotion.
The word “practice” is intentional -- people have to learn empathy, and get better at it the more they practice. Some people are naturally better at practicing empathy than others -- but it doesn’t mean people who aren’t empathetic can’t learn, or that people who are empathetic can’t get better.
What skills do you think are important for community managers to have?