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A Year In the Life of a Community Manager

Written by Lauren Wolfe | on November 6, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Our guest blogger, Ryan McKeown, is an implementation project manager at Higher Logic. He focuses on helping new clients through the building, implementation and launch for their community sites. Ryan's post from Super Forum was originally published on Higher Logic's Users Group (HUG) blog.

Behind every great community is a highly caffeinated, professional multitasking master of strategy, known simply as 'the community manager'. If the Wizard of Oz had a community site, this person would undoubtedly be manning the keyboard behind the curtain and posting seed questions about how the movie rendition of Toto was the wrong type of terrier. There is no replacement for the work they put in towards the success of the site, and no job is more important to the health and growth of your online community. But how does a community manager spend their time at work?

Beyond the typical daily and weekly responsibilities of generating content, managing moderation, and proactively "putting out fires", a community manager must make time to think big-picture. The responsibility often falls on them to strategize, facilitate membership and create organized, methodical and efficient processes that align the community with the goals of the entire organization. How do you make that transition? What does it take to change from constantly dealing with the torrent of short-term tasks to appropriating time for proactive, long-term planning?

Before we go into what makes a community manager successful, it is important to know what the best performing communities do to be great. According to The Community RoundTable's State of Community Management 2014 Report, there are three prevalent themes that span across the highest rated communities.

  1. Community Maturity. This does not mean that the community is old. Some of the oldest communities in age may function properly but do not always have best practices processes. Community maturity means there are mature processes in place. It is estimated that 85 percent of successful communities employ processes like reports to measure engagement and evaluate the community.
  2. Leadership Opportunities. Members should have the opportunity to hold a leadership role within the community. Responsibility is key for driving engagement.
  3. C-Suite Participation. This is participation by the higher-ups or board members of the organization. Having the executive team actively engaging your members through the community is beneficial for both the success of your community and the perceived value to your members.

Combining these three things facilitates a community that has measurable value and an increased likelihood to be approved for resources and plans. But how do you achieve these things? Breaking down community management on a quarterly level, we can view exactly what goes into making those themes a reality. Early and often, successful community managers should connect with other members of their team on community specific issues. Below is a quarterly breakdown of key ideas that many community managers have implemented to be successful.

Quarter 1-Plan, Train and Utilize Your Annual Conference

Where do you want to be a year from now? What are your annual goals? Early Q1 is the time to conduct staff training. Having staff comfortable with the community will ensure buy-in and usage of the community.

Annual Member Survey

Typically annual or budget meetings will be held around this time, so be sure to get a seat at the table at the discussion about annual surveys. The member survey is crucial for conveying your community's value as a member benefit. It is important that you have input into surveys that are being pushed out to your member population. A survey is a great place to put in reference questions about the community. You can then utilize these external metrics to validate your reporting, using the member survey as a basis against engagement reports over the course of the year. Once the survey goes out, use the community to disseminate information and build the discussion. Your open forum and communities are great places to request feedback from the survey.

Annual Meeting

Your annual meeting or conference may also occur at this time. Be sure to have an onsite presence at the meeting and be able to either showcase or demo the community features. Come up with interesting ideas to connect to all of the members at the meeting and most of all, be SOCIAL. Now is a great time to let people know who you are and what the community is all about. This is also the time to take advantage of mobile and/or event apps options for your members. Don't hesitate to reward your super-users! Giving prizes for some of the stronger community members is an incentive to be more engaged.

Quarter 2: Act on What You Learned, and Throw a Party!

After annual meetings you will generally have a post annual meeting report. Think about what worked and didn't work with marketing your community and begin to start planning for the following year. This may also be a great time to expand or cut back the number of your communities. Use the session attendance as a guide to create new communities and pay attention to who the conversation leaders were as they may make excellent community administrators. Morale is typically high following the annual meeting so don't hesitate to draw parallels to the community and play off of the boost the meeting gives your organization. Your community site is, in essence, similar to the annual meeting: your users can network, ask questions, and share resources. The key difference being that your community site is all year long.

Train on What You Learned

Conduct a more specific or topic oriented staff training. Lunch-and-learns in the office accompanied with target advertising is a great way to ensure strong attendance. You can use your discussions to place an ad, such as a clever message to remind users to update their profile pictures. The merit of your advertising can be tracked with a reports module, and that data can be used so if you do try to sell advertising to an outside vendor you have a basis of effectiveness. Be sure to look into cross promotion opportunities with other events, products and communication tools.

Community Anniversary

Make a big deal about your community anniversary. It is a great way to refresh interest with your users. Have a contest and offer real prizes. This is also a great time to roll out new features and showcase some of the advancements that have been made on the site in recent months (Bootstrap and new discussion email templates, for example). If you are launching new modules, such as volunteer or mentoring, now is the time to introduce them to your community. Sometimes paring your anniversary with a real-life event gives additional credibility to the occasion.

Quarter 3: Don't Let Engagement Take a Vacation

The summer months are sometimes the most daunting in terms of engagement. With so many people on vacation, seasonal occupations shifting, and school summer vacation under way, it is easy for the community to reach a lull in engagement. This is why seed questions are so important. It is up to you to keep the conversation going. Also, be sure to continually clean-up data, and remind your C-Suite employees the merit of the community and the importance of their participation.


Don't forget about your vacation! It is important that you not be the only person in the organization who knows what's going on with the inner workings of the community. Be sure to train someone on basic site tasks and responsibilities of a community manager. Ensure your coverage knows procedures, characters, crisis plans, and basic trouble-shooting.

Fix What Isn't Working

This quarter is a good time to revisit goals, workflows, and processes. You have four months to work on your community prior to year end. Take steps to make yourself and your community successful. Remember that it is never too early to start brainstorming for next year.

Quarter 4: The Game-Changer

Q4 is historically a time for change. The change might be something that you see coming, or might be a surprise. What might the change be? New technology, staff changes, resource changes, new strategy or even structural changes are all within the realm of possibility. Change isn't always in the forecast, so it's important to adjust, get help, and take calculated risks at your organization's speed. Recognize that different parts of your community function in different ways, and where change may be welcomed and expedited in one area, it may encounter some resistance in another. Also, when a "game changer" does happen, be sure to make note of it. This could positively or negatively impact engagement.

Revisit the Annual Meeting

Start the finalization of your annual meeting plans. Will you have an event- specific community? What needs to be ordered or developed for your meeting to be a success? This quarter is a time for planning and adaptation as much as it is a time for that one last push to boost engagement. You should revisit member materials to ensure they align with some of the new updates, modules, and changes in your community. Keep in mind the state that your community is in and follow-up with leaders about their experiences over the year. Community leaders will have the best insight about the workings of their community. They will also know if their community needs additional support, responsibility, or recognition. Reach out to them with some questions about how things are going: Are we implementing a new module/ change correctly? Are we managing the community correctly? Have your community managers received enough recognition for the work they do and do they feel that their participation has been noticed?

Finally, complete your year-end stats. Knowing your audience is key. What will your C-suite be looking for? Are they numbers people? Would a testimonial be more effective? Demonstrate both qualitative and quantitative value of your community. Be prepared with your necessary resource changes and requests. Be patient, think ahead, and know what has to be done to take your community to the next level.

Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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