What Are Community Managers? Why Do We Need Them?

If you’re a community manager, you know communities don’t happen by chance. You make them happen.

You use your powerful skills of persuasion, understanding of psychology, and knowledge of technology to build powerful online communities.

Today we’re publishing this video to help you explain what community management is, why having a great community manager is so important, and the skills you need to be a great community manager.

If you’ve had to explain the importance and value of your work as often as we have, this video might be as great a primer for you as it has been for us.

Keep doing the work you’re doing. You’re not alone. Your work matters.

Stopping Declaration Dan

You know the type.

Every statement the member makes is written as a debate-ending truth.

More savvy and empathetic members know it’s best to preface or caveat their statements i.e.:

“According to….[xyz],”
“In my experience…[xyz]”
“I feel…[xyz]”

Now a debate can continue with conflicting sources of information, experiences, and opinions without heading into an argument. Prefacing your belief with the source of that belief allows an ongoing discussion.

We once wrestled with this problem recently in a small community of practice. A handful of Declaration Dans were causing arguments and ending discussions simply by their belief in their own rightness.

We first tried soft messages to reason with them, but these were largely ignored. So we tried social pressure instead. We created a cartoon character called Declaration Dan which appeared on the homepage sidebar with a short warning to “Don’t Be Declaration Dan”. The image was clickable and gave (made up) examples of Declaration Dans and what they should do instead.

Two volunteer members also helped by calling out the next few examples of Declaration Dan they saw. Other members began picking up on it too and referring to similar comments as Declaration Dan.

Soon becoming a Declaration Dan was a term of light mockery and a sign of one’s insecurity.

It didn’t completely eradicate the problem. But it drastically reduced it.

Email, Call, Or Ask The Community?

I took this screenshot on the Amazon KDP site.

Putting email, call, and community together without any explanation of the pros and cons of each is silly.

For most people, the obvious answer is to send an email. Why pick up the phone or try to figure out a community (and ask your question in public) when you don’t need to?

Alas, this limits community participation and increases (rather than reduces) the number of questions customer support needs to resolve.

If you have a similar contact form, be clear about the unique benefits of each or which questions are the best fit for each channel.

If it were me, I’d recommend something like:

Search for an answer (search for terms in community/documentation)
This should appear above any other option across the top.

Ask the community (avg. response time [x minutes])
For questions about payment, processes, publishing and using the site

Email (avg. response time [x minutes])
For questions involving some personal information, i.e. [x], [y], [z].

Call (avg. response time [x minutes])
For complex questions requiring a lot of personal information.

These are just examples, but you get the idea. Don’t simply lump the three options together without any explanation of each.

Do You Need A Full-Time Community Manager?

In some projects, the client will ask if they need a full-time community manager.

My answer is usually the same, ideally…yes.

This usually cues some nervous shuffling, side-glances, and disgruntled mumbling about budgets and headcounts.

The follow-up question is more telling.

“If we can’t get a full-time community manager, what is the minimum amount of time someone can invest in a community and make it succeed?”

One problem here is success isn’t binary. There isn’t a magic number of hours per week that suddenly flips a community from unsuccessful to successful.

The second problem is it’s not about time, but commitment. Someone doing community around other tasks will often try to do community more efficiently. They give shorter, quicker, responses to questions. They don’t check back in previous discussions to see if the problem was resolved. They don’t reach out and build relationships with top members. They don’t put in the extra mile of effort that makes the community succeed.

The rapid decline in commitment makes calculating the minimum amount of time required problematic. Someone who splits community with another job role is probably only 25% as good as a full-time staffer. They do the basic stuff but are unlikely to go the extra mile.

The Real Value of Surveys (and one to complete today)

The real value of community surveys lies in three areas:

1) Identifying trends over time.

Every community scores well in the answer to the following member survey question:

“Overall, how helpful or unhelpful do you find the community?”

You can probably see why. The people who don’t get value from the community stop visiting and don’t respond to the invitation to the survey.

So why bother even asking this question knowing we’re going to get a good response to it?

Because it lets us track success over time. Knowing the community scored 4.1 (out of 5) this year doesn’t tell us much. Knowing it was higher or lower than the year before tells us much more.

2) Identifying demographics of most engaged members.

One survey I issued recently returned demographic data completely at odds with Google Analytics data. Our most active members were significantly older than casual visitors.

The same people who complete surveys are also the most active members of the community. Community member surveys let you build detailed personas that understand exactly what members need in the community.

3) Identifying the 20% of features/content that matters.

The 80/20 principle applies to communities as much as anywhere else. Surveys let you identify which features or needs really matter to members. For example, if you look at this data:

From a strategist perspective, you should probably stop storytelling videos immediately and reconsider the time you spend on member profiles, events and blogs. You then invest that additional time, resources, and attention) into forums, groups and news.

Note: If you ask members to complete surveys, you should pay it forward by completing surveys yourself too. I recommend you complete this survey (now running for more than a decade) by our friends at the Community Roundtable.

Also check out Organising Communities by the team at Bind.nl

Don’t Make Anyone Angry!

…isn’t a smart philosophy when it comes to managing a community.

It’s like asking a politician to lead without upsetting anyone.

Not only is it impractical, but it causes more harm than good.

The most important decisions you need to make will upset some members. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t be decisions at all, they would just be obvious next steps.

Every time you remove a feature, some members will be upset – even if it improves the experience for the many. Every time you remove members who aren’t a good fit, you’re going to infuriate some members. Every time you feature or promote the work of members, you might upset the members you didn’t feature.

Of course, it’s emotionally difficult to accept that members are going to be angry as a result of your actions. But remember that the things which might delight the many will probably upset the few.

If you’re managing a community, you’re likely to make a few enemies. That might not be a bad thing.


It’s hard to build a community if your boss is always questioning your work, overruling your decisions, and keeping you guessing about their vision for the community.

It’s equally hard if you’re keeping your members guessing, overruling (or ignoring) their ideas, and keeping them guessing about your vision for the community.

There seems to be a relationship between the two.

Matching The Tone of Members

I worked with a community of practice recently which was having trouble reaching a critical mass of activity.

Reading posts and email templates, there was a clear difference between the tone members used when engaging with one another and the tone the community manager used.

The community manager was bright, bubbly, used lots of exclamation points, sent everyone best wishes for holidays and weekends.

Community members were direct, generally serious, and rarely bothered to inquire into each other’s weekends or wish others well for the holidays.

On paper, the community manager was absolutely the kind of person you want to get a community started. But members I interviewed frequently mentioned finding the community manager offputting. One mentioned (“she stuck out like a sore thumb”).

Finding the right person for a community isn’t just about their experience and attributes, but also about their tone. A community manager who is great for one community can be a poor fit for another.

If you can’t match the tone of members, they won’t consider you as one of them. For sure, be positive and optimistic, but somewhere in the continuum, there’s a line that’s acceptable for your members. You need to figure out where that line is pretty quickly.

Featuring Members

Imagine you received a letter today which revealed your face had been selected at random to be featured on a billboard everyone in the local community would see every day.

How would that make you feel?

If you’re like most people, the answer is probably a little uneasy.

You might have questions like….Do I want that attention? Will my photo look good compared with others? How long will it be there for? Do I get any say in this?

This is also true online. Random featuring a selection of members on your homepage feels like a good idea…until you stop to think about how members might actually feel about it.

This idea that everyone wants more attention, regardless of the type of attention, is plain wrong. The nuances of attention matter. Featuring members at random doesn’t make anyone feel better (and can cause plenty of problems).

Featuring members because of their achievements, those with a long track record of participating in the community, and those who have opted in – that’s a different matter.

A Tough Lesson About Viral Growth in Communities

It won’t happen…at least not at the beginning.

When was the last time you reached out to friends and invited them to join any of the communities of which you’re a member?

I’m betting it wasn’t recently (if ever).

People don’t invite friends to join communities because they don’t want to put their credibility on the line. If you think you can invite the first few members and then your community will organically grow, you’re going to be extremely disappointed.

There are two things to understand here.

First, people don’t invite friends to join communities, they share content within those communities with their friends.

If you want viral growth your community has to be filled with content which is so interesting, valuable, and unique that members will be eager to share it. And the bar for this is very high indeed.

Second, relying on viral growth for success is a terrible strategy. A better approach is to identify how many people you can reach (existing names in your database), how many you can divert from existing traffic flows (your website etc..) and estimate the conversion rate. Then see how you can increase the conversion rates of both while getting people to stick around.

To rely on viral growth is to rely on chance. Don’t do it.

Working with Smaller Communities

A while back I participated in a podcast for indiemedia.club talking about the do’s and don’ts of launching successful communities, how to develop a paid membership site, and other bonus tips.

If you have a spare 45 minutes, you can find it here:


A community manager was recently hired to help start a new community.

She told me she was too busy right now to begin engaging with members. She had calls with the vendor to be involved in, welcome emails to create, SWAG to organize, and more.

In three weeks, she hadn’t spoken to a single prospective member of the community.

If you’re starting a new community, you need to invert this thought process. Spend the first two hours of your day reaching out to and engaging with prospective members of the community. Simply tell them you’re launching a community soon and are keen to learn from their expertise.

Then squeeze in all the other activities around this.

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