It helps if the community manager is familiar with the topic.
Actually, it helps if the community manager is very passionate about the topic.
It helps if it's something they've been involved with for years.
It helps if they know all about the major issues, know the tone of voice to use, and can share their own experiences.
It helps if they have a lot of friends in the sector already. It helps if they can genuinely connect on a one to one level with the people they're trying to reach.
This debate split the room evenly at Swarm Sydney.
We do see examples of communities founded and managed by people that weren't already engaged in that topic. Martin Reed has made a career out of this.
But we find far more examples of successful communities built and managed by people whom are highly committed to that topic.
I worry about communities managed by agencies for precisely this reason. Whilst a few succeed (SiftGroups has done very well here), most fail. Most agencies don't have staff with that same level of passion, experience, knowledge, and connections.
This matters a lot.
If you're hiring a community manager, I'd hire someone that's an expert on the topic as opposed to previous community management experience. This is especially true if you're working in highly specialized fields like healthcare, teaching, accounting, legal etc…
It's easier to teach someone how to grow and manage a community than it is to make them passionate about the topic.