Rethinking How We Hire Online Community Managers

May 19, 2011 Comments Off

We urgently need to rethink how we hire community managers.

At the moment too many organizations, with little idea of what makes a great community manager, are hiring people who are either great at technology, have irrelevant community or social media experience, or have far too much free time. 

This is a tragedy that's sabotaging their community efforts. It's time to rethink it.


How are community managers being hired?

At present most job descriptions emphasize technical knowledge and any related 'social' experience over individual attributes. This is a big mistake. Knowledge and experience might be more tangible to assess, but they have little impact upon the community being a success. Instead, it is the passion, attitude and personality of the individual you're hiring which has the most influence on a community's success.

The level of technical knowledge a community manager needs to know is very small. The platforms themselves are increasingly easy to use. Would you want to miss out on great community managers because they didn't know how to use HTML or haven't created a Facebook fan page? They could learn the basics of either in less than half a day, perhaps even in an hour or two.

Most importantly, there is no evidence that previous experience, technical knowledge or any of the useful roles community managers are hired for have any impact on whether the community's succeeds. In fact, if you look at example of successful communities, it's often a lack of such experience by the community managers which most stands out. 


Two different types of community managers?

Are you hiring someone to build a community from scratch or manage an existing one. The two skills are very different. It's harder to hire someone to build a community than it is to manage one. The former needs unique skills and an emphasis on selling an dream that members will buy into and talents in fostering fledgling interactions into strong relationships. 


What to look for when hiring a community manager.

There are six specific things you want to look for.

  1. Passion for the topic. Too many companies hire people with no passion for the topic of the community. If your community is about banking, you need to hire someone interested in banking. If it's about interior design, you need to hire someone passionate about interior design. Passion for the topic is the single biggest difference between communities that succeed and fail. This passion should be evidenced in previous work or activities within that sector in the past.
  2. Attitude. The community manager needs to have the right attitude to a community. This includes a desire to interact with dozens, perhaps, hundreds of members a day and end every interaction on a positive note. They need to be able to respond quickly and professionally to issues in the community. They need to be willing to work hard and, most of all, they need to love – genuinely love – building relationships between people.
  3. Personality. The personality of the community manager must fit with the personality of the community. If the community is largely polite with a mild demeanor you need a community manager to match. If the community is a loud, rambunctious, sarcastic bunch, then hire a community manager to match. They should be a natural at ingratiating themselves with the community and building strong relationships with the top members.
  4. Skills. There are some basic skills community managers should have. They should be persuasive in all manner of their communications. They need to be able to persuade and motivate members to do things. They need to be able to convert a curious newcomer into an active members. They also need to be fantastic at working internally to guide the organization to provide the resources and support the community needs to success. They need to be confident at presenting their case to senior managers and working aggressively to get employees participating in the community. I would also highly value project management skills, the ability to write content the community loves to read and genuinely build relationships with people. 
  5. Knowledge. Now we focus on what the candidates know. There are two major component to this, one more important than the other. The first is social science knowledge and the second is technical skill. Knowing the key theories behind psychology, social-psychology, group processes and community development can rally help build a community. 

    Now, and only now, do we check they know the basics of modern technology. They don't need advanced skills, but a basic level of knowledge about what social platforms do and how they are used. They should know, for example, that's it wrong to spam members with promotional material. 

    Finally, a level of business acumen helps. They should know how the community fits into the overall business strategy and be able to make recommendations about how the community can better help the organization achieve it's objectives.

  6. Experience. Quick caveat here. If you're looking to hire someone to build a community from scratch – this should be ranked higher. It would be key to have someone who has previously built communities from scratch in your sector before. If you're simply looking for a manager, then previous experience of community manager isn't as important as individual attributes. It is, however, beneficial if the community manager knows how members are likely to interact, put together content calendars, recruit volunteers, manage a platform etc.


What should a community manager be hired to do?

For those being hired to be a manager (instead of a builder) the tasks will usually fall in to one of eight categories:

  1. Strategy. They should be gathering data from the community and analyzing this data to create insights about future content, activities and overall direction of the community. 
  2. Growth. They should be engaging in a variety of promotional, referral, advertising and direct invitations to ensure a steady supply of fresh blood into the community. They should also be converting these newcomers into active members.
  3. Moderation. They should be removing the bad stuff but, more importantly, encouraging everyone with an opinion to contribute that opinion.
  4. Relationships. They should be building positive relationships with the top members of their community and using these relationships to initiative activites, discussions and other positive elements into a community.
  5. Activities. They should be organizing regular online and, possibly, offline events to stimulate interaction between members. They should also be continually looking for amazing opportunities for the community. 
  6. Technology. They should be managing the platform, testing and tracking what works and making suitable changes when appropriate.
  7. Content. They should be contributing articles about the community to the community and ensuring there is usually something fresh to read when members visit.
  8. Business. They should be working internally to provide feedback to the business, lobbying for support from the business and integrating the community as deeply within the organization as possible.


Where to find recruits

This is easy, advertise and promote the role in areas where those passionate about the topic are likely to see it. Getting a blogger to mention it will attract the super fans. Otherwise, magazines, in twitter conversations or outright looking for people discussing the topic and asking them for suggestions is a great way to start. Avoid advertising on social media, marketing and digital communication platforms job sites. 

Both those hiring community managers and those applying for community management jobs should be far more picky about who they hire and what they apply for. Not everyone is suited to being a community manager, and those that are need to find communities which they are suited for. 

I suspect the success rate of organization's community efforts can be greatly increased simply by adhering to these principles.

Bonus: Here is a bonus list of free resources from the Pillar Summit mailing list:

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