The Strategic Way To Recruiting (and Training) Community Managers

Here is the typical approach.

You finally have the resources (or the need) to recruit someone. You browse the web to find a few job descriptions, use these as the basis to create your own, and post the final job descriptions on job boards, community sites, and any other channel you can find.

You narrow your list of 30 to 50 applicants down to 3 to 5 and interview each until you find someone who:

a) Seems to be easy to work with.
b) Seems to have relevant experience.
c) Is within your compensation range.

This isn’t a terrible approach. It often works well. But it’s often divorced from the strategy. This means you’re probably not specific enough in the skills you need at each level.

For example, let’s imagine a (simplified) strategy like this:

We have three clear phases, three broad goals, a set of key tactics and then we’ve identified the very specific skills which will be needed at each phase of the process.

Aside, many strategies are undermined by a failure to recruit people with the right skills for the tasks they’re expected to do.

Let’s imagine you’re launching a community.

Using the example above, we know we need four specific skills here:

1) Technology development and implementation.

2) Motivating top members to answer questions.

3) Building relationships and processes with the support team.

4) Being able to answer (or get answers) to the majority of questions.

We might decide to find someone who can do all of this or (more frequently) split technology into a separate role given it’s unique specialism.

When it comes to writing the job advert, we can be very specific:

“Within [x] months, we expect the applicant to have:

    • Recruited 15 people who can answer questions in the community.
    • Undertaken our staff training courses and be able to answer simple questions within the community.
    • Built relationships with support teams to persuade them to answer questions in the community”

(This isn’t the full advert obviously, but it’s clear targets by a clear timeline).

Now in the job interviews you can ask more specific questions checking they have the expertise you need. For example:

“Which superuser programs have you set up and run before? What were the results? What succeeded and failed? How would you develop this program from scratch?”

“How were you able to acquire traffic from customer support channels in the past? What worked/didn’t work? What would be your approach this time around?

“How much do you know about our products at the moment? What is your current level of expertise within the topic? How would you persuade support staff to engage and participate in the community? How many support staff have you persuaded to do this in the past?”


Better yet you can often visit the past communities of potential applicants and see if they have done exactly the things you need them to do for you.


The Skills You Need Evolves Over Time

It’s worth remembering here the community skills you need will change as the community matures. This means at each phase of the strategic plan you either need to:

a) Recruit new staff members.
b) Train your current staff members in new skills.

The great thing about having a strategic plan in place is you can collaborate with your team, identify the skills they need, and sign them up to relevant training courses, books, mentorships, and more to prepare them for each new phase.

Better yet, if you know the skills you need in the future, you can begin connecting with people who might be a good fit today and building a pipeline of potential talent you can recruit in the future.

Side note: If you’re recruiting in a tech hotspot (Seattle/Bay Area), be aware most community managers only stick around for 1 to 3 years. This seems to be part of the bargain. You can plan for this and identify what the community manager will achieve within that time frame they’re with you.


You’re Acquiring Skills To Take Your Community To The Next Level

The recruitment process needs to reflect your community strategy.

You’re not simply trying to find warm bodies to plug a resource hole, you’re paying to acquire the skills your community needs to achieve the current and next phase in your community strategy.



p.s. This approach is also relevant when you’re attending community events. You can identify precisely what skills you want and attend the most valuable sessions and use the rest of the time to meet up with others who have recently been through the challenges you’re about to face.

The Art Of Subtlety and Importance of Real Empathy in Community Building

One topic I spend time on in my new book is the importance of developing advanced community skills at the micro-level.

Here’s an example. Many people can easily grasp simple community-building principles like:

  • People want to feel valued and important.
  • People want to know they can make unique contributions.
  • People want to feel like they’re making progress.
  • People want to feel rewarded for their contributions.

But far fewer can understand the importance of authenticity and subtlety in delivering on these principles.

I’ve met far too many community professionals who send messages to members or reply to members with text like:

“As one of our most valued and community members, I’d love to invite you to …”

“I’m reaching out to you as one of the most important members of our community…”

“I’ve noticed your superpower is in [x], can you do more of [x] in the community?”

“If you do [x], you will become recognised as a top member of the community”

“Congrats on making 5 contributions, here’s your ‘rapid progress’ badge”

They later seem confused when these messages fail to achieve the desired impact.

This is the difference between skill and knowledge. Knowledge is knowing the principles, skill is the ability to apply them.

The skill which needs to be nurtured (quickly) here is empathy. This empathy which is exemplified by subtly delivering and hinting at the benefits members want instead of blasting them in someone’s face.

For example, if you wanted your colleague to feel important, would you suddenly turn to her and say “Hey, you’re really important”?

Hopefully not! It would be inauthentic (and weird).

If you’re smart, you might turn to her and say:

“hey, that [x] you recommended really helped.

No-one else here even seemed to know about it.

Would you mind if I reached out to you if I have any other challenges with [x]? Not many people seem to have the experience you do”

You can see the difference. One is genuine, authentic, and will have the intended impact. It appreciates the context, environment, and relationship between you. The other is blasting a weird message in someone’s face.

If your messages aren’t having their desired impact, you might need to work more on your empathy. Or buying my new book might help.

Organizing A Member Workshop To Help Develop The Community Strategy

It’s always tempting to dive into potential solutions for a struggling community without first trying to investigate the cause.

In one recent client project, we brought some prospective members together into a shared online space to both diagnose what’s going wrong for the community today and identify what the community could become if we collaborate together.

Using a zoom webinar with Mural, we asked members some key questions:

What’s stopping you from participating in the community?
What do you want from the community?
What can you contribute to the community?
What might be a good trigger to visit the community?

You can see the responses here:

This isn’t a definitive list of questions or topics (it’s also good to ask about the toughest challenges, what’s stopping people achieving their goals at the moment, who they want to connect with etc…).

However, It yields some good and immediate insights you can use when developing the strategy. Better than that, the mere act of bringing people together to identify what is and isn’t working about a community creates a shared mission.

This might not work well for customer support communities, but if you’re trying to build a community of practice I would definitely recommend it.

Stop Creating “What Do You Think?” Discussions

Imagine someone you’ve never met walks up to you, shows you a copy of a magazine article, and says:

“I’ve recently read this article about [widget]. What do you think about [widget]? Do you think [widget] will be the future of our industry?”

If you’re cornered, you might give a quick reply and then try to move on. The approach just feels a little weird.

The obvious catch with an online community is people aren’t cornered. If the approach is off and there’s no real benefit of replying, people don’t reply.

A lot of newcomer community managers, in their haste to initiate activity, will try to create discussions like this. They will share a relevant article (or raise a topical issue) and ask “what do you think?”

These are the worst types of discussions for almost every community.

People reply to discussions for an emotional payoff. They want to feel useful and know they’ve helped someone. Giving opinions on random topics doesn’t create that feeling. This is why initiating a bunch of discussions to ‘get activity going’ usually fails.

It’s also why in the very early days you need to be very careful how you structure the question.

For example, if you ask the question as:

Subject: Would you set aside a budget for [widget] in 2022?

“Next week I need to submit my budget for the coming year. I’m trying to work out whether it’s worthwhile setting some money aside for [widget] as this article seems to recommend.

Does anyone have any experiences or insights into whether [widget] is likely to be important without our industry? Any examples or case studies would be really useful”

Now we have a question which lets members both give an opinion and feel they’re helping. It’s clear why the person is asking the question and the value they will get from the answers.

The challenge in the early stages isn’t to start discussions to ‘get activity going’. It’s to find people who need help and persuade them to ask questions in the community (or, last resort, ask them on behalf of the person).

One Simple Email Tweak Which Revived 16% of Inactive Members (and why this matters)

In my new book, Build Your Community, I write a lot about the advanced engagement skills we need in the new era of community building.

Here’s a story that didn’t make the cut, but illustrates why understanding psychology at a more advanced level is so important for this new era.

I had a client which was sending automated emails to members when they had been inactive for over a year. The emails, written by another consultant, read:

Subject: We’ve missed you in [community]!

Hello, this is [name], the community manager of [community]

It’s now been a year since your last visit and we’ve missed you.

Why not come back and see what you’ve been missing?

You can login to your profile, ask questions, get help, and share your expertise.

All you need to do is click here.

If you have any questions, email me”

Before you continue, take a second and think about this email. Is it good or bad? Would it entice you to visit a community again or not?

The open rate of this email averaged around 11% and the reactivation rate varied between 0.6% and 0.9%.

Which meant less than 1 in 100 people who received this email clicked on it. It was a classic example of a good idea which was poorly executed.

I came up with a very different message. This message read:

Subject: [topic] questions

Hi [name],

I’m hoping you can help.

Is there anyone else you believe should be a member of [community] that isn’t today?

I’m looking for a couple of recommendations of people doing interesting work which other members would find useful. Anyone with interesting perspectives to share would be great.

Is there anyone you can recommend?

A huge thanks,

Community manager

When I proposed this email, it was greeted with disgust (especially by the marketing team). The complaints included:

“The subject line is too vague!”

“Why would they give advice for a community they haven’t visited in a year?”

“It’s too blunt – almost rude!”

“It doesn’t include an obvious link to the site!”

But thanks to an internal champion [you know who you are], I was allowed to run a test for 3 weeks. During this 3 week window, the email was sent to 225 newly ‘long-term inactive’ members.

You can see the comparison below:

Clearly the latter message worked a lot better, but that’s not the point here.

The point is why it worked better. Because if you understand why the second message was so much more effective you can craft your own.

I spend a lot of time in Build Your Community explaining the principles of psychology you can use to increase engagement.

Here’s a quick breakdown of why the second email was so much more effective (and this isn’t the only time we’ve created far more persuasive emails like this).

1) A vague subject line provokes curiosity. Look at your subject lines you get from real people. They’re not laden with benefits. The fierce competition for attention means we’ve developed a natural filter against typical marketing spiel.

2) The utility principle. Reminding people they haven’t visited a community in a while is a really terrible idea. It simply reminds them they weren’t getting any value. But asking people with a simple, specific, request to help makes them feel useful (there are limits to this).

3) The commitment principle. When we’ve helped someone (or a project) we become more committed to its success. When people have recommended a friend especially, they become a lot more committed.

4) The link was linked to a purpose. We linked the url to the member directory so people could check if the people they planned to invite were already there. This re-engaged the audience and we found most people were naturally browning to find what’s new.

There’s nothing particularly staggering or technologically advanced in the revised email we sent out.

All it needed was a deeper understanding of what really motivates members and how to apply those principles effectively.

These are the skills we need today and these are the skills I’m sharing in my new book; I really hope you will consider buying it.

Learn Your Community Benchmarks (what does good look like?)

A great reason to buy my new book is to get access to community industry benchmarks.

One major difference between experienced community professionals and relative newcomers is their knowledge of benchmarks (or ratios).

If you know your benchmarks, you can tell if you’re above or below average. You know what’s realistic. You can set reasonable targets and achieve them.

Most importantly, you can avoid being held accountable to entirely unrealistic targets.

For example, if you have 1m customers, do you know how many people you should expect in your community?

If you have 100,000 registered members, how many should be active in your community this month?

If you have 50,000 questions each month, how many superusers should you have?

How long can you expect an average member to remain active in your community for?

Over the past decade, I’ve worked with over 300 organisations and analyzed many more. We’ve literally scraped data to identify what a good time to first response looks like, a good response rate looks like, how many accepted solutions you should expect.

If you needed another reason to buy my new book, getting access to the benchmarks makes it worthwhile.

Buy ‘Build Your Community’ This Week And Get Access To The Community Skills Accelerator

Buy ‘Build Your Community’ This Week And Get Access To The Community Skills Accelerator

Why should you buy my new book, Build Your Community, this week?

Well, if mastering community skills isn’t urgent enough for you, I’m going to add an additional bonus.

The first 100 people who purchase the book will also get access to our community skills accelerator.

This was a tool that lets you benchmark your current skill level today and then develop a roadmap to improve your skills.

Many of our clients over the years have used this to develop roadmaps for their entire community teams and check they have the right skills for their community strategy.

All you need to do is send proof of purchase (a screenshot of a receipt is fine) to [email protected].

p.s. It works better if your entire community team goes through this process.

My New Book Launches Today (it’s about these community skills)

My new book, Build Your Community, launches today. I hope you will consider buying it.

It’s an urgent book about developing incredible community skills.

We all know there’s a big difference between having an average or great designer, manager, salesperson on your team.

…well there’s also a big difference between having average and great community managers on your team too.

Put bluntly, great community professionals are game-changers.

Great community professionals are more persuasive, have natural credibility with their audiences, and can design systems that engage thousands, even millions, of people.

Sure, technology helps. But eventually, everything depends upon the abilities of you and your team to make this work.

I’ve been working with (and training) community professionals for over a decade now. Believe me, there is huge potential for most of us to get better at the work we do.


A Book For People In The Trenches

My new book, Build Your Community, will help you develop and improve your abilities to build more engaging communities.

This is a book for those of us in the trenches living and breathing this work every day.

It’s a book for those of us who know that community skills are indispensable to the success of communities.

It’s a book for those who believe we can improve how we design and nurture our communities.

If you’ve found this blog useful over the years, you will find the book even more so.


If you dig deeper behind most acts of aggression you usually find fear.

Fear of not being enough.
Fear of not being considered part of the group.
Fear of not feeling important.
Fear of being overlooked.
Fear of being overtaken by a competitor.
Fear of losing standing.
Fear of experiencing physical/emotional pain.

One way to resolve acts of aggression within a community is to remove the symptom (the act or the person).

The problem is this increases the antagonist’s level of aggression towards you. Do this often enough and eventually one of them will have the skills and motivation to be as disruptive as possible.

Another approach is to consider if you can resolve the underlying fear. It’s not always an option, but when it is, try it.

You Have A Persuasion Problem, Not A Knowledge Problem

Do you need to convince or persuade people to participate in (or support) your community?

A typical mistake is to try and convince people by finding the ‘right facts’.

This typically means identifying the benefits from an authoritative source and sending them to the recipient.

But facts aren’t persuasive. If they were, we would all be eating healthier and taking steps to prevent global warming. The (sad) reality is if we’re resistant to the idea, we dismiss or disagree with the facts.

I’ve known several community leaders who went to exorbitant lengths to gather data to prove the community’s value. They were disappointed when the data was dismissed out of hand (my favourite dismissal was when the executive said the benefits of community were ‘too high to be believable’).

Most of the time, we need to persuade people, not convince them.

Persuasion is a different game. You need to build relationships and be seen as a credible source. You need to tell a story that resonates with their worldview. A story that is based upon emotions. Emotions like fear, pride, curiosity are powerful levers to gain community support.

You can see how these merge with stories:

This is what innovative companies like ours are doing.
Our competitors will do this first if we don’t.
We’re starting to be seen as backwards, we need a community.
We can excite customers by doing something we’ve never done before.
This is a bold, new, modern direction…

I’ve genuinely persuaded more people to support (and engage) in a community by noting their fear of competitor’s doing it first than by presenting detailed ROI studies.

If you’re not getting the support you want, you might need to focus less on facts and more on persuasion.

Strategy, Experience, And Launching New Communities

Visible recently launched their community.

You can see what it looks like below:

There doesn’t seem to be much of a strategy guiding this community.

The community doesn’t have a unique name, the listed benefits (questions, tips/tricks, knowing fellow visible members) doesn’t match what most members want (saving money by finding parties to join), the use of accepted solutions in many posts feels off, there’s no clear journey for newcomers etc…etc…

It’s also not the most enticing experience. There is no activity on the homepage and the majority of activity seems to focus on people looking to save money. There aren’t really any clear cultural expectations of the community.

Compare this with the recently launched Mural community.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the hero image design, the rest of the community is quite well developed. It’s clearer who the community is for, what’s expected, it feels lively, there are designated routes for newcomers, and the positioning/value of the community is a lot clearer.

This is why community strategy really matters. It guides every other decision you make. From platform selection, design, community manager recruitment, journeys members take etc…

If you’re developing a community without a clear strategy, you’re probably making each decision adhoc. That’s neither effective, efficient, or beneficial to your members.

Delusional Strategies

I met an executive two years ago who described himself as “something of a visionary”.

His vision was to “10x the level of participation” and make the community “central to everything we do”.

The only catch was he didn’t want to invest the resources to match this vision.

This isn’t visionary, it’s delusional.

Anyone can set a really high target for a community.

A true visionary would’ve seen the amazing potential of a community and bet big on it by reallocating resources from elsewhere.

Sure, you can usually get more (sometimes a lot more) from your current resources in a community. That’s what a great strategy does. But when you start talking about multiples of your current metrics (e.g. 3x, 5x, 10x etc..) then you need an increase in the budget to match.

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