A lot has been written on this new field of community management. The good news is that, since the idea of this type of position is so new, we're all still formulating the requirements, skills and best practices for community management. As a Community Manager for Knight Pulse working under the guidance of our fantastic Chief Community Manager Kristen Taylor, I find that we are redefining the position almost every week.
And that's a good thing. If the needs of the position are changing and developing, it's because the community it is serving is changing and developing, too. Stagnation kills communities.
In the past week, as our community emerges and develops, I've taken a look around at this new position of community manager. What is it, really, and what skills do good community managers have?
What is a Community Manager?--the research
The kickoff post by our favorite omnipresent dude, Chris Brogan, stresses the need to listen first, then reach out to the industry; only as a third action does he list engaging in the community the organization has created for the CM to manage. And others echoed his sentiments: Nancy White expanded on his post, adding essential skills such as fast reading and writing, big-picture thinking, and participating in communities outside the organization's own walled garden. In fact, she authored several additional posts, including one musing that the new community management is different from the old forum moderation in that it's now more about outreach: "spawning connections, not keeping existing connections organized." She points out that we are not so much managing members as analyzing the vibrancy within (and outside) a community and seeking where to respond, mapping out relationships. (Her third post on listening rather than "managing" as a CM skill is here.)
Connie Benson took the definition to a more practical level, mapping out key responsibilities for a CM, including producing content across Web 2.0, monitoring conversations online, strategizing outreach and advocacy, training fans to become effective brand ambassadors, tracking online visibility and a host of other tasks. And Dawn Foster on Web Worker Daily wrote a series of posts explaining what a CM does and what you should and shouldn't expect yours to do. She even shared her slides on SlideShare--thanks, Dawn!
Top Five Skills a Community Manager Must Have
All that being said, what does a Community Manager need to be able to do? What makes one CM great and another one merely adequate?
- A passionate desire to listen first. The first half of a CM's job is to listen, monitor, socialize, aggregate in communities outside that of the organization. In short, his job is to pay attention. A community manager should be out in the field, monitoring blogs, podcasts, Twitter, FriendFeed, Seesmic, Digg and a host of other social media tools in order to find out what people who aren't yet community members are concerned about. He should be listening for their concerns, their issues, their complaints, and what they think is so cool they have to tell their friends right away.
- An always-on mindset. Community management doesn't happen from 9:00 to 5:00. Ask Frank Eliaison of Comcast--he and his team monitor the Twitterverse (and other locations, undoubtedly), for mentions of Comcast, both positive and negative. And their response time is measure in minutes, not in days. People have come to expect a speedy response, even if that response is "I'll check into it and see." Taking days to respond just isn't good enough.
- Humility and flexibility. Actually, these skills are essential for any marketer, but let's talk about them, anyway. The manager's job is not to direct the community; it's to analyze the direction in which the community chooses to flow. An active, vibrant community will follow its own threads and forge its own path; it will find a direction to take based on the desires and interests of its members. So a CM's job is less to "manage" or guide the development and more to communicate the ever-changing direction to the community's members. For this, a CM must be humble--if the community isn't interested in the content she produces or in the type of content she had expected the community to produce, she should have the agility and humility to set her original expectations aside and go with the community flow. One of my new mantras for this year is a little phrase I created to remind me of this: Open your eyes; close your expectations.
- A lot of heart. Nancy White talks about the heart/head duality; and she's dead on, in my experience. A CM must have heart and a personal touch. He is the kind of person who sends personal DMs to every one who follows him on Twitter instead of relying on an automated program. She's the kind of person who will email the entire list individually and personally instead of using a blast template email. He will welcome every person into the community, answer questions (or introduce you to someone who can) and send regular, supremely human (sometimes geeky/silly) updates to let you know what's going on. (Have you seen Loic Le Meur's updates on Seesmic?)
- A lot of head. In addition to spending time in the trenches getting to know community members personally, a CM needs to be able to step back and see the big picture. She should be able to spreadsheet all the members, interests, clicks, etc. within a community, create a chart to show trends and strategize a direction for more community involvement. She should be able to filter information and discern trends, both at ground level and up at 10,000 feet. She should have her finger on the pulse of the community, and the numbers to back up and prove it.
I suspect that this list will grow over time, but I'll ask what Chris Brogan asked: what would you add to this list? Or subtract? Community Managers, what other skills did you discover you needed to do your job well?