In the inaugural Community Conversations event, Bettermode spoke with two community management gurus about the present and future of the community manager role. Alex Angel and Erik Martin are in charge of key community functions at Commsor. Commsor is a full-stack community company that helps fellow community pros be better at their jobs through community data, tooling, mentorship, resources, and education.
Both Alex and Erik have very similar backgrounds in the community field. They both began their careers at Reddit when it was just a small team under ten. Alex currently works as the Chief Community Officer at Commsor, and Erik is the VP of Services at Commsor. Bettermode brought these professionals in for an open forum to discuss everything there is to know about community management.
For both, Alex and Erik, the importance of community management cannot be understated. The community manager is the direct link between the community and the company, requiring a crucial understanding of both sides of the business. The community manager can increase customer retention and brand loyalty by keeping customers actively engaged with your brand. However, many brands miss engagement opportunities because they fail to invest in online community management. A designated community manager shows that your company is fully invested in building a thriving online community. That’s why we spoke with Alex and Erik to break down the vital importance of community managers and to discuss the possible future of the role.
What is a community manager?
Hubspot defines a community manager as “the liaison between an organization and its audience. They act as the brand's voice, tone, and moderator through community support, content distribution, and digital engagement to build brand presence and trust, both online and in-person.”
A community manager is meant to build authentic relationships with customers and community members. Keep in mind that a community manager is not a social media manager, although the two roles are commonly mistaken for one another. A social media manager runs a social media platform, while a community manager moderates an intentional online community.
The community manager is the consistent voice and tone of the brand, in addition to the direct line of communication between the company and community members. Your branded community is a well of information about your brand and industry. Think of the community manager as your man on the inside. They have access to all the juicy details about what your customers and prospects say about your brand. A community manager is uniquely positioned to take those gems of information and provide scalable feedback to the company.
Why should you invest in a community manager?
If you want to build your online community properly, you should invest in community roles, specifically a community manager. Erik Martin breaks down the importance of the role, “The online community touches all parts of your business.” They’re the bridge between every aspect of the community to every aspect of the company. Failing to connect those two worlds means missing out on cultivating customer loyalty and optimizing the customer lifecycle model.
Alex Angel went even further to explain the treasure chest of data existing within an online community. “A community manager will analyze the data within the community, so you can understand the impact the community has on your business.”
The community manager can also build a community intentionally and is dedicated to carrying out the community’s strategy.
What is the traditional professional background of a community manager?
A community manager doesn’t typically come from one degree or background. Erik explained that many community managers come from a digital marketing background or a customer support background. “Community cuts across different silos, so we’ll always see a variety of ways to enter into the community profession.”
It’s not uncommon for community managers to create their own job descriptions. According to Webinar Care, the most critical skills listed in those job descriptions are writing abilities, customer relations, and the ability to communicate between departments. Community management is still a relatively new field, so the emphasis is on skills rather than a professional background. Alex Angel explained this idea further by saying, “It doesn’t matter where you come from. You need to have relevant skill sets.”
What are the most important skill sets required of a community manager?
Having essential skills as a community manager is even more critical than a relevant background. Community managers require vital “soft skills.” Empathy, listening, prioritization and adaptability are all necessary skills to build a thriving, strong community.
In addition to soft skills, community managers must create effective content creation to generate consistent community engagement. Responding to members’ questions and contributing to online discussions means there’s a customer support-based approach to the role.
Alex added that it’s an inherently human job. Having creative problem-solving skills and staying on top of several moving pieces is crucial for managers. As Alex put it, the community manager “needs to be ruthless in their prioritization.” Between community engagement strategy and daily discussions, many projects are happening all at once.
Erik expounded on the required strategy and prioritization skills. “You need to think on multiple levels at the same time, and think in different timelines.” Since the community manager represents the community and the company, they need to “think on an individual, group level, and short and long term level.”
Erik also included the importance of empathy within this position. Specifically, looking at the community from all different perspectives. He explained that you need to view the community “from the lens of the product team, the lens of the frustrated customer, and the new community members.” This ability to look at the community from different perspectives will help you spot holes, so you can learn how to increase your engagement levels.
What are the challenges that community managers face on a day-to-day basis?
Obviously, when it comes to community development, community managers have several responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. There’s a lot of juggling involved, and according to Erik, “there’s no end to the to-do list. You have to jump back and forth between strategic planning and acting as an individual contributor. Many members expect a response within a few minutes, so it requires a lot of effort on the part of the manager.”
Alex went on further to explain the challenges of prioritization. “You might have multiple programs running concurrently while you’re also having active conversations within the community.” It can be difficult to manage all the different levels within the job.
One of the biggest challenges for a community manager is community engagement. There are many different personas within an online community, so it can be difficult to connect with them all.
What are some community tools that managers can use to grow their community?
As stated earlier, keeping your community members actively engaged is one of the more challenging parts of the job. However, Alex believes that if you define your community's purpose, you can effectively build customer relationships within the space.
One piece of advice she offered is to own your own community platform. Even though communities take place all over the web, like through Slack, LinkedIn, and Facebook groups, they don’t allow your brand to have total autonomy over your community. Owning your own community space allows your management team to effectively integrate your community strategy and build a customized community to your liking.
Is outsourcing the future of community management?
It’s not uncommon for branded communities to consider outsourcing community management roles. However, there are pluses and minuses to outsourcing. Alex sees a rising trend of micro-communities or smaller communities that focus on niche topics. Ultimately, Alex doesn’t see outsourcing as a successful community management strategy. “If the community ties back to the rest of the organization, the outsourcing removes a lot of the internal relationship building between the community team and the rest of the organization.”
Erik agrees with Alex’s assessment of micro-communities. However, outsourcing seems likely for larger communities or platforms requiring a lot of moderation. Erik also believes there’s an opportunity within these larger, well-established communities to reward members with leadership roles. “There might be more ways to compensate community members who take on leadership roles or facilitators of the space.” Compensating active members who are passionate about the community can be quite beneficial for your organization.
How can a community manager grow their community organically, especially in a niche industry?
It can be difficult to spread brand awareness if your business is in a niche industry. Erik advises community managers to take a grass-roots approach. “Have one-to-one conversations and invite people personally. Approach it like you’re growing a really big house party, and see if you achieve that critical mass.”
One way to do this is to identify common entry points. Simply ask your members how they found out about your community, and identify the sales pitch that sealed the deal.
Erik also advised requesting your members to do their own outreach or referrals, like posting about the community or inviting their peers through word-of-mouth. Bettermode’s own Francisco Arizmendi offered this gem, “there’s an opportunity to educate the customer to what your business and community is and isn’t.” Use this opportunity to educate the customer on your niche industry so that you can grow those membership numbers.
What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time to your first day on the job as a community manager?
Even though there are many challenges to the community manager role, these two community aficionados had some great advice for those just starting out–put yourself first. As Alex explained, “the world isn’t going to end if you don’t immediately reply to something. You can’t stay on top of everything.”
It can be easy to live, eat, and breathe community every day as a community manager. However, just because managers hold a lot of empathy and care for others, doesn’t mean you should dismiss your own needs. Erik contributed this analogy: “put your oxygen mask on first. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. You need to take care of yourself first to take care of your community.”
Final Takeaways from The Present and Future of Community Managers Webinar
A community manager should be non-negotiable when it comes to building your online community. Community managers are in charge of community strategy and engagement tactics, and they have the chance to increase customer loyalty and customer retention over time. A community manager is a worthwhile investment that will certainly pay off in the long run.
Bettermode provides valuable tips and information about all the ins and outs of community building. Bettermode makes brand community accessible for your organization by offering a customized community platform designed to integrate into your company’s day-to-day operations seamlessly. Check out Bettermode's hub for more community strategies and to sign up for our next industry expert-led webinar.
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