The evolving role of the Community Manager

Cross posted from the OC Report:

The topic of online community team organizational structures seems to be getting increasingly hot.

The two main questions seem to be:

• Where does the community team “belong” in a corporate structure?
• What are the roles on that team?

I’ve explored the former a couple of times, so I thought I would spend some time on the roles of the team, and in particular, the community manager. I would really love to hear what you think about this. I know leaving comments on this blog can be a bit of a pain (working on it), so if you have any issues, please email me.

The role of Community Manager seems to be evolving in the following ways:

The role is less about moderation and more about product management.
Most thriving communities need little action by the moderators. Management tools are (in general) sufficient enough to combat spam, and most communities have empowered the members with tools to flag abusive or inappropriate posts. Simply put: with adequate and findable community guidelines, active moderation can (and should) be in the hands of the members. strategy, features, UX, platform, budgets, marketing (and a hundred other things). In short, very much like the role of a product manager.

An expectation of communicating value (ROI) rather than stats
Community managers are now expected to not just report stats (page views, membership growth), but also to report on other points of value, and to contextualize that value, at least in part, in terms of progress on business goals.

Community managers are expected to grow relationships with the influencers in the community
Community managers are increasingly expected to know who their lead members are, and what effect their influence has on other community members.

Community managers should be thinking about “portability” of their team
In some companies, sources of community funding, and even the reporting structure of the community team is changing every few quarters. We live in evolutionary times, so it is good for community managers to reach out to senior staff on teams outside their immediate reporting structures.

In some cases, seasoned community managers are evolving into the Community Director, with several functions reporting in to him / her. My Community dream team would look something like this (YMMV):
• Moderators
• UX
• Analytics
• Content Manager / Community Editor
• Marketing
• Developer / Ops

I’d like to hear from the community managers out there. What are you experiencing in your day to day work? What am I missing here?

4 responses to “The evolving role of the Community Manager

  1. Do you think that a Community Manager has to know and understand the target demographic of the community? Or do you think the community is self-sufficient in understanding it’s needs? Or does that position (undertanding the community at hand) best come from info passed from the screeners/moderators to the community manager?

    I’m sorry if that sounds like an obvious question, but I was wondering what your thoughts were, or anyone else’s thoughts. These days I’m starting to hear people just talk about community as something that anyone with the comm mgr skill set can manage- and not so much about a manager preparing for a particular group of people with particular interests and desires.

  2. Hi Izzy – I think that is a totally valid question. I was trying to capture what is changing or evolving about the role of community manager. One thing that is not is that the community manager needs to have at least empathy for the community (the ability to learn), if not deep understanding of the community, and it’s members wants, needs and predispositions.

    There are also certain instances when it might be good for the community manager to have a little distance from the community in order to maintain objectivity. An example that comes to mind would be communities for parents of kids with special needs or serious illness. I actually know a couple of folks who are dealing with serious issues about their children personally and also managing a community of parents in similar situations. I am in awe of their courage and strength to be able to do this.

    What has your experience been when advising on kid’s communities? Is it better to manage as a member of the community, or is understanding of the community at least enough to get started?

  3. No– I think you’re completely right, managers do need to have a certain amount of distance from the community itself, especially with youth– who are so quick to form attachments and attempt to build relationships (the need for adolescents to ‘belong’ and feel ‘wanted’ and appreciated, etc). Even for my screeners, it’s very important to keeps arms distance from them to the community. In our brand– we participate loosely (encouraging discussion, lightening moods, switching topics, correcting adolescent situations), but never cross that line of becoming a PART of the actual user-community.

    However, I do think it’s important for a community manager to also pay attention to the genre market itself, and more importantly to the audience pop culture (in case of youth– cartoons, books, actors, etc). Slang and interactions may seem innocent enough sometimes, the team has to keep up on the pop culture times hard core.

    I think what I’ve encountered is that– with the tween set, my job as community manager has been as much about managing the screeners as it has been about managing the kid users. Knowing the social behaviors & behavior triggers of my target demographic is just as important as knowing other peers in the biz.

    With us– a content-heavy brand– we are like a theme park. We can’t have bullying (no matter how ‘innocent’ seeing), inappropriate behavior, or even ALLUDING to inappropriate interactions, in our park, it’s bad press and bad for the brand. Tweens in community (where they want to be unique, yet part of the group. where they want ot be loved by all, but don’t mind excluding others) are quick to react, and it takes them a long time before they let it go.

    I know working with adults is different (basically anyone over the age of 18). But for me, it’s really helped to understand the target demographic– the mass BEYOND their community interactions (the pop culture attributed to the group/genre, and behaviors/understandings).

    Does that make sense? (I do love to ramble on such topics, lol)

  4. Totally makes sense. The bottom line here is that communities are about networks of relationships. The culture manifested in communities is a by product of what the members do the other 99% of their lives, right?

    Thanks so much for the dialog :) This is fun.

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