The precise description of an online community manager varies from organisation to organisation. Some companies will describe the responsibilities of an online community manager very differently to others. Some will offer roles with very similar job descriptions but very different job titles.
The issue is this – there is no standard definition as to what an online community manager is, or does. We are all still ‘feeling our way’. In this article, I’m going to outline the role and personality of an online community manager.
The role of an online community manager
The primary role of an online community manager is to encourage, facilitate and develop relationships. They need to ensure people with similar interests and objectives find each other, talk to each other and develop meaningful relationships. They need to build relationships with members and potential members themselves, and they need to continue looking for ways to bring people closer together.
Online community managers are often seen as the public face of an organisation. If people aren’t happy with the business, they might take it out on the community manager. If they have a question about the company’s product, they’ll often ask the community manager before they go through the regular contact forms or customer support telephone numbers.
If your business is in the news, whether for good reasons or bad, the community will look to the community manager to speak on behalf of the organisation. Community managers don’t just encourage conversations between members. They also need to encourage communication between your organisation and its customers.
Online communities need leadership. There needs to be someone making the tough decisions – decisions that will often be made with a good amount of diplomacy. There isn’t much tolerance of authoritarianism when it comes to community building.
An online community manager needs to be enthusiastic about love what they represent. They need to be happy sharing and spreading awareness of the community and what it supports wherever and whenever they can. Someone who doesn’t believe in what they are doing won’t be as successful as a true evangelist.
Although much of a community manager’s time and focus will be spent on the organisation’s ‘official’ online community, they will also spend a lot of time monitoring and getting involved in conversations away from the community. They will be reading the blogs and twitter streams of influential people and potential members. They’ll be monitoring competing communities and getting involved in conversations wherever they may be happening.
An online community manager needs to keep the peace. This can be difficult when there are a number of competing personalities. It’s true that some people just won’t fit in; however, big personalities are a good thing – often, they drive conversation, activity and engagement, so you’ll want to keep them in the community. At the same time, you don’t want arguments and abuse to destroy the community.
Similar to a referee, but different. Referees judge whilst mediators encourage aggrieved parties to work things out for themselves. The best online community managers rarely have to edit or delete member contributions – they will act as mediators and help prevent personality clashes or misunderstandings from happening in the first place, or from escalating out of control.
Experienced online community managers will tell you that sometimes they feel as though they are online babysitters. Something about the anonymity of the web makes some people behave as though they have barely learnt the alphabet. An online community manager needs to accept that part of their job will seem like babysitting. They’ll need to be prepared to hear petty complaints that are of the utmost importance to those complaining, but trivial to almost everyone else.
The personality of an online community manager
This is a little harder to define and probably depends on the nature of the community and the organisation. The manager of a community campaigning for an end to the death penalty will probably need to have a different personality to the manager of a community campaigning to give sheep the right to vote.
That being said, I believe there are some generic qualities that will always apply:
Building an online community takes time. You can’t expect overnight success – in fact, I’d argue that’s impossible. Relationships aren’t built overnight, therefore a community cannot be a success overnight. An online community manager needs to be patient and focussed on long term success.
Similar to patience. A community managers needs to be absolutely dedicated to making the community a success. Sometimes an online community will be overwhelming (in a good way). Sometimes it will be disappointing. Often these two extremes can happen on the same day. A community manager need to truly believe in what they are doing and be dedicated to the community’s success.
Community building is a battle against the odds. Most will fail. A good online community manager will be determined to ensure their community succeeds. There might be existing communities already out there that are competing for the same audience as you. The determined community manager will see competition as an opportunity, not a threat.
If there is no passion, there isn’t much in the way of motivation. Sure, a nice salary is a good initial motivator but that won’t last long. A community manager who loves what they do and is truly passionate about what they do is far more likely to succeed. You want someone that gets excited every time a new email arrives. Someone that gets excited every time your community is mentioned. Someone who gets excited every time a member makes a contribution.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, a community manager will often be caught in the middle of member disputes. At the same time, they will often be the victim of abuse themselves. An online community manager needs to rise above all of this. They need to take the moral high ground and not be drawn into arguments or divisive issues. This can often be very hard to resist. They need to be cool headed and mature.
An online community needs to be interesting and fun. The community manager needs to be constantly aware of the wants and needs of its members, and respond to them. They can’t wait until your competitors are stealing your members before they act – by then, it’s too late. A community manager needs to have their finger on the pulse and always be working behind the scenes. Where are the bottlenecks on the community? How are people interacting with specific features? How can they be improved?
What are people saying about your community/product/service/brand away from the community? A good online community manager will reach out regardless of the medium, regardless of whether the discussion is positive or negative.
A good online community manager will be inquisitive. They’ll always be asking questions – to themselves, community members and the organisation they work for. They’ll be setting themselves goals and asking how those goals will be met. They will be asking community members how the community can be improved. They will be asking their organisation how they plan on adapting to the new challenges and opportunities the community poses. Questions aren’t just good – they’re essential.
You don’t want an egotistical online community manager. Attention should always be focused on the online community’s members. If the spotlight does inadvertently turn onto the community manager, they need to quickly turn it back onto the members. Some personalities may find this difficult. A good online community manager knows that keeping the spotlight away from them is essential.
An online community manager needs to be likeable and members need to be able to identify with them. The community manager needs to be a part of the community – they need to be involved in it, they need to build relationships with members and always reach out. They need to encourage; they need to be human.
I’ve gone through a lot of attributes and qualities. So this final point should be pretty obvious – an online community manager needs to be hard working. This isn’t a 9-5 job.
What did I miss? What do you think an online community manager is? What are the essential attributes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.