What to expect as an online community manager

by Martin Reed on 14 June 2010 in Articles

new online community manager

Are you thinking about building your own online community? Perhaps you want to get paid to manage an existing one. If you’re new to the role of online community management, read on – I’ll outline what you can expect.

Hard Work

Regardless of whether you’re building an online community from scratch or managing an existing one, be prepared for a lot of hard work. Don’t expect to write a forum post every now and then, delete the odd post and ban the odd member. There’s far more to it than that. In fact, much of your work won’t even be visible – you’ll spend most of your time behind the scenes.

Irregular Hours

Being an online community manager isn’t a 9 to 5 job. The internet doesn’t conform to the normal working week. You’ll have members log into your community at all hours. You’ll have people asking for help at all hours. There will be conflict at all hours.

You can’t be online all the time, but you will need to be flexible. If you want to work a regular schedule, being an online community manager isn’t for you. You’ll need to check into your community on a regular basis throughout the day (and often at night, too).

Frustration

You’ll spend a lot of time encouraging, cajoling and persuading. Sometimes your pleas will work, other times they won’t. This can be frustrating – why won’t people listen to you? Why do members ignore your community guidelines? Why do some members enjoy nothing but conflict?

A good community manager will never show their frustration. They’ll always remain calm, cool and collected. You need to be human, but you need to remain professional.

Tantrums

It doesn’t matter whether your online community is targeted towards those aged 18 or 80 – you’ll come across your fair share of childish and immature behavior. You’ll likely be surprised at just how childish grown men and women can be – but this is part of the job.

You need to expect tantrums and bad behavior and you need to know how to deal with it, before it happens.

Abuse

Tantrums tend to happen when members disagree with other members, or when you’re forced to intervene. You also need to be prepared for the abuse members will aim directly at you.

You should always encourage the community to deal with any conflict themselves. However, sometimes you’ll need to use your admin privileges to delete member content or even member accounts. When you need to do this, don’t expect that to be the end of the problem.

You need a thick skin if you want to be an online community manager on a long term basis.

Spam

Spam plagues almost all online communities. Some are better than others at dealing with it. Be prepared for spam, and remove it as fast as you can. Visitors will not join an online community that’s overrun with spam. Members will not want to stick around in a community full of spam.

You’ll need to put in place as many safeguards as possible to prevent automated spam. Make it easy for members to report spam and delete it quickly. Over time you’ll notice patterns – the email addresses spammers like to use, common IP addresses and links they like to post. Over time you’ll get better at preventing spam, but it will never stop.

Competition

If you manage a successful online community, prepare to be envied. Others will want a piece of your success – sometimes through devious means.

You’ll need to monitor your competition closely. You can be sure they’re watching you. Expect representatives from other sites to join your community and try to poach your members. Expect other online communities to paint your community in a negative light.

Don’t see competition as a threat – see it as an opportunity. Make sure your community is better than your competition, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Ignorance

Few people will understand what you do for a living. Some don’t respect the role of an online community manager – primarily due to ignorance. This will change over time, but for now you’ll be doing a lot of explaining. Not only will you be continuously explaining your role, you’ll also be fighting for your community within the organization you work for.

Learning

As an online community manager, you’ll never stop learning. You’ll learn about your members, you’ll learn about what works in your community, how your members respond to your suggestions and why they joined (and remain a member of) your community.

The role of a community manager is always changing. If you want to keep up, you’ll need to be learning all the time.

Risk

You’ll need to take risks every now and again if you want to succeed. You can’t just copy what other community managers are doing (although you should definitely be learning from them). You need to try new things for yourself, and that involves taking risks. Sometimes these risks will pay off, sometimes you’ll fail miserably. You never know unless you try – so make sure you try new things and take risks every now and again.

Reward

I’m not talking about financial reward (although you can earn yourself a pretty penny if you’re talented). Being a community manager can be the most rewarding job imaginable. People have married and had children after initially chatting at Just Chat. A community once managed by Angela Connor saw its members group together to raise $600 and prevent another member being evicted from their apartment.

When people come together, amazing things can happen. Being the manager of a community that does amazing things is an amazing feeling.

Emotion

Being an online community manager will expose you to a number of emotions – good and bad. You’ll have days when you love every member of your online community as though they were family. There will be other days when you’ll want to pack it all in.

Being a community manager is an amazing opportunity. You get to connect with (and learn from) others you would probably never have met before. You get to introduce people to others, and you get the opportunity to change people’s lives. Be prepared for an emotional ride.

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{ 14 comments }

Mr Woc June 15, 2010 at 8:51 am

Hi there

Dont think you have missed anything there lol, I maybe would have made the text hard work in 24 point text mind.

Maybe patience could be added, as it takes a lot of time to get ur community notice, many people often give up before they have chance to reap the true rewords of their sites.

I also went over and read angelas blog about raising $600, amazing that !

Woc

Andrew June 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

I agree with everything you’ve said here. Managing an online community is really hard but worth every effort. Like you said, it is a 24 hour work. You really have to devote your time, understanding, harshness and everything else. But like I said, it is all worth the effort.

Sofaheld June 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm

True words! I do not know, how big your community is. I am a community manager of a international community, so i have to add the point about leading different people with different languages and cultures in a company. There are so many factors that need to be aware of. And i also agree with you comparing the point reward: unbelievable. Expect the unexpected ;)

regards

Angela Connor July 5, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Tell it like it is, my friend. As always, you continue to share the good, the bad and the ugly related to this work. I am seeing so many people discussing this online and frankly, they don’t have a clue as to what it really takes and how difficult it can be. I haven’t commented here in a while, but please know I am always reading your stuff.

Angela

KarlaCamposLopez July 8, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Amazing breakdown of what it is to be a community manager. I like your excellent pointers because even professionals need support sometimes. You mention above that in times of frustration you need to remain calm, and I completely agree. I think that taking a little time walking away from the frustrating situation and coming to a site such as yours and reading your pointers enables a person to regain composure and prepares them to better handle the situation.

CommunityGrrl August 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Great article, and every word of it true. Good reading, always good to know I’m not alone in how I feel about this job, which sometimes I think I was made to do.

Bill Grant August 10, 2010 at 2:09 am

I’m glad I came across your article. I’ve been thinking about starting an online community. You have given me a lot of good advice and suggestions in managing the site. Great work!

Michael August 12, 2010 at 8:25 am

Question for the community:

I am currently a Community Manager for our internal site and was trying to find out what is the ratio of members per community manager? Is there a number set in stone or a general one?

I appreciate the feedback and look forward to hearing from the community.

Michael

Dale Michaels August 13, 2010 at 6:44 am

I had never even thought of this subject until your website was recommended by an acquaintance. I am simply amazed at the amount of work involved as well as the responsibility that comes with successfully managing an online community.
This information is not just excellent, but it truly is something that I belive most individuals that belong to, but do not manage an online community do not even give the slightest thought to considering.
Very eye opening.

Eddy August 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Most of these feelings will go away as soon as your community starts to take flight. It usually gets easier once you get the snowball rolling.

Geoff August 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

I find that the biggest thing about running an online community is content…. no content or poor quality content will end up in having no community. Its a bit like having a party and then not having any music, food or drink. People will come have a look and decide to move onto a place that has all that stuff. I think as a result content is the most important aspect of a community manager.

Greg Beatterman August 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Yes, trying to build a quality online community is a lot of work and often to manage the group turns out to seem like its more work then it’s worth. But consider the benefits, branding of your community and the exchange of information and insights members offer to each other, and it’s easy to see why its so popular these days.

Martin Reed - Community Manager September 1, 2010 at 1:08 am

Michael – Sorry for the delay in responding; your comment got caught in the spam filter for some reason.

It’s impossible for there to be a set ratio of members per community manager as all online communities are different. If you have a good team of moderators, you should be able to get buy with just the one community manager for quite some time.

I’d say that as soon as you begin to feel overwhelmed, you need more help. It really is as simple as that.

JohnK November 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Fostering an online community is part skill, part art, and and lot of sweat. It is well worth it if done correctly.

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