Fostering Connections and Building Culture: The Growing Role of Community Managers
Community has been a buzzword for companies ever since social media made it easy for customers to communicate with them directly and publicly. With this cultural and communication shift, community management has emerged as a robust profession for those who like working with many different personalities, solving problems, and bringing people together.
Ten years ago, only a few companies had community managers and even fewer people had heard of the field. Today, nearly every company with a strong web presence has a community manager, and often they have a whole community department or team.
As they grow as professionals, many office managers transition to departments like human resources, recruiting, event planning, accounting, or upper management. Along with these more established career paths, community management can also be a great next step. In addition, community work can build on the skills office managers already use daily, such as organically connecting different people and integrating them into a company’s culture.
So what does a community manager actually do? Many work at the intersection of marketing, social media management, event production, and customer support, but every successful community manager brings a unique blend of skills to their work.
“Community professionals create content and programming that builds an engaged community, which then fuels business objectives,” said Carrie Melissa Jones, Founding Partner and COO of CMX, a network of community professionals. Jones and her CMX peers came to this definition after workshopping it for several weeks. She explained it is a definition that is broad enough that it can be applied across any discipline or focus, while clearly demonstrating that community professionals have a distinct mission.
While the day-to-day might vary depending on company objectives, most community managers work to grow a brand’s community in both quality and quantity. They also engage with an existing community by nurturing current customers or helping to connect those customers with each other. In other cases, community managers work within a company to nurture culture internally.
For Sarah Nagel, Sprout Social’s Senior Manager of Brand Advocacy & Community, her job entails working with the company’s external and internal communities. She spends a lot of time working with the Sprout Social All Stars, customers who are enthusiastic brand champions. She builds relationships with All Stars, who preview and provide feedback for upcoming product features, and plans collaborative content with them.
Nagel also hosts #SproutChat, a weekly Twitter chat. She plans its topics, content, and engages with #SproutChat discussions on various social media platforms. In addition, she also meets with internal teams to educate them on community and brand advocacy, and enables them speak on behalf of the brand to the public.
Jeffrey Chase, Community Manager at eero, is part of the company’s customer experience (CX) team. He responds to requests and needs that come through eero’s social media channels and other public forums. Between customer interactions, he’ll spend time creating help center content and communicating trends from the field back to his colleagues on other teams.
“The eero community is in its early stage, so I’m able to try out new approaches to interacting with customers and fostering an engaging discussion,” says Chase.
Both Chase and Nagel emphasize the human, connective aspects of their work. They write blog posts and communicate with customers in public forums using their real names and profile pictures. Interacting with customers as themselves, not as anonymous employees of the company, brings more authenticity to their communication and advocacy. This kind of work highlights one essential quality community managers must possess: excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
Like office managers, many community professionals discover their calling for their current roles accidentally, or start their careers in a different field, including marketing, sales, project managing, operations, editorial, business, and business administration. Christine Del Castillo, a former community manager at Workable and founder of the CMX chapter in Boston, first worked in the non-profit sector managing a donor program.
“I drafted donor communications and organized events, such as luncheons with board members or seated annual dinners, without really thinking of these projects as community building, even though they definitely were,” said Del Castillo. “Not all nonprofit organizations would think to build a sense of belonging between their donors, but I think that’s a really powerful way to keep them supporting your organization year after year.”
Del Castillo already had some veteran community managers in her social circle, and after hearing them talk about their work, she started thinking it might be an enjoyable field that suited her strengths. When she eventually made the move from non-profit to tech and applied to community manager positions, she was able to cite her work with donors as past community building experience.
Similarly, many office managers or admin professionals who are looking to shift to a more community-oriented role might already have more experience than they realize.
“Most of the administrative professionals and office managers I know are incredible internal community builders,” said Jones. “They solidify their company's culture, help connect employees cross-functionally, and engage employees on a continual basis,” she explained. “For those looking to make a career switch, think about what you can do right where you are. Organize your internal community building efforts (whether that's organizing company retreats, meetings, onboarding experiences for new hires, systems for connecting employees to resources, etc.) and quantify the positive business results from them.”
It also helps to hone certain digital skills. Community managers often use software platforms to plan and execute social media campaigns, as well as analytic tools to study trends in customer feedback. A solid understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and email marketing software (EMS)—such as Mailchimp, Marketo, or Emma, could be beneficial too.
But for a job that involves constantly working with people, it’s more important for your soft skills to be stronger than your software skills. Chase believes that two of the most important qualities for community managers to have are a thick skin and empathy, qualities that office managers also leverage on a daily basis. Community professionals often handle sensitive interactions in public, with their face and name attached to those interactions. They need to be the type of people who are willing to go out of their way for others, even if those best efforts aren’t always recognized.
“A career in community management is exciting, but it requires a person to take on a lot of ownership and responsibility,” said Chase. “It is ultimately up to the community manager to represent their company to its customers, and to delight—not disappoint—that community.”