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Community Operations: A Beginner’s Guide

What Community Operations is — and why you should care.

Community operations is not new. If a community has been around for a while, or if it has grown and scaled in any way, it would have been impossible without community operations.

That being said, I still get asked all the time to explain what community operations is. While community operations roles or responsibilities aren’t new, the term is and still has some ambiguity to it. Is it a Program Manager? Is it a Data Analyst or Scientist? Is it a Product Manager? Should they have coding experience? What are examples of operational responsibilities on a community team?

What is community operations?

I use this analogy a lot, but to set the scene for understanding what community operations is, I think it adds a lot of value. Picture a restaurant. In it, you have the:

  • Front-of-house: These are the patrons or guests who are dining (aka your community members) and also the restaurant employees who are interacting with the guests (aka your Community Moderators and other team members who are engaging with your community).
  • Back-of-house: These are your chefs, sous chefs, and line cooks who are preparing and cooking the food for the restaurant guests (aka your Community Managers, but also partners or stakeholders who work with the community team like developers, creative team, marketing team, product team, etc.).

Then, you have the restaurant’s General Manager. This person has a handle on both sides of the house. They are in the front of the house, visiting tables and asking if everyone is enjoying their meal, or at the host/hostess stand making sure wait times are accurate. They’re also in the back, making sure meals are plated correctly before they go out and taking care of escalations like dishes that have been sent back. 

What the General Manager does for the restaurant, the Community Ops team does for your community.

Community operations professionals constantly look for improvements in process, tech stack and platforms, or general community programming, from both the community member and the community team’s perspectives.

They’re interacting and chatting with community members on a regular basis but also behind the scenes making sure the community team members have what they need and that the wheels are turning smoothly.

Let’s take a closer look at some necessary skills for all the tasks in the community operations wheelhouse.

Community operations ‘back-of-house’

  • General Program and Project Management
  • Multi-level mindset: Being able to be in the weeds and details while at the same time taking a step back to see the bigger picture
  • Data-driven: Being nerdy about data quality, integrity, and consistency, metrics, and KPIs. Not afraid of numbers and analyzing data to view trends and improvement areas
  • Ability to bring stakeholders across teams together to align and commit to a common goal (for example, a developer or an IT team)
  • ABI (Always Be Improving): Constantly looking at trends, scouting for areas of improvement and ways to be more effective and efficient
  • Comfortable talking about tech stack, platforms, and making sure they all click independently and with one another

Community operations ‘front-of-house’

  • Empathy and a passion for being a customer advocate and the voice of the customer
  • Experience responding to customer support
  • An understanding of community, community management, moderation, and engagement
  • The ability to establish trust and develop interpersonal relationships and rapport with others

A strong Community team needs a Community Operations Manager to keep things running smoothly, both behind the scenes and within the community.

The difference between community operations and community management

As with all community roles, community operations doesn’t operate in a silo — it is fluid, touches every part of the community, and often has a fine, gray line between roles and responsibilities between community managers. It can sometimes become a bit blurry where one person’s job stops and another person’s starts. 

A “that’s not my job” mentality truly doesn’t exist on a Community team. However, when developing a role for a community operations person, or when determining that division of labor across the team, it’s important to differentiate between operations and other jobs. There is some natural overlap between community ops and community management roles, but the two aren’t interchangeable. 

Now that we know what community ops is, let’s explore what it isn’t.

Role and responsibilities of a Community Manager

  • Engagement: Strategic initiatives to keep members and leaders engaged. 
  • Surprise and delight initiatives: Related to engagement, finding surprise and delight touchpoints for the community.
  • Content: Working with product teams and internal stakeholders to build a content repository for the community to leverage. 
  • Writing comms and copy: This includes everything, from writing a weekly announcement post, re-engagement email campaign, onboarding email templates, invitations for upcoming webinars, etc. 

Other roles community ops isn’t

  • Support: Inevitably there will be support cases that come into your queue regarding operational items, like if someone gets stuck in a process or has a question on how to access a feature on a tool. However, the ops person should not be responsible for support as a whole.
  • Marketing: The Community team should partner with the Marketing team for engagement, banners, graphics, etc. But this should never be the sole responsibility of the Community Ops Manager. 
  • Data Science: There is a lot of involvement with regard to metrics, reporting, and dashboarding in ops, and an ops person should be adept and comfortable with analyzing data, spotting trends, and working in spreadsheets. 
  • Documentation: Though documentation is a large part of community operations and community ops folks often find themselves writing a bunch of help articles and general documentation, policies and guidelines, terms of use, etc., it should not be their sole responsibility.

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More about Community Operations

Community operations is a key component to a Community team, supporting every program, initiative, platform, team member, and even partnering teams within your company. Our 2022 post on Community Operations shares more insight into why the role is essential and how to advocate for hiring a Community Operations Manager.

A graphic on a purple background, featuring C School's triple smiley l

This article is a preview of Community Operations, a self-paced course by C School — and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In it, students can expect to learn how to get started in community operations, road mapping tips and tricks, how to manage a tech stack, and so much more.  Head over here for more info on C School’s self-paced offerings.

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WRITTEN BY
Tiffany Oda
Feb 7, 2022

Director, Community Operations at Venafi

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