Community Operations: A Beginner’s Guide

Tiffany Oda
Director, Community Operations at Venafi

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. I think it’s a fairly new term that 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.

Similarly to the General Manager, a Community Operations person has a foot on both sides of the line. They are constantly looking for improvements, whether they are process, tech stack and platforms, or general program-related, but they are thinking about these 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: Passion for being a customer advocate, being the voice of the customer. A people person
  • Experience responding to customer support
  • An understanding of community, community management, moderation, and engagement
  • Ability to establish trust and develop interpersonal relationships and rapport with others

There is some natural overlap between Community Ops and Community Management roles (for example, the basic ability to be organized, have time management skills, wear multiple hats, etc. should be included in both a Community Manager and a Community Operation person’s job descriptions). But there are some clear differences that would be included in the job description for one and not the other.

The Community Operations person is looking across the following areas but considering both internal and external components at all times:

  • Process: Improvement areas, bottlenecks, efficiency, automation
  • Programs: Scalability and maintenance, policies and guidelines, documentation, logistics
  • Tech Stack: Overall tech stack management, tools and resources, integrations
  • Reports & Dashboards: Integrated reporting, data integrity, trends and behaviors, outliers
  • General Everyday: Community roadmap, community budget, feedback cycles
  • Other: Miscellaneous projects, surprise and delight initiatives, innovation

Next time, I’ll dive deeper into these categories to detail what they mean, specifically providing examples focusing on those internal and external components. Stay tuned!

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