Community Managers have always been experts at wearing many hats.
You could ask 10 different individuals what they think ‘community’ is and you'll receive 10 completely different answers. This is why it’s not unusual to find a Community Manager (CM) involved in everything from marketing to support, customer success to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEI & B), and plenty in between.
Because the community industry has largely gone undefined and touches so many different channels, the roles within it can be confusing. Companies conflate community with audience, confuse assisting customers as interacting with community members, or sometimes even assume anyone who is a CM is a social media expert.
While some of these assumptions aren’t necessarily wildly off from the reality of the role, some important nuances get lost and continue to add to the confusion about what a CM is (and does).
Many companies try to get by with managing their communities with a bare-bones team for as long as possible since there is a lack of understanding of the importance and ROI a community truly brings to the table. As a result, communities are often viewed as ‘cost centers’ and are therefore not given adequate resources.
The blurred lines between community and other internal channels, in combination with the confusion as to what exactly a CM does, have led to many 'hybrid' roles that tend to be placed under the community umbrella.
However, as more and more companies learn how to define community and understand its value, it will become commonplace for community to be its own department, similar to Sales or Marketing or Customer Success, and the team will ladder up to a Chief Community Officer.
Specializations like Community Success Managers, Community Marketers, Community Engagement Managers, Community Operations, good old Community Managers (the OGs!), and many other unique titles will eventually make up this department. Of course, not every company will have a need or want for all of these different roles, and there will always be some overlap of responsibilities because of that. But most importantly, community will finally have a seat at the table.
Some of these roles already exist today and are in their infancy, but what might some of these specialized roles look like? (For the sake of simplicity, we're only taking a look at general community management, and not delving into other areas such as Developer Relations.)
The CCO will be part of the executive team and will be responsible for ensuring that the rest of the leadership team understands the importance and true value that community brings to the company.
The person in this role will need to determine which of the community roles outlined in this article make sense for their team, work with the leadership team to set the vision and goals for the business, stay on top of industry trends and maintain a roadmap of community projects and initiatives, and be a champion for community both within the company and externally.
This is where the social media and event experts fall. Rather than being focused on building an audience, they'll be tasked with making community initiatives seen and heard, while interacting with community members across various social channels.
They'll be able to gather valuable insights from community members who are using different social channels to connect with the company and other community members. Newsletters and blog posts will likely fall under this role along with organizing community-centric events if the community does not have a Community Content Creator or Events Manager (more on this below).
Jacob Gross, Community Marketing Manager at Slack believes having empathy is at the core of being a good community marketer. “You're creating spaces for people to come together, so it's critical you lead with empathy as you engage your audience.
“The three skills I think are necessary to have in a community marketing role are writing, storytelling, and analytical skills. You're constantly developing new content and you should also be prepared to tell a story based on the metrics you're tracking,” he says.
CSMs will likely look different at almost every company because, like community, success has so many different meanings.
The core function, however, will likely tie back to whatever is necessary for a community to succeed. For example, at Commsor a Community Success Manager is a multifaceted role, consisting of something similar to account management, in tandem with light community marketing and community management.
This role is responsible for onboarding new customers, helping customers understand community and how to measure it at their company (almost like a consultant), and being their key point of contact once they're up and running.
“My priority was not only ensuring that each customer had all the information and resources they needed to be successful using our product, but also finding ways to leverage our community to further empower customers to grow in their community careers,” says Katelyn Gillum, Community Educator at Commsor, who was Commsor’s first Community Success Manager.
“To succeed in this role, you need to build trust with your customers, manage expectations, communicate effectively, and balance the individual needs of each organization while also finding ways for customers to connect with others in the community to learn best practices in the industry.”
Community Ops Managers are the folks behind the scenes, ensuring that the team and community have processes in place and the tools that they need for success. They will build escalation procedures, figure out the best rules/guidelines, train new CMs, and have a stronger focus on development and strategy rather than tactical tasks.
Director of Community Operations at Venafi Tiffany Oda says that 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,” she says.
Community management is often thought of as being a representative between the company and users, and vice versa. For internal community management, this is complicated given that the ‘users’ are also part of the company, but external best practices still apply. Internal community management requires not only a large company, but one with a rich culture of openness and discussion.
The Internal CM's responsibilities could involve setting high-level communication standards across these workplace communities, sharing community achievements or successes, and being the voice of the internal community with executives and relevant stakeholders. They'll help set the tone for internal communication, ensure that employees are abiding by company values, and form connections across teams and functions.
As the title suggests, a CDC works much like a Business Development Consultant would but specifically for community growth and scale. A person in this role will lead in designing and implementing development strategies for the community, they will also identify the strengths and weaknesses of the community and come up with actionable solutions. Their job also involves building and strengthening stakeholder relationships.
For Community Development Consultant Yurii Lazaruk the most important skills needed to be successful in this role are creative and strategic thinking and viewing the whole picture while paying attention to the details.
“If I had to explain this job to someone who hasn’t heard of it I would tell them that I gather and connect people with mutual interests to help them share experiences, build partnerships, and find friends. I do this through an analytical and actional approach and make sure to track metrics, do research, build hypotheses, test what works (and what doesn’t), improve, and repeat,” he says.
It’s quite common to find Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEI & B) Managers working in People Operations or Human Resource departments. As communities and the teams that manage them grow, DEI & B Community Managers will become an all-important hire to foster an inclusive and unbiased community space for members to thrive.
A DEI and B Community Manager's job is to develop a people-centered strategy from the onboarding process to engagement initiatives that are inclusive to creating a sense of belonging that leads to member retention. They make sure that the community is a safe space for all members regardless of positionality — where people feel their experiences and identities are wanted, celebrated, and welcomed.
“To be successful in this role, you would need a comprehensive understanding of community building,” says Shana Sumers, Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Communities at HubSpot. “Other important skills needed for this role include an in-depth understanding of DEI and B and — I can't stress this enough — networking,” she says.
Bigger community teams might have a CIPM to handle all their community programs from strategy to implementation and execution.
Much like a traditional program manager, this role involves overseeing the many projects and programs that may take place in a community, from defining its requirements to evaluating the final impact. This role can also involve the creation of programs that act as education and resources for the community such as product training, education for volunteer moderators, etc. depending on your specific community.
Erica Carter, Community Initiatives Program Manager at Reddit, says the skill she has found most useful to have in this role is tenacity.
“Even if you’ve mastered the most commonly listed skills for community management and program management, you have to be tenacious about getting others on board if you want to be successful in this role.
“Be persistent, be confident in your vision, and don’t be afraid to push. Your plan may be well laid out and seem like a no-brainer but pulling off a large community-centric program while getting all of the necessary stakeholders in your corner requires a lot of determination and that’s a surprisingly hard skill that often requires active development throughout your career,” she says.
This role is all in the name. Think of all the various events that may take place in your community — the conferences, AMAs, or seminars. A CEM is the person responsible for it all.
From events strategy to execution, a CEM may be responsible for planning events for your community, researching, goal setting, ensuring that members are engaged during these events, post-event guest communications, and reporting on the success of each event. This takes a lot of cross-functional work so they might work alongside Marketing, Sales, and Product to ensure that all community events have a cross-functional impact on the entire organization.
Building and maintaining strong relationships with community members is essential to the community’s long-term success.
The Engagement Manager’s role is to ensure member engagement and retention through building, cultivating, and growing relationships, implementing engagement strategies and initiatives, and providing other day-to-day support and communication for community members. A person in this role may work closely with Community Events Manager and Programs Managers.
As the title suggests, a person in this role's main responsibilities includes creating content for the community. This could be educational content, blogs, video, or podcasts for community members.
A CCC often works closely with Community Events, Program, and Engagement Managers, Marketing, Sales, or any other department that might be a great resource for content to engage, educate, or entertain members.
The CM role will likely wind up looking more like a moderation role, where they are responsible for enforcing rules/guidelines, identifying and working with super-users, and helping the community grow.
They'll be responsible for enacting and managing the plans for meeting business goals, and will work closely with Community Marketers and Product teams since they are on the front lines day in and day out.
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