Educator, Entertainer, Help Desk and Cheerleader: The many hats of a community manager


“Good community managers need to be able to go back and forth between strategy and execution—they need to live in both worlds. They need to listen deeply to understand, ask powerful questions and not assume all issues are solved by the ESN (enterprise social network). They connect dots that others might not even see.” —Keeley Sorokti

These comments from Keeley were prompted by a question I posted on Twitter, asking people to share their views on the top three tasks performed by community managers.

Doing the “business of the business” in enterprise social doesn’t happen by accident. Pinaki Kathiari summed it up well in his response, when he described community management as “part customer service, help desk, educator, entertainer and cheerleader.” Community managers wear many different hats.

The reality is if you want to have a thriving enterprise social network, you need to have professional community managers leading the effort to ensure communities are strategic, relevant and valuable to the organization and the people engaging in them.

What follows is a rough role mandate for a community manager, based on input from people in the job. We start with the most important task and move down the ranks. Here goes.

1.    Influencer, connector and knowledge broker

“Know everyone and build strong relationships.” —Tom Boden 

Great community managers are skilful connectors, facilitating relationships all over their organizations to improve how work gets done. They identify influencers and enlist their support as ambassadors and champions to demonstrate how community can work. Influential community managers also know how to “encourage” people or groups to ensure opportunities to make valuable and productive connections are not lost.

2.    Strategic business enabler

“It requires…the ability to translate community needs into tangible business value for the company.” —Mary Thengvall 

Smart community managers align use cases for enterprise social with the organisation’s goals and strategy: the real work of the business. Enterprise social networks exist to help organiations and their people to progress. Savvy community managers understand what’s going on in the business and can articulate a clear strategy demonstrating how working in communities adds real, measurable business value.

3.    Community strategist and tactician

“Sourcing content to support the community goals.” —Daniel Leonard

Community managers own and lead their community strategy. This means setting the direction, as well as curating, creating and seeding content aligned to community goals. Strategic community managers moderate their communities and are always experimenting, trying to work out what type of content will engage, entertain and help their audience learn.

4.    Advocate of the people

“Protecting the vulnerable by advocating for their value and insight.” —Jeff Merrell

People are the focus for decisions about communities. Insightful community managers look at who’s in and who’s out of a conversation to ensure the right people are engaged. This could mean finding a subject matter expert to chime in to help sort out a problem or getting the right leader to answer questions about a big issue. They’re skilled at creating an environment in which “people are seen, heard and feel safe to share” (Rachel Happe).

5.    Role model and champion

“Be engaged, observe, lead, guide and be the most enthusiastic participant.” —Catherine Shinners

Community managers set the tone for participation. They know they can’t expect others to adopt a social way of working if they don’t do it themselves. This means being active and open in their enterprise social network and doing it regularly. They also identify and reward people demonstrating the right behaviors, picking great examples to share in reporting and communications so others may learn.

6.    Trainer and coach

“Helping the organisation cross the chasm from early adopters to majority of employees participating – the most critical point in the life of a community.”  —Dennis Pearce 

People are at different stages in their journey to become socially engaged, from those who are happy to give it a go, to those who are anxious about working in a fundamentally different way. Community managers address this by providing training, coaching and support catering for different stages of social adoption—and the different learning preferences of people—in their organization.

7.    Trouble shooter and technician

Being able to identify, mitigate and manage risks and put out the occasional fire featured on the list of top tasks. Unsurprisingly (for me anyway), working with IT and vendors to ensure your enterprise social platform is fed and watered regularly received but a brief mention. This demonstrates the further we go into the digital age, the more we realize we’re dealing with people’s mindsets first and technology second.

Who’s right for the job?

A great community manager is patient, persistent and resilient. A good networker, strategist and tactician. Curious, open-minded, empathetic and a good listener. They are slow to judge and quick to help.

Clearly, community management is not for the faint-hearted. But it’s a rewarding job leading organizations and people to take up an open, networked way of working.

Rita Zonius

Rita Zonius is director of The Enterprise Social Engineer, a consultancy in Melbourne focused on communications, change and supporting organizations in the digital age.

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