Have you ever heard the phrase “herding cats” used for our work? There are definitely times when community building and even campaigning or organizing feels just like that! But, operating as a community organizer or manager is such a filling and critical role for programs, platforms and even campaigns to be successful that the idea of herding cats turns into searching youtube for cutest kitten videos.

Background

For the last few months I’ve been following a proposal that emerged from the Ideas4Oregon project; the idea is to build a platform where all Oregonians – regardless of age, background, or employment – can propose ideas that improve local communities and the state, others can find projects to support and others can chip in to fund them. It is a meeting place, or a cross roads for nonprofit, business and civil society groups to come together around improving the state. And, as a displaced Oregonian myself (I will make it home one day!), I’m excited to see the proposal gain momentum and hopefully move to implementation soon!

The team of people currently working on the proposal for this new platform, asked me to help share some context about the role of Community Managers that could be included in the proposal narrative for funders who may be unfamiliar with community building best practices. I wanted to share the short “defense” of Community Managers that I wrote to get your feedback as well as to gather your ideas, examples and so on of why Community Managers are important to our work!

In Defense of Community Managers

Community Managers ensure successful engagement and participation on a new platform by facilitating discussion, modeling behavior, and supporting leadership development.

No one likes to show up to a party without knowing anyone else, and the same is true whether it’s a party, a work function, or even an online platform. Community Managers provide key facilitation that empowers participation and engenders trust. Welcoming new members, nudging conversations, highlighting activity and network weaving across the platform are all part of a Community Manager’s role.

As such, Community Managers play to a core element for any shared space: modeling behavior. Posted engagement policies or intuitive design will do nothing for participation on a new platform without active members modeling the way the tools can be used. Community Managers serve as a consistent example of how to use the platform, how to engage with members, and how to accomplish the goals of the project.

Lastly, a community-focused platform is, by design, supposed to reach enough momentum that a central Community Manager is no longer needed. The community, when it reaches critical mass, can share the responsibilities of a Community Manager (as well as editor, help desk, and many other roles) by dividing up responsibility throughout the group of active members. In order to reach this state, a Community Manager is necessary to provide leadership development within the network by highlight great contributions and active members, showcase opportunities for increased involvement and responsibility, and nurture core community members to have the knowledge and experience they need to feel confident playing a key role in the platform’s long-term success.

What do you think? How do you advocate for or describe the work of a community manager in your organization? Do you have examples to share?

(Image credit: Flickr muir.ceardach)

In Defense of Community Managers
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  • Thanks for the article Amy. Community management needs more people like you in its corner.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks very much, Jason! Would love to anything you’d like to add to the
      list, too 🙂

  • This is a great post Amy and totally spot on!

    I believe that community managers are a key connector not only connecting individuals within the online community, but also connecting with the greater cause ecosystem externally. They help to create an important bridge between online community members, employees, supporters (and many other stakeholders/collaborators), and information and resources. Perhaps even more importantly, they help to identify the opportunities that exists in between each of these connections and the potential value.

    Community managers help to develop critical organizational and cause driven strategies. They are able to observe the conversations and translate them into actions, programs, or improvements. Defined metrics and measurements help to inform and direct this translation and therefore are also a critical part of the community managers responsibilities. They need to be able to define forms of measurement (as appropriate to the community, organization and cause goals) that can help to support actions based on these observations, improve issue awareness, boost online participation, and so much more.

    This also leads to the question of – what makes an amazing community manager. Once the role has been advocated for and ideally approved what do organizations need to look for when filling this position. I think that this is an increasing need. It’s great to have someone who knows the tools, but what other skills and traits are needed? There is a certain level of experience or ability to strategy look at the larger picture and the myriad of moving pieces that extends far beyond the tools used to connect.

    However, this is totally a conversation for another blog post or at least another day 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Vanessa –

      Thank you so much for sharing such a thoughtful response! I really like the
      addition you made here that Community Managers are central to identifying
      opportunities and creating community-driven strategies, whether it’s for a
      campaign or a program, or anything else. And as the person who’s elbows deep
      in the community, they are definitely key to evaluating and measuring
      engagement.

      One thing your comments bring to mind, and this may be something for another
      post (just like the “what makes a great community manager” post): if, at
      least in my opinion, a community manager’s success if measured in part by
      the community itself usurping the role and responsibilities, how does that
      impact an organization, say, that relied on that staff member to create the
      engagement strategy and track success? Do those functions get handed over to
      community members as well or does the “role” of the community manager shift
      at that point?

      Thanks for keeping me thinking!

      • I agree, the strategy aspect is key. Especially – as you said, Amy – since community managers are eventually becoming less involved in a community as it gains critical mass/speed. We need to be able to work in the trenches but also from a more strategic position where we can guide the whole organization to support a community, not just within a silo like social media.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for joining in, Evan! You raise a terrific point that the community,
          just like not being “controlled” by one person or organization, it also
          isn’t “contained” by just one space or platform. A community manager really
          need to be able to cross from space to space and help connect the community
          whether it’s from an event to on online platform, from one network to
          another, or even one conversation to the next one!

  • Vargaslmv

    Brilliant description for a “defined” community manager. You are spot on about the community manager being a model of behavior. I often look at this role as the change evangelist and weaves Kotter’s eight steps of change management into each conversation shuttled between the internal and external community, so members feel comfortable exchanging experiences. As Vanessa points out, the attributes needed for the job are another bucket of worms for another post. 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much for making the connection! For those who are unfamiliar with
      Kotter’s 8-Step model, here’s a link:
      http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm

      I really like the idea of a community manager explicitly serving to support
      and even catalyze a change. It’s so true – but rarely described that way.

      Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    I did write a blog about being a community manager and how it feels like herding cats! I loved your description and defense of this important position. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Claire- Thanks for joining in! Would you mind sharing a link to your post
      about community managers?

      Thanks!