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.
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)