What is an Online Community Manager?

The Online Community Manager is a relatively new term for a job that is becoming increasingly important in today’s business landscape.  It’s a combination of customer service, sales, public relations, marketing and pure awesomeness.  Online community managers find your relevant community, keep them attentively engaged, create thought-leading content, measure success, educate, organize and advocate among a slew of other things all designed to raise awareness of your brand, serve your customers and ultimately,  increase your bottom line.  There is not a single blueprint for this position, but I’ll offer my insights gained during my experiences as the community manager for two social software companies, and from what I’ve learned through  those that I’ve educated in social media monitoring. I’ve broken it down to describe and define the qualities, attributes, and characteristics of a community manager, their duties, and finally some useful resources for community managers and those who hire them.

Qualities, Attributes and Characteristics of an Online Community Manager

Genuine Passion – Your community manager must believe in the brand/company and what it represents.  You can’t fake this or use an agency.

Vision of the CEO – Must know what the long-term vision of the company is and be able to represent the company in that fashion when necessary.

Social – It’s  called social media; social butterflies wanted. However, keep in mind that listening is most important when communicating.

Personable and Open-minded – Not only on the customer side, but the employee side as well.  Your community manager will be working with practically every department in your organization, along with people from all walks of life on the customer/consumer side. Whether they’re chatting with an intern, CEO, existing customer or new lead, they should treat each equally.

Writing Skills – It could be 140 characters, a blog post or a 140 page e-book, your community manager will be doing a ton of writing.

Multiple Hats – Your community manager will, again, be dealing with every department of your company so they should have an understanding  how each department works.  I highly  recommend they sporadically sit in on the PR, customer service, sales, marketing, executive and product meetings.

Costumer Advocate – They must want the customer to win.  I realize that this may seem contradictory at first, but if your community manager is bending over backwards for a customer (especially publicly) they are showing their (meaning your) following: marketing, PR, and customer service which equals  positive word of mouth that will spread beyond the online world..

Technology Enthusiast – Your community manager doesn’t have to be on every social network, but they have to be found wherever your customers and community may be.  You’d love to have your community live on your site, but that’s rarely the case.  Google them.

Online Footprint – While you’re googling them, take a look at things like their comments and other writings to get a feel for their writing style and personality.

Event Organizer – It may be a local tweetup or an online webinar; either way your community manager needs to know how to round ’em up and keep them entertained.

Speaker and Rock Star – As of 2010, expect your community manager to be in demand as a speaker at local, national, even international events and conferences to share their experiences and provide thought leadership while representing the brand. This is especially important for industries not involved in tech; imagine the Metropolitan Opera Community Manager sharing their experiences and successes with ever-sharing, highly influential tech community. Mentioning your brand as a case study is priceless.

Teacher – Your community manager will be tech-savvy, knowing the hottest tools and will share those internally to benefit other departments and resources.  Currently, the methods used for online personal branding are still largely unknown to most of the world. Your community manager should be educating their colleagues on the importance of it, and how to do it right.

Please add anything additional in the comments.

Duties include, but are certainly not limited to:

Monitoring online mentions* – engaging, distributing internally for further action as appropriate, and measuring accordingly.

Producing content on behalf of the brand to provide thought leadership and humanize** the brand.

Educating the internal team on personal and product branding and keeping them up to date on time-saving and important technology .

Attending conferences in a wide-variety of industries, particularly where your target audience will be.

Scale accordingly. This is based on my experience at a 200 person B2B software company. Many companies will need multiple listeners and community managers.

*Monitoring for mentions of: brand name, product names, competitors and their products, industry terms and phrases, specific influencers + industry terms, executive team, and variations of all of the above in order to have a pulse on sentiment analysis, competitive intelligence, product development, market, intelligence, sales leads, customer service issues, crisis management, community building, and sales enablement.

**Humanizing is the act of making a company look and feel like a collective of individual humans as opposed to a logo and corporation.  Enhances the customer relationship.  The goal is to connect with hearts and minds rather than eyes and ears.

Additional Resources

Some of my personal favorite fellow community managers are Erin Bury, Maria OgnevaSaul ColtElaine Ellis, and Lesley Yarbrough.

While Jeremiah Owyang’s The Four Tenets of the Community Manager was written in 2007, the tenets still hold true today.  Also, check out Vadim Lavrusik’s 10 Tips for Aspiring Community Managers and Justin Olivetti explaining community managers to be the very definition of a paradox.

A helpful LinkedIn Group is Online Community Managers, but you must request access.

Finally, don’t forget Community Manager Appreciation Day is the 4th Monday of every January!

21 thoughts on “What is an Online Community Manager?

  1. Great article Mike. I love it when thought leaders write from experience. You have condensed all the important aspects of a Community Manager into a MUST-HAVE list for every Community Manager’s desk. Looking froward to more articles from you.

  2. Hey Tom, thanks for popping by. The list will only grow as the landscape changes. I’m sure some of my fellow community managers out there will chime in and tell me all that I’ve missed.

    Many more posts on the way…

  3. I’m going to piggy-back on Tom’s comment above to note that I also apprecaite your voice as a Thought Leader on all things SM due to your very unique experiences with Filtrbox & Jive, both Social Media software companies themselves. With that breadth & depth of exposure to what has worked, and hasn’t, across varied industries, I value your insights more than most.

    As the ‘Community Manager for Community Managers’ I think you’ve clearly captured the goals to shoot for as a manager, and the attributes to look for when hiring one. This should be posted as a Community Manager Manifesto!

    Nicely done.

  4. Excellent post. I think that sums up the position and appreciate your hands on experience. Is it possible that the Community Manager role can be filled by a current employee, if they possess most of these skills?
    And maybe preferable to look internal first?
    Look forward to further posts and others involvement.

  5. Well, thank you Kelly. I’m starting to realize that my LinkedIn profile doesn’t paint the picture nearly as clear as it should be: Community managers are who I trained, sold the product to, followed, subscribed to and interacted with at conferences while in the industry over the last two years. Never thought of it that way, THANKS!

  6. Hi Darleen, thank you for stopping by. Without question, I’d say yes to your first question. They would already know the organization. What I often see happen, as was the case for me, is that someone becomes the CM in their own free time and assumes that role without anyone really noticing. Before you know it, they are showing analytics on their impact from working nights and weekends to the board.

    I’d say ideally, you look for who is your biggest company advocate is that has some of the qualities listed above (hopefully it’s internal) and hire them!

  7. Great post, Mike. You have really captured the key qualities of a great Community Manager here. I’m actually playing a similar role to what you’ve described (at Strutta.com), although my official title is different. I love the position because it’s ever-evolving, which makes it fun and challenging!

    One thing to add to the list of attributes: Competent Researcher. Especially in the tech/digital space, new tools and apps are popping up daily and existing products are always improving. It’s imperative to not only be in the right network spaces, but to utilize the tools available in order to stay on top of trends and news, to ultimately make the most of your time spent with your community.

    Side note, I noticed a few typos: “Costumer Advocate” and “..” in the same section.

    Cheers! I look forward to getting to know more personalities behind brands!


  8. I can’t help but think of the song Strutter from Kiss when I see that Strutta. Some may say that I’m dating myself, but I only know it if from Guitar Hero!

    Anyway, thank you Tina for reading and commenting. I just fixed and added “market intelligence” to the terms to monitor section thanks to your comment. You are absolutely right, research is imperative in technology and many other fields. How do you keep tabs on @Strutta’s ever-evolving space?

  9. Hey Mike, enjoyed the article. It’s always refreshing to see content written from experience. It’s always entertaining to me when I see people write about things like community managers, but have never been one or worked with one.

    As an aside, I think I would add two things to your list:
    -Organizational Skills. By this I mean that the CM reports not only to their boss, but also the customer. In the world of social media, prompt replies are essential. Just yesterday I posted an issue I was having to LinkedIn that I needed resolved asap. Called their help line, emailed, and tweeted them. I didn’t get a response for 14hrs. Even then, they just directed me to their FAQ (which I’d already read). Horrible customer service IMO. Had a CM gotten back to me with a simple tweet saying they were looking into it and when I could expect to hear back, it’d be greatly appreciated.

    -A tough chin. Being a CM isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. You’ll have the tough customers (like me in the LinkedIn example), you’ll have rude customers, and you’ll have customers that you’ll downright want to punch…but you have to keep a smile on your face and politely respond.


  10. Thank Josh.

    Organizational is must, I completely overlooked some essentials.

    I love the tough chin comment. You have to take many shots to your company and yourself sometimes. Also, continuously hearing crickets on outreach efforts can be depleting. You have to take one on the chin and keep rocking!

  11. Good stuff.

    The def. or an online community manager is in flux right now. Best practices are still being established and the trail is still being paved right in front of us. Exciting times

  12. This is a great write up, Mike.
    It’s true that every community manager is going to have different things to attend to depending on the company they work for and that company’s objectives for having one in the first place.
    The other thing I would add is that the role of community manager is constantly evolving and changing, even if they’ve been with the company for a while, so they should also be very flexible and adaptable.

    Good luck with the hunt!

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  13. Great post Mike. The one thing I would add is that a background and experience in marketing are very helpful, but not crucial for a community manager to have. I train a lot of community managers in marketing strategy and having a psychological understanding of how to communicate effectively with communities. If more community managers had a marketing background they wouldn’t need advisors like me. That said, if they work for a CMO who ‘gets’ the intricacies and leverage points of social web communications, then that makes the beginning for a great team.


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