Musings on “community management” Part 1

Grand Bend Strip - April 16, 2008 - Swans 0988
Creative Commons License photo credit: CaseyLessard
Chris Brogan has a great post today on online community management – a must read if you have or are considering an online community in your business or organization. On Managing A Community .

I have two “chunks” I’d like to contribute to this conversation/stream of posts/comments. First relates directly to Chris’ observations about community managers. That is the content of Part 1. Check the next post for a more “meta” reflection in Part 2.

Skills, Experience and Qualities of a “community manager”

1. On the practical side, I would add the following things I’d look for in a candidate (Chris didn’t write about this, but it is on my mind, so what the heck!)

  • Fast, accurate and quality reading/writing skills – I always recommend a timed reading/writing test that involves looking at multiple bits of information (posts, etc.), seeing the patterns of those posts then composing a response.
  • Ability to think globally, not just in a linear manner. Community is non-linear. A good community manager must be able to skip around, see patterns, scan the whole and then discern if and where to intervene in the system. People who have to go from a, to b, to c often struggle with this and can’t do it fast enough. And alas, speed keeps coming into the picture. (Ah, i still dream of Slow Community.).
  • Good at multimembership or meaningfully belonging to a number of communities. A community manager is a bridge – finding the opportunities to connect in and out of the community to both build the community and carry it’s ideas/impact outside of the community. So they should be active on other community sites (as noted by Chris suggesting they have accounts on various key systems.)
  • Head and heart. Community requires the emotional intelligence from the heart side and the analytical/strategic and content skills from the head side. I can’t stress enough that this needs to be BOTH, not OR!
  • Social network mapping and analysis skills. Today we are not often working in the confines of boundaried communities (see Post 2) so being able to see and understand the larger network is critical.

Adding to Chris’s section on Strategy

  • Understand our community’s relationship to other communities and networks in our domain. In other words, watch for connections!

Adding to Chris’s section on Reporting

  • I like that Chris framed this as “in my organization.” Reporting structure needs to reflect who can champion the community manager AND, more importantly, steward relationships with other parts of the organization because rarely is an organization’s community important to just one functional area. Again, connections!

Adding to Chris’s section on Measurement

  • Quantity and quality of network relationships to key strategic people/communities/other networks.
  • Where the person is doing facilitation within a bounded community (traditional), clarity and quantification of the managers appropriate role in the community over time. For example, if you are looking to build internal member capacity to manage their own communities, what evidence do you see that the community manager is reducing her/his visible participation and evidence of members taking up key community facilitation activities? Where that person is to be the public “face” of an organization, the strategy and thus measurement would be quite different.

My second point is about the context – communities — and the word — managers. And I think I need to make it in a separate post as it is quite different and much more meta. I appreciated the tactical, practical quality of Chris’s post, so I wanted to respond in kind. So see you in the next post!

17 thoughts on “Musings on “community management” Part 1”

  1. Wow. This is just part one? I can’t wait to hear Part 2! You’ve got some really great stuff here to consider. Multi-membership, global thinking, fast writing, and network mapping amongst other things show me just how much I’ve missed and what else I’ll need to consider for a future post.

  2. Nancy, I really appreciate your insights from your years of experience with communities and with practices that work.

    However, I reacted viscerally to your suggestion of a timed reading/writing test. First, this reminds me of stenography and touch typing and words per minute scores. Ditto for social network mapping and analysis. These are skills that people can acquire. And they can acquire them on the job. (Actually I believe OTJ is the only way to really develop sensibilities for network analysis.) Second, I think that multi-membership, head-and-heart, and network sensibilities are more important than pattern recognition scores.

    But my feelings about this are from my own idiosyncratic work experiences as a software engineer, participant observer, and work group dynamics shaman. Work changes constantly so the skills I need to bring to any work have to do with learning.

    I look forward to Part II. Metaphorically and really.


  3. Thanks Chris. I’ll try and get part 2 done today.

    Bill, I hear ya and I appreciate you raising another perspective – and a needed one. I think part 2 addresses some of these issues. “Community manager” of a big, busy discussion board is very different than someone who is doing work across a network(s). The hard, cold reality of working a busy discussion board is that you have to read/write/scan fast or you can’t cover the territory. The timing is about sense-making — not just typing. Though in my experience, typing IS part of the skill set and someone who doesn’t work the keyboard will be behind the eight ball quickly. Yes, they can acquire – but at what cost in a competitive market? I’m feeling like I’m sounding cynical here, and that worries me.

    Here is less clear territory for me. How much pattern sensing is learned and how much is part of an individual’s make up? I don’t know. My gut is that yes, it can be learned, but there sure are people who seem to do it more effortlessly and “better” (very relative word) than others. This is my instinct talking, not my brain. Do you have any info on this?

    About on the job learning — amen, brother. And it should be multi directional in the idea. I’m finding that many organizations haven’t a clue about things like SNM and therefore bringing in someone with this sort of knowledge is a plus. It may be that the new person IS introducing the organization rather than the other way around, eh?

    In my dream world, we have apprentice slots, we co-learn on the job. I worry that this is ONLY in my dream world. But that kind of learning is deep and profound.

    How much do organizations understand and appreciate the deeper learning?

  4. Nancy, thanks for the thoughtful response. As I said, my response was mostly emotional.

    I think that people do need to learn to touch type. Just do it. And being a good secretary (in the large sense of that word/work role) requires all that you enumerate.

    Social network mapping is a skill that people need to learn. And I hear you when you say that most organizations don’t have much knowledge. (As an aside, most people don’t have a clue what metadata is either, but they use it all the time.) Maybe what organizations need to do is the cultivate their own people’s innate networking savvy. I’m sure when you consult with folks they’re more capable when you leave. Same with my gigs — I make sure that we all learn something useful to take forward.

    But where do you think you’re going to find social network savvy folks? I’m concerned that the academics are already busy with research. People in business are already busy with business. Younger folks may have a lot of experience with social networking and still not be able to do the pattern matching you’re asking for.

    Hmmm…. Maybe we can actually get specific about what kind of pattern matching you’re looking for? And don’t get me wrong, I agree that not everyone has the same capabilities in this regard. You need some talent, but you also need some interest.

    Great conversation here.

  5. Hi Nancy – we’ve just put the advertisements out for a role in this area and this is all marvellous stuff (wish it had been around when I was writing the job description!) Will be feeding it into the recruitment process…

  6. Oh, and in reference to Bill Anderson’s post, I emotionally totally agree with what he’s saying.

    But the penny-pinching streak of Taylorite manager in me says that if you can only afford 0.5FTE of a social media person, they’d better be able to touch type from day one. Or you’re paying for 2 and a half days a week and getting a couple of hours useful work. You don’t hire an accountant who can’t do arithmetic and you don’t hire digital communications staff who can’t type! We’ll be doing two work samples as well as an interview and the work samples will have equal weight.

  7. Michael, I think what you are pointing to is the AND part of this. We have feet in both worlds right now, and have to work with that tension. (Part of today’s Part 3 post!)

  8. As the community manager for a very small organization, I think the connections part is so important, especially in the early stages of an organizations attempt at social networking. Obviously, because I’m with a small organization, I have input in all avenues of the company, but I can clearly see that working for a much larger company, connections within the company would be a key ingredient. If the community manager doesn’t know what’s coming down the pike, either good or bad, they will clearly not be able to do their job effectively.

    I loved your refences to head and heart, plus multimembership. This is my favorite part of my “job.” I love what I do, and “talking” to various people from so many different fields is highly enlightening. This blog for instance is totally out of my usual musings, but a need non-the-less. I think a community manager also has to have the humbleness to grow, as both an individual and as a company representative.

    Chances are, they will be involved in many avenues with a company and outside the company, having to wear many hats, just as I do. Being able to say, “I don’t know, but will do everything I can to find out,” is essential.

    Thank you for the great information, and I look forward to Part 2.

  9. Great additions Nancy!
    It’s totally head & heart & about relationships. If a Comm Mgr can provide value to customers they totally appreciate it. It’s not about marketing.

    I see my position as facilitating conversations between customers & internally & vice versa. Connecting & communicating are my primary roles.

  10. Hello,

    I bookmarked Chris’s post and now yours, as I’m very interested in how organizations are developing jobs titled ‘community managers’ or some similar title with the same job description.

    As for the tests recommended, I can see their need. However, I think as time goes on, the need for formal tests may become antiquated as the younger move into the work force. Many millennials and younger may already have these types of skills as they grew up learning how to splice and dice information quickly from the internet and being actively engaged in social media from a young age.

    Thoughts on how age may affect skill sets?


  11. Socialbutterfly, I think age can give us a CLUE to skills, but I’d be very wary of assuming they define skills. I see the skills in 60 year olds and lacking in 21 year olds. But absolutely, I think the skills are more prevalent and practiced in younger generations due to early technology exposure.

    I still think it is important to understand what a person brings to a job – including skills we don’t even know exist. So the exploration with a candidate is more important, in my mind, than any “test.” Does that make sense?

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