This is a great question. Community management is such a broad role, It’s really hard to package it. Also, community management is a distinct role in different industries. The things you’re going to do every day are going to vary but your objectives should be the same. Your goals as a community manager are:
giving your community access to resources to make them successful with your product. setting the tone for communication and activity within your community I’ve met a lot of awesome community managers and they many of the same qualities, and many have certain skills that make them successful every day.
As a community manager you’re tasked with representing the needs of your community to your company. It is your job to facilitate discussion, change and opportunity for the community to continue growing. This requires an understanding of what people need to become successful and how your community acts and reacts in order to fulfill their needs. People who succeed as community managers dig down into how and why the community loves their product and the obstacles to making them successful users. For example, when I with individual user group organizers, I need to consider exactly what they need to put together an awesome user group next month. Sometimes they need speakers. Other times they need slides. Often times they just need encouragement and links to MongoDB documentation. Either way I have to be able to provide them with the appropriate resources to ensure they can do their job well.
I spoke with Christy McCreath from Puppet Labs a bit about their strategy, and her team has incredible insight into the motivations and interests of their community. Puppet get a lot of this insight from listening to their users, but Christy herself also has the ability to put herself in her users’ shoes and identify what they need based on their feedback and her history with the community. This makes her a great resource for her community, armed with the knowledge of what they need to continue to grow.
Some of the best community managers can empathize with their community because they were a member of the community and have a significant understanding of the community’s needs. For example, the community manager at Shapeways, Natalia, was a member of the Shapeways community, as a 3D Jewelry designer, before she joined the company. She’s the ideal community manager because she is a passionate and successful Shapeways user and can be an ideal resource for new designers looking to get involved with 3D printing.
Nathen Harvey is another great community member turned Community Manager. Nate is the organizer of the MongoDB user group in Washington DC and is one of the most successful user group organizers I work with at 10gen. He is the source of many of my good ideas (I won’t lie!). After contributing to the Chef community for a few years, Nate was invited to join OpsCode as their Technical Community Manager–and they couldn’t have found a better person to help evangelize chef!
Regardless of your experience, you need to develop an impassioned connection with your community. Really talented community managers never give up. They want to do everything. They are excited about every opportunity. They never give up. They’re obsessed with their community’s success and will not stop until every support question is answered and every user is happy. They want their community everywhere any anywhere.
A lot of people think that working in community management implies being a very social being. I disagree with this statement. As a community manager, you are the leader of leaders of your community. You don’t need to be social to be a good leader for a large number of people, but you do need to have excellent judgement and ability to provide guidance for people in a number of ways. This means needing to help individual community members make decisions for themselves, but it also means making sure that you can make some decisions to help grow your community (and sometimes it means making some difficult ones).
I think Tech Meetup organizers have to use good judgement every day in their moderation of mailing lists, sometimes functioning as a wise gatekeeper. Tech mailing lists are a really valuable communication vehicle for a user community, but it can often get polluted with inappropriate job postings, announcements and non-technical information. Some of the best user group organizers set standards for their groups mailing lists and communication streams to ensure that their members get relevant information to their inboxes. This keeps maintains the tone and expectations that allows the community to thrive. Often times this means blocking someone from a listserve who damages the community vibe, which can be a really difficult, but necessary decision to ensure the community’s sustainability and continued growth. Other times it means you need to change some of the rules you put into place when you started the list serve. Either way, you need to be a wise decision-maker to ensure you’re acting in the interest of both the community and the individuals who bring it together. In conclusion Overall, I think being successful as a community manager involves dedicating yourself to listening deeply to the needs of your community, and helping to drive the appropriate decisions to help cultivate community growth. It’s a process you learn over time and get better at as you go along. I don’t think running through these will help you become the perfect community manager, but it might help you look at your own skill set and determine how you can apply your own talents to this role.