What you need to know before you hire a community manager
In this challenging economy, there has been a shift in the way online communities are being managed, led, and operationalized. The Community Consultants Collective met this month to discuss how they advise their clients about hiring a community team member, filling a role, or opening a new position.
The community industry has been dramatically impacted by a challenging economy since 2022. In the 2023 Community Industry Trends Report from CMX, 44 percent of people who responded to the survey felt that their organization would increase their community investment, and 59 percent were concerned about losing their job.
In addition, the size of a community team is getting smaller, while the community professionals are being asked to do more than before due to a challenging marketplace. In the report, 54 percent of teams said they have at least two full-time employees mainly focused on moderation and event management.
In a world where the public expects a community to be “free,” most don’t understand the expense of hiring a facilitator, moderator, events coordinator, graphic designer, or other operational support roles.
A community organizer is a professional role and job that has been compensated for a long time. Still, it has been a new development since the beginning of the online community ecosystem that community professionals started to earn a living by supporting communities online instead of in a physical location.
This means that the community professional has an additional responsibility to teach the leadership about the needs of the community and the costs involved with providing the community experience, professional support, and guidance that can’t be done without hiring skilled experts.
Here is an example of a few community roles for a paid online community, network, or program:
A Community Host - to guide the vision, mission, and purpose.
A Community Facilitator- to support the programming, events, or workshops.
A Community Manager - to onboard and support members and encourage participation within the community.
A Strategy Consultant - to create processes and tools to increase conversions from your marketing and advertising efforts to your programs.
Marketing Manager- to help promote, advertise, and scale your business.
What to know before you hire a community manager
Consultants can give clients a clear roadmap depending on what phase of the community-building journey they are in; Deb shared during the session held on August 2nd.
Clients starting out with an online community will need different support than large enterprise companies with a community supported by a robust marketing, sales, and advertising department.
“I find that so many clients think they need a community manager right away, but the client hasn't outlined goals, processes, or procedures – which is needed before bringing on support,” Deb said. Many of the clients Deb’s worked with shared that they needed to streamline their processes, and she helped them simplify before bringing on a community manager to ensure that the work they did aligned with the business goals.
Venia Logan shared that as a Full Stack Marketing Manager, she became certified in marketing with eleven specialties. She can provide support with search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and email marketing. This relates to the community because the general term used in the industry is a “community manager” or a community professional - none of which are specific or clearly defined roles with specific responsibilities. She said that being able to do “all the things” leads to three main problems.
Being a generalist leaves the door open for a company or client to ask for additional work outside the job descriptions or scope of work and can derail a project.
Because an organization is familiar with the general term “community manager,” they aren't able to compensate individuals for their unique skill set, or for projects that require a level of technical expertise.
When hiring a community manager with an open-ended set of skills, an organization expects the individual to be knowledgeable and up-to-date on industry trends, technical specifications, and how to integrate that into the community without additional training or guidance. This can lead to a community manager falling into the trap of constant learning without time built in for implementation, which leads to burnout.
Venia shares that the solution is about specialization, which is the key to creating a cohesive community team that aligns with a community strategy's needs. Jae Washington shared that not only did she agree with Venia, but she also added that the conversations can lead from shifting the narrative now to the future of the community industry.
“In groups like these, we are diverse but unified; we have the opportunity to change the narrative. Because community is the foundation of everything, we must speak their (leadership) language and reassure them that community is retention, relationship building, strategic planning, and trust. As a fully stacked human being, you offer insights that intersect operations and connections,” Jae said.
Community professionals will define their expertise.
Kelly Pratt shared that many solopreneurs she works with try to do it all, but they can’t. She believes in everything that needs to happen to keep a community going, including the vision and the implementation. The consultant can guide a client to understand the differences between an individual who will support the members of a community and someone whose sole responsibility is the technical operations and back-end logistics.
John Summers said that the organization's size would guide the needs of a community team, including specialties like technical operations, email marketing, and coordination with sales and marketing. “Having a specific call out and clear communication for clients to understand in each phase what team members or specialists would be needed,” John said.
We shared additional resources in the Slack channel following the meeting, including an article by David DeWald titled “Redefining Community Manager: The Case for ‘Community Professional’.
“I believe it's time to move away from the term "Community Manager" and instead adopt the term 'Community Professional'. As a community professional, I feel that the term "Community Manager" is too narrow and doesn't accurately reflect the broad range of responsibilities and skills that come with the job. I believe that the term "Community Professional" better represents our vital role in shaping our societies. We are not just managers; we are professionals with the knowledge, skills, and expertise necessary to create thriving communities," David said.
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