As the world of dominant brands becomes more fragmented, established companies and startups are hiring community managers to cultivate an engaged community in a digital world where customers’ experiences with the product is amplified through social media, whether good or bad. And it’s not just the experience that users value; the relationships and connections they are able to make with companies and fellow consumers are just as important.
As a result, engaging users online and off has become evermore important for both companies big and small. That’s because social media has revolutionized the idea of word-of-mouth marketing, providing not only an opportunity for companies to expand their brands but also creating the risk of a customer service nightmare.
Community managers, who come in all shapes and sizes depending on the company and its mission, are often the online face of their companies, and more increasingly, offline as well. They’re the social strategist, community builder, storyteller, marketer, product manager, designer and evangelist rolled all into one. But most importantly, they’re responsible in projects and initiatives that strengthen the community of consumers, users and customers of the company.
Though there’s no silver bullet to being a successful community manager, for those aspiring to become one, we’ve gathered some tips from community builders on what it takes to land a job and be effective at cultivating community.
1. Be an Expert and Evangelist of Your Product or Company
Effective community managers are not only experts of the company or product they represent, but also are passionate about it. Chrysanthe Tenentes, Head of Community at Foursquare (), said good community managers are ones that are genuine advocates and evangelists for their products and their users.
“The best community managers are superusers of their products and can understand the passion of the user base, whether someone is complaining or offering feedback,” Tenentes said.
This means doing your homework on the company and product. It’s important to research the relevant aspects of the company with a “fine tooth comb mentality,” said Seamus Condron, Community Manager at ReadWriteWeb. This will not only prepare you as you go into an interview for a community spot at a company. Aspiring community managers should do a thorough “social media audit” of the company they’re interviewing with, said Daniel Honigman, Social Media Manager at Sears/KMart Home Electronics. This also means knowing the competitive landscape.
2. Love The Product and Company, But Be the Users’ Advocate
Understanding the product will help you become better at engaging and understanding the customers and users as well. Mario Sundar, Senior Social Media Manager at LinkedIn (), said you should love the product or company you represent, but you should also have an understanding of users’ pain points. He said a community manager should be empathetic, that will help them be better at responding to complaints (and, at times, rants).
This is particularly true of customer service teams, and companies like Zappos, he said, have set the bar high in building customer support by empathizing with consumers. “A community manager’s role is no different,” he said.
3. Work on Your Communication Skills
One of the characteristics a community manager should have is that of an engager. A good community manager can engage people in an effective dialogue, said Andres Glusman, Vice President of Strategy & Community at Meetup.com. They understand that their role is to help people and enable their community to connect with each other, he said. To do this, they have to be effective communicators and articulate themselves well.
To prepare yourself for a career as a community manager, having a background in either marketing or journalism helps, Tenentes said. Having a communications background and experience in writing will help you be an effective communicator.
4. Blog and Have a Social Presence
Part of being a good communicator is engaging customers and users with an authentic voice. Practice makes perfect. Having a voice in the community by maintaining a blog, for example, or even having a presence on various social platforms will enable you to become better at engaging, while getting the attention of employers.
“Having a blog where you write about the industry is a great way to get companies to pay attention to you, as does having an active Twitter () account that indicates you know how to communicate one-to-many,” Tenentes from Foursquare said.
Sundar also got help from blogging. He said he found his job for LinkedIn because of blogging and believes taking an hour a day to blog on social media topics will help you stand out from the rest of the social media crowd.
“I’m constantly surprised by how few of those aspiring community managers actually spend time to manage a career blog where they share tips and tricks on what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “Everyone has a LinkedIn, Facebook () or Twitter account, but career blogs are few and far in between. Build a brand for yourself with your blog before you actually get paid to manage one.”
5. Be Authentic
It’s not just about having a voice, but having an authentic one. Condron said he tries to utilize his sense of humor when appropriate (and sometimes when it’s not). At the same time, he also does his best to be humble, and let his work speak for itself. “I hate selling myself, and that includes associating myself with silly titles like guru and expert,” he said.
Sundar points to examples like Comcast and Dell, which have shown how even big brands successfully present an authentic face while dealing with customers. The key in building trust with your user base, he said, is being authentic and more about the people behind your company rather than a faceless brand.
6. Be Multi-Skilled and Prioritize Your Platforms Strategically
Good community managers are ones that are able to multi-task and are multi-skilled. Having experience in web design, writing, and even some coding helps when you take on projects that involve site integration. It will help you know what’s possible and if you have enough skills to build out site features, it will help make integration more efficient. But, in general, the more skills you bring to the table, the more valuable you are as a candidate, especially for small companies that are looking for a one-person band that can play all the instruments and sing.
Condron also points out that the community manager role is very different for each company, and because so many companies are still hiring their first community manager, the role is often defined by your existing skill set. “The more you know, the more you have to offer,” Condron said.
Being a good multitasker and having a range of skills also includes the ability to pick your battles, said Katy Zack, Communications Manager at Howcast. She said this means looking at the platforms that are out there, and investing your time and resources based on where your audience is. This means thinking beyond the major social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
7. Listen, Add Value and Build Relationships
It’s important to listen to the conversations taking place around your company, industry, or product. Being a good listener will enable you to gather feedback more effectively, feedback that can go towards improving the quality or experience the user has with the product. Also, although it’s important to have a voice in the space, using that voice effectively means adding value to the conversations taking place and not just adding noise to the echo chamber.
Sundar also points out that it’s important to strengthen your relationships whether or not you’re looking for a job. “Building relationships is a must for your career, especially for folks in the community space, and is more effective when you’re actually not looking for a job,” he said. This helps create authentic relationships, not just ones that are based on you trying to sell yourself for an open position. If you invest in relationships, it will open opportunities up down the road.
8. Engage Online and Off
Though online community is important, connecting with people in-person will help strengthen the relationships you build, Zack from Howcast said. Go to the places where community managers come to exchange ideas and network. “Don’t discount the real-life community,” she said. “Find your tweetups and where people with your interests are meeting in real life.”
This is also a principal to take once you land a job as a community manager. The offline community is just as important to facilitate through events, meetups and in-person meetings. Tenentes said community managers should reach out to the local tech community, go to meetups (or start their own if there is a lack of community), and meet with people in the same industry. This not only helps in building relationships, but will also help you learn from others in your industry.
9. Think Like an Entrepreneur and Be Quick to Adapt
Community managers have to be entrepreneurial and have a vision for each project, big or small. Building a community means having a strategy for it and the knowledge and drive to implement it, whether with building on a big platform or having a presence and voice on a small one. Sundar said tomorrow’s community manager should be able to adapt to the latest social media technologies. They should also be able to build measurable engagement within that user community, he said.
In many cases you have to be the driving force behind a project, with no one pushing the strategy and idea. Having an entrepreneurial spirit will enable you to get things done quickly and efficiently.
10. Empower Your Colleagues to Be Community Builders
You can’t do it on your own. Building community also includes the internal community of the company itself, and being able to empower your colleagues to engage the community will make your job easier and also help them better understand the value in what you’re doing.
“If your boss and your colleagues aren’t buying into what you’re doing, your head is going to start hitting the ceiling fast,” Condron said.
Honigman, Social Media Manager at Sears/KMart Home Electronics, said this doesn’t mean mandating social media involvement from your colleagues, because it won’t work in getting them interested or engaged. “Find a few folks within the organization you can win over and work with, and let them help you tell your story,” he said.
Bonus: DOs & DON’Ts
Here are some bonus tips and dos and don’t that some of our experts offered as you search and find a career in community management.
- Chrysanthe Tenentes, Foursquare: “Do apply to work for companies whose product you use and love. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a company that doesn’t have a job posting. A lot of young companies need a community manager but might not realize it yet.”
- Mario Sundar, LinkedIn: “Before the interview you want to research the folks you’ll be interviewing with on LinkedIn, find common connections or folks who have worked at that company, and ping them should you have relevant questions prior to the interview. Twitter lets you follow the right folks — hiring managers, fellow community and social media experts — in your space on Twitter. Create a separate Twitter list of those folks, since your master Twitter feed may be far too noisy, and set up Twitter notifications so you can better engage with them in real time.”
- Seamus Condron, RWW: “DO remember that social media and community are rooted in human interaction and relationships. If all you’re doing is promoting the company’s self-interests, you’re not a community manager. You’re a used car salesman. DON’T focus all of your time and energy on shiny tools that create a confusing user experience and de-emphasize the people. Tools are overrated. Focus on the relationships.”
- Andres Glusman, Meetup.com: “Experiment a lot. Recognize and reward the behaviors you want. Weed out behaviors that are detrimental to culture you are trying to foster.”
We hope you found these useful and we want to know what some of your tips are. In the spirit of community, please share them in the comments below!
Community Management Job Listings
Every week we put out a list of social media and web job opportunities. While we post a huge range of job listings, we’ve selected some of the best community management jobs from the past two weeks to get you started. Happy hunting!
- Community Manager at Ballywho Interactive in Wesley Chapel, FL.
- Community Manager at Ally Marketing in Redmond, WA.
- Social Community Manager at Publicis in Seattle, WA.
- Community Manager at Team One in El Segundo, CA.
- Social Media Marketer and Community Manager at Mob Mobile in Los Angeles, CA.