the Greatest
Creative Commons License photo credit: achimh

Earlier this week, William Ruzvidzo invited me to answer a question on Quora, “What does it take to be a great community manager?” Mr. Rudvidzo is a Community Manager at 49Pixels.

I thought about this for a while and came up with the following.

A great community manager has experience. I think this is easily overlooked. People think community is brand new and that no one has experience. So they look for marketing or communications converts looking to make a switch.

I’ve seen a lot of crazy job listings for community manager. There was one that required email marketing experience and search marketing experience… but no community management experience. If the job requirements read that way, they don’t want a community manager, they want a marketer.

Perhaps the best place to get powerful community management experience is in forums because there is a great deal to manage and a lot of working pieces. I find that those who are forum management veterans are often uniquely suited to manage social on a wider scale because of the lessons derived from their work in forums. More so than those who lack that experience.

But, regardless, great community managers have experience in managing a group of people online, encouraging healthy interaction and engagement amongst that group, in moderation, in managing a staff of moderators (volunteer or otherwise), in setting policies for social areas and more.

What communities have they managed? What have they done at those communities? What were they responsible for? Those are the big questions. And I don’t know that they are asked often enough.

When it comes down to individual traits or skills, here are some of the more important ones that come to mind:

  • Attention to detail, to ensure that every moderation decision made is the right one, that mistakes are corrected and that details are taken care of.
  • Strong communication skills. The written word is tricky enough and a lot of people aren’t able to communicate in a sensitive enough way. Being able to do so cuts down on the number of challenges that you face.
  • A mind for policy. Writing guidelines for the social spaces that you manage is important because it helps everyone to understand what is and isn’t OK. The ability to write and adjust policy is valuable.
  • Good reading skills, enabling good moderation. A big part of the job is ensuring that your community remains focused at it’s core audience. You have to be able to read content and determine whether or not it is a violation of your guidelines.
  • Being kind, fair and consistent. You have to be able to apply those guidelines in a way that is fair and consistent. If they are violated, you have to fairly and evening apply them to everyone – no matter who it is.
  • Organizational skills. You will likely have a lot of balls in the air. You have to be able to keep organized and not get overwhelmed.
  • Leadership capabilities are important. They need to be able to lead a team that believes in one another and can take direction.
  • Technical savvy. They don’t need to be a programmer or a web designer, but some basic proficiency with the web and how it works goes a long way.
  • A strong self awareness. Members of the community take cues on how to act from you. I am very careful about what I say and how I say it. You have to be a good influence.
  • The ability to participate and talk with the community about things that aren’t to do with the management of it. So, participating in normal discussions, for example, that don’t specifically have to do with the community. The best community managers tend to be active participants in their communities.
  • Passion for community. This is tough because everyone will tell you they have it. A passion for a topic is not the same as a passion for running a community around that topic because most everything you will do in managing a community takes you away from simply discussing and enjoying the topic.
  • Patience and being able to laugh things off. People will call you every name in the book (Hitler, Stalin, Gestapo, soccer mom). You have to sort through that and not let it bother you too much.
  • Comfort with being accessible to people. Members of your community will contact you and they won’t always do it through the proper channels. You still have to help them and guide them back through those channels. You can’t flip out because they found your personal email address online.
  • You have to be able to make a decision. You can weigh options, ask for feedback, listen to people and consider it all carefully. But, you must be able to make hard choices in a timely fashion.

Finally, great community managers work at great companies that believe in the idea and value of community. Companies that ask their community managers to routinely and repeatedly prove the value of community don’t offer the environment where a community manager can flourish. Community is a long term game and you can’t build long term if you are concerned that they’ll shut you down short term.

If you have to spend 20% of your time crunching numbers and writing reports to prove that you should be engaging in this fashion, you are spending too much time on something that isn’t community related and working from a position of weakness. You either have buy-in – or you don’t. It’s important that you do.