When Employers Don't Seem to Understand What a Community Manager Really Does

(Emily Cowan) #1

I have a proven track record building and managing online communities, but many employers who are looking for community managers seem to think that lack of experience in their specific subject matter is a deal-breaker. So, for example, a 3D printing company is looking for an experienced online community manager who can build engagement on their platform and ALSO happens to be immersed in 3D printing culture.

I have worked in digital communications for more than 20 years writing for audiences from environment/sustainability to entrepreneurship to college education to health & medicine. Short of managing a community of web developers (where I REALLY don’t speak the language), I am confident in my ability to adapt to the community culture and become conversant in the subject matter. Shouldn’t it be my skillset as a community manager that’s most important here?

(Richard Millington) #2

It’s definitely not an easy one and I certainly sympathise.

I tend to come at this more from the employer side however.

If I was an employer, I’d probably look for an experienced community manager and give priority to people who have been immersed in the culture. I wouldn’t exclude people who didn’t, but I’d be very interested in those that did.

The rationale is pretty simple. I would know they really loved the sector and the people in it. This would shine through in their contributions. They wouldn’t have to spend months, or years, getting to a level where they can confidently respond to complex questions about the topic. They might already have some great relationships and be a respected figure in that field.

These days I tend to think it’s a lot easier to train people who are passionate about a sector to do community, than find great community professionals and make them passionate about the topic (although I suspect many people disagree).

It also depends greatly upon the type of work. Getting a new community started is a lot different than taking over an existing mature one…or walking into a senior role etc…so that would also play a part. The more senior the role, the more I’d love for experienced community managers (people who have done things like complex platform migrations, managed large community teams, demonstrated clear improvements in impact/roi and everything else in level 3 / 4 here.

Hope that helps.

Good luck (apply anyway and see how it goes)

(Emily Cowan) #3

Hi @richard_millington - thanks for your thoughtful response.

I do see both sides of it, and I can understand why employers hosting niche communities would prefer an advocate/ambassador in the community manager role. I’ve also worked on communities where the assumption that folks who are passionate about a topic or product can figure things out on the fly (the “if I can speak, I can write” fallacy) has had a negative impact at key points in the community lifecycle.

I do agree that a community’s stage of development should play a large part in the hiring decision. It’s a lot harder to course-correct than it is build strategically from the ground up, especially when community typically gets a bit less organizational support at the outset compared to more traditional marketing channels.

In any case, appreciate the perspective here :slight_smile:

(Rebecca Braglio) #4

I tend to lean towards the employers side as well, but I thought I’d throw out there that my employer often goes the opposite! Our communities are all chronic health conditions - and they tend to hire people who don’t have any exposure/knowledge of the health condition. So, even though I have migraines I’m not the community manager for our site Migraine.com. Instead, I manage psoriatic-arthritis.com (and I don’t have it or know anyone with it). The benefit is that I have absolutely no biases/preconceived ideas about the condition. I can focus solely on community management. But we do recruit moderators/contributors who do have the condition to help us, so you have a little more street credibility with members.

On the other hand, I also worked on projectmanagement.com, and am by no means a project manager. I think they were definitely looking for someone with that experience but I guess they chose to take a risk on me and hire me. Anyway, I do think I would have been more accepted by the community if I had been one. It definitely made it harder to manage a community for a profession that I had absolutely no background in.

(Emily Cowan) #5

Hey @rebeccabraglio - thanks for sharing your experience! That’s so interesting about how your health communities prefer a non-sufferer to manage.

I just had a great job interview with a company that makes community software, so I’d be helping the hosts of various niche communities develop and grow their platforms. Fingers crossed!

(Caroline Sekar) #6

@ercowan75 - We’re hiring, if you’re still looking! :slight_smile: https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/community-engagement-manager-at-cisco-meraki-790007674/

(briankling) #7

I understand your point @ercowan75 and I think it depends as @richard_millington mentions upon the size and scope of the community/employer. I currently work at a semiconductor company and I cannot help anyone technically with our products. As @rebeccabraglio points out, this can be an advantage; in my role I look after the overall community and strategic direction, programs, etc. Because I can’t be “tempted” to go in and help directly, this allows me to focus on my responsibilities and I rely upon other colleagues who do the direct support. We work together, and for their roles of course it is critical that they know the product and can interact with the community. When you have this type of situation you can be effective with a community. If you are a “one-person show” then this is not really possible, you need to share more closely the experience and understanding of your community.

(Emily Cowan) #8

That’s been my experience as well, @briankling! At my previous job I was not a product expert. We had trained moderators to answer customers’ questions and engage at the technical level. I was able to become conversant enough in the priorities and motivations of our user base to implement and test improvements to community structure, welcome experience, etc. It was a ton of fun, and I developed relationships with key superusers that went beyond their community participation as customers.

On a certain level I think community management is a customer experience role. You find out what your members want and then you figure out the best ways to give it to them :slight_smile:

(Evelien Schut) #9

It might also depend on the amount of resources you have. If you start a new community and run a lot of the tasks on your own, it might really come in handy that you have a good sense of the business and can translate that into content, community structure, make use of your own network etc.

If there are more resources available and you can delegate certain tasks like content creation, answering in-dept questions to people who are more expert in that area, then I think your job as a community manager can be a bit more higher level. Bringing the right people together, measuring etc.

(Emily Cowan) #10

Thanks, @evelienschut - that’s a really great point. At my old job we had a pretty killer internal content creation team, which made things a lot easier.

I’ve just been hired to develop a closed community for c-suite customer success professionals. I have a strong background in writing for a business audience but this is a niche I’m going to have to do some reading up on. Upside: The company currently puts on a series of very successful live events for these folks, so there’s a natural audience to draw from. Downside: My new employers haven’t completely answered the WHY question yet. Should be an interesting challenge!

Thanks everyone for your input on this. Super helpful to hear all your perspectives.