So you want to be a Community Manager?

Posted on 16 February 2011

Many people think being a Community Manager is a great job, and it definitely is, but it’s also a lot of work!  In order to understand what type of community manager you want to be you first need to figure out what type of community you’d like to manage.  Each type brings it’s own challenges and pitfalls.  Let’s dive in…

A website based community?

I’m most familiar with website based communities, having managed properties owned by New York Times Digital and HP. and were/are centered around a small, core group of engineers responsible for the end product.  The CM’s role, in this type of scenario, is paramount due to the close proximity to engineers.  Frequently in a smaller group the CM is asked to provide support flow, do usability testing, create FAQ’s, provide metrics, perform SEO, do brand research and more.

An ethereal web-based community?

An ethereal web-based community is primarily driven via social media and isn’t tied to a specific website.  A good example would be the “Mommy Blogger” community that exists all over the Internet.  These CM’s cull and participate in pertinent discussions that exist on multiple websites.  For instance, companies that produce baby/mommy-centric goods will often hire community managers familiar with (or already a presence) in that specific medium.  The information companies pull out of these groups is astounding!  Not many people would fill out detailed questionnaires asking for sensitive, family based information but will readily make posts on mommy blogs and in social media conversations containing intimately personal information.  Companies know this!

A closed professional community?

A closed professional community is a captive audience, so emphasis is placed on support for that group.  Oftentimes these communities are spartan and built for purposeful function due to the professional expectations of it’s members.  Examples would include managing a development community for a tech company, managing a broker community for a financial instution, Dr.’s and Nurses for a medical practice, etc…

An open professional community?

Open professional communities are most interesting to me because people WANT to be there!  Second to web-based communities on my “fondness” scale, these communities are usually minimally supported and user driven but still require moderation and management.  Frequently corporations will “plant” people in these public groups to support or promote their related content.  For example with Tabblo,  a site centered around telling stories with your photos, benefited from associating with local photography clubs, specifically ones that existed online.  These groups usually have more contributions from a wider variety of users than most other type of communities.  These groups also tend to self-moderate which requires less corporate interaction.

A support community?

Support communities require a lot of work and center around supporting a product or service.  People who visit these communities are, more than likely, going there for answers and little else.  Being resolute in purpose doesn’t mean it’s an easy task.  This CM has to have connections to every facet of the company to provide the best possible support.  Unfortunately, most of these communities exist as forums since nothing better currently exists for mass consumption.  Fortunately for the end user, most companies WANT to support their products so these CM’s may have decent resources.

A social media community?

Social media communities aren’t actually communities in the traditional (why does that sound odd?) sense.  Oftentimes social media managers evolve into CM’s just due to the fact they’ve got a large set of followers and generally stick to the same subjects.  Companies views these followers as free ad targets predisposed to listen to the message due to affiliation. Followers often aren’t valued as much as end users and thusly fewer resources are spent on the individual and more is spent on marketing to the whole group.  The issue with these groups is that following is based on a social media presence and so the followers must be constantly stimulated by specific and engaging commentary by the personalities they follow.

I’ve consider myself very lucky to have managed some GREAT communities in my career.  To me, it’s SO important to love what you do. This post covers some of the different facets of Community Management and hopefully it helps clarify some of the roles you’ll find within this field.  Perhaps the next time you see a CM job listing you’ll look a little deeper to see what type of position it actually is.

In closing, the role of  “Community Manager” can mean many different things depending on what type of community you’ve been teasked to support.

I’ve only covered a few of the types of communities out there – what other types of communities exist?  What type of CM are you and what kind of CM do YOU want to be?

Thanks for reading!


3 responses to So you want to be a Community Manager?

  • mark says:


    Fantastic post! The virtual CM example with the mommy bloggers was something I’d not thought about because my thinking had really been anchored to physical social channels / properties.

    Sure, there is broader listening and engagement, but I really didn’t think of that within the scope of CM if there wasn’t some associated formalized effort. In hindsight, I readily agree, because much of CM is about influence – creating a positive vibe, encouraging others, helping to spotlight great ideas and content from others that benefit all. Thanks for the fresh perspective!

    As I manage a support community, I naturally gravitated to your thoughts on that and wondered why you said “unfortunately these tend to be forums”. Do you find forums limiting? Could you expand a bit more on this?


  • eric says:

    Mark, thanks for the comment!

    I’m not a huge fan of forums. They’re a great place to ask questions but a horrible place to find answers for all but the most seasoned user. Do YOU like forums?

    I know there isn’t much of an alternative outside of custom engineered interaction. We need to CHALLENGE our engineers!

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