Community Manager – Guardian of the User Experience?

Posted on 02 June 2011

I’m often reminded of the veritable fact that I don’t “own the company.”

While it’s true that I don’t own the company I certainly feel a responsibility to ensure the user experience (UX) is the best that it can be.

Most CMs are typically community members which puts them in a unique position to understand the needs of the end user.  As CM’s we’re expected to represent those needs to our employer and work with various groups within the company towards improving the overall UX.

While there are many people who want input and control over the UX, the CM is probably the closest employee to that user experience.  It’s critical that whoever is responsible for the UX be an actual member of the community!

We’re often put in between a rock and hard place (id est – company and end user), but that’s part of the job and something most CMs are accustomed to.  Of course, employers are most concerned about the company, which is as it should be.  That’s why they hire a CM to be concerned about the community.  But, what happens when your goals and your employer’s goals for the UX are vastly different?  This raises questions such as:

  • Should a CM have input into (or own) the UX?
  • Can someone who’s not a participating member of the community effectively plot a course for the UX?
  • Who (or what) in your company drives the UX?  Short-term profit?  Long-term profit?  Feedback?  End users? Usability? Design? 3rd party vendors?
  • How much does your company care about the UX if the community isn’t counted on for a sizable amount of direct revenue?

For me, those answers are easy, and they may seem like no-brainers to everyone reading this…but do you know how your employer would answer those questions?

If those answers aren’t consistent with your ideals then you’ve got a decision to make.  You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to question, challenge, correct, comply, capitulate or quit.

After tweeting some of my thoughts on the subject I received a lot of feedback that gave me pause for thought:

Perhaps it wasn’t healthy to adopt a mentality of ownership so I needed to shift my perspective.  Upon reflection, and feedback (which I appreciate!) I decided to amend my stance by substituting the word “owner” with “guardian.”

“Guardian” is more appropriate, fits much better into the concepts I want to promote and it’s closer to how I really feel.  It’s important for the community (and to me personally) that the end users trust a CM is doing his or her best to represent member needs, which isn’t easy if you are at odds with someone over the UX.

Improving the user experience on a daily basis is what fuels me, whether it’s thwarting spammers, passing along positive feedback, helping resolve a customer issue, or pushing a particular bug ticket through to the engineers.

That’s what drives me.  Is that what drives you?

Is that what drives your employer?

Are you ok with the answers if they aren’t in line with yours?

Who’s responsible for the user experience in your community?



A special thanks to Rick, Collin, Brittany, Jenn, Shawn, Evan, and TheCR for all the feedback!

4 responses to Community Manager – Guardian of the User Experience?

  • Kari O'Brien says:

    Confession – just skimmed this.

    But as a Community “Strategist” I have massive amounts of control over the UX. I force another “button”, “widget”, “design improvement” or “bookmark” on our IT team almost every week.

    I love watching the site grow and develop and the positive feedback from our members. Like on Twitter, I’m becoming “friends” with my community members. It’s a fun, and at times frustrating experience!

    The best part of being a “strategist” is by year end I’m going to be involved in our first redesign project. We’re also working on digital projects which will change what we offer our customer base.

    After working in an agency world where you jump in out, throwing together projects and then turning your “babies” over to the client, in becoming a Community Strategist, I had to commit myself.

    Everytime I add something, send a mass email, change a strategy or just log-in each morning, I feel my stomach crunch as I wait to see if my ideas are sinking or swimming. It’s awarding and risky!

    Kari O’Brien
    Community Strategist
    The Science Advisory Board

  • Megan Berry says:

    Great post! I often feel protective of users/ the community and want to ensure they’re getting the best experience possible. I think everyone wins when you bring that perspective to the table, but it helps to have a product team that lives for UX as well (as I’m happy to say we do at Klout).

    Marketing Manager, Klout

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