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Brainyard’s Community Manager Webinar: Your Questions Answered

Wow!  What a great webinar we were part of yesterday.  I presented alongside Sandy Carter of IBM and we had a great conversation about community management and community managers.  Thank you to the many great people from a wide variety of companies on the call, some of whom are just starting out on this community/social business adventure.  And thank you for all of the great questions.  We had so many, that we were not able to get to them all.  So Sandy and I are answering them on our blogs.  Here is her post.

As always, we are happy to further answer questions and discuss community management anytime.  Just shout!

1) What’s your experience with current managers becoming community managers?

Whether someone will be successful as a community manager has less to do with the title they’ve had in the past and more to do with how they approach work in general.  If they approach work collaboratively, are good listeners, like to make connections, can think on their feet and problem-solve well and enjoy interacting with others with a smile (even when those “others” get cranky) they are already a community manager.  They just don’t have that title and may not know it yet.

2) Shouldn’t community managers have project management experience, or can they learn as they go?

As with any business initiative, project management experience is definitely helpful when managing a community but there are also many things that come up unexpectedly and community managers need to be ready to shift and adapt the plan as needed which can be challenging for people too vested in a formal project management approach.  The level to which project management is helpful is also dependent on the seniority of the role – for the person primarily charged with engagement organization is likely more helpful than project management but as a community manager becomes responsible for planning, budgeting or editorial calendars they will need this skill set.

3) How do community managers justify their costs/salaries and measure their worth?

The best way for community managers to justify their cost is to have a very crisp set of goals for the community and understand the value to the organization of achieving those goals. Some goals can be directly measured in financial gain (support call avoidance, marketing leads, reduced internal meetings, higher response rates and close rates on sales leads) which should make the calculation straight forward and other goals like general collaboration, branding, thought leadership are a bit more indirect. Regardless everyone in organizations – including community managers – should understand what value they contribute in exchange for their salary.

4) What are some examples of how to get lurkers to participate and engage?

As some of you may know there is a long standing “90-9-1 rule” that says 90% of users are lurkers, 9% contribute a little and 1% contribute a lot. This rule of thumb is good for large consumer communities but not as much for closed communities which tend to see a much higher level of engagement. It is first important to understand what engagement level you need to successfully achieve your goal and keep in mind that with anything involving communications, lurking has a great deal of value – it means the content was valuable. However successful communities are about more than content, they are about relationships and that is where engagement is most valuable.

Here are some of the good practices in encouraging engagement:

  • Make sure new members are welcomed – depending on the size of the community this could be an email, a special group or a new member event.
  • Give new members something to do immediately and don’t make them have to figure it out. Early engagement is a good long term predictor of engagement levels.
  • Backchannel to encourage a set of quiet members to step up. This could also be an email sent to anyone who has yet to contribute or it could be an email or call directly from the community manager.
  • Ask active members to reach out to their quiet peers within the community.
  • Support a level of controversy that incites engagement. Innovation and ideas don’t start in a vacuum – different perspectives are necessary. A community manager is critical in facilitating a constructive and respectful dialog about differences.

5)  Do you find different types of industries use community managers more than others i.e. regulated vs. less-regulated industries?

We find the community management works well for all but interestingly, more regulated industries often have more success with community management because they recognize the need for it earlier.  For example the military was one of the first to figure out how to effect large scale change through community initiatives.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive but it’s not.

6) How do communities serve non-profits?

Many non-profits have developed and are growing their own communities.  And some are good at making sure they are managed while others are not.  You can see the danger of not knowing your community or listening closely to them through the recent problems the Susan G. Komen Foundation experienced when they shifted funding priorities.

7) Do you have to be an expert in the community domain to be respected as a community manager?

No.  I think the community will respect someone that shows them respect and becomes part of the community while also listening to it and looking out for both the members’ interests and the greater interests of the community.  While there are skills that make a good community manager (see question 1) I don’t believe they are exclusive to those that are experts in the community space.

8 ) Is it best to bring in older but wiser experts that aren’t really comfortable with social media? 

Honestly, it depends on the community.  Would your audience respond better to an older/wiser community manager who may not be as well versed in the technology or would they rather have a younger more energetic one that knows the tech but not the subject matter as well?  Each community is different and knowing your community is key in picking the right fit.

9) What’s a good source of training for community managers?

Well, obviously we think our training program created with in conjunction with WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) and ComBlu is a great program…and we have a new session starting May 15.  But we may be biased.  Here is a good synopsis of available training courses.

10) What is Community Manager Appreciation Day and where can I find out more information on it?

This event was started in 2010 by Jeremiah Owyang.  Each year people are encouraged to sincerely thank their online community managers for all the hard (and often unseen) work they put in all year.  You can learn more about it here, here and here.


The Community Roundtable’s core product is TheCR Network, a membership network that provides strategic, tactical and professional development programming for community and social business leaders. The network enables members to connect and form lasting relationships with experts and peers as well as get access to vetted content.

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