An Open Letter to Founders: Creating a Community Strategy That Actually Works


community manager

You determined you needed it, you allocated funds and you hired your first community manager — congratulations!

That first week, you met your new hire and explained that his or her job is to “figure out” all of the “community stuff.”  Now, 3 months later, maybe you’re getting antsy and impatient because you haven’t seen the results you’d like to see.

What should you do?

Here are 9 pointers for working with your community manager to create a strategy you can both get behind.

1. Community management is different from marketing.

There are many places where business development, marketing and community management (and even support) intersect, overlap and diverge.  A key reason that these areas diverge is that there are actually two different kinds of funnels.

  • Customer funnel – Focuses on ToFu, MoFu and BoFu.
  • Community funnel – Focuses on people already using the product (retention), and creating a welcoming environment for those yet to join.

The needs (and tone) of those who have not yet adopted your product are often quite different from those who are already community members.  It is the job of the community manager to be the spokesperson of those who already belong, as well as making the community an inviting place for those yet to join.  Again, this may intersect with your marketing goals, but not all of the time.

2. Provide transparency about the big picture.

Walk your community manager through what you’ve done in the past, and the future direction/larger picture for your company/product.  Let them know what kinds of results you expect to see, and within what timeframe.  Knowing these details, your community manager is well informed on how to approach strategy.  Communication is key, and you need to work together to determine where the short and long-term goals lie.

3. Define goals.

Because this role means different things to different companies (and even different things at different points in a company’s growth), you need to define in which areas the community’s focus should be, how much time should be allocated to each focus and how much is external vs. internal.  Be ready to adjust those areas of focus over time as the needs of the company and/or community grow or shift.  A sample list of areas of focus includes:

  • Product input (they are the link to your customers, after all).
  • In-person events.
  • Social media (and in what way).
  • Recruiting.
  • Editing/writing/moderating for the company blog(s).
  • Setting tone/style for all copy.
  • Support channels.
  • Sponsorships.
  • Nurturing leads in an affiliate program.
  • Sales.
  • Customer outreach.
  • Internal CM for the team.

4. Why is your community manager doing your payroll?

Utilize the talent you have in front of you by letting your community manager do what they’re best at – creating, building and maintaining a community in tandem with your product.  Here are a few areas that don’t need your community manager’s involvement.

  • Operations
  • HR
  • Payroll
  • Legal
  • Office maintenance

5. Take inventory.

At the beginning, sit down with your community manager to help take inventory of how and where your community is currently interacting, and to generate ideas together for where you can amplify or grow these spaces.  Work with your community manager to come up with a few strategies to execute on those ideas.  This is, of course, a much bigger project than I’m giving it space for here, and probably needs its own article.

6. Be targeted with strategy.

Remember the scientific method from chemistry class?  Use it.  Allow your community manager the freedom to be targeted, and focus on one main variable.  This way your community manager can have a clear end goal in mind, come up with a strategy, control for variables, try specific tactics, measure results and evaluate whether or not it worked.

7. Frequent check-ins are important.

That’s something old-school businesses have gotten right.  Weekly check-ins are a great idea.  You can use those talks to discuss progress, new ideas, approvals and do some general idea-bouncing.  A quarterly meeting, dedicated to focusing on how community projects are going, is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page.  You can hash out goals for the quarter together, and drill down into when things will happen by month.  At the beginning of the new quarter, review progress, see which projects lagged and re-evaluate the goals.  You may discover, for example, that something you thought would take a month actually sparked bigger questions about the values/direction/branding for the company, and that you’d like to resolve those questions first.

8. Be open to experimentation.

You won’t know what a new platform or idea is capable of unless you allow for breathing room to see what’s possible.  Give space for your community manager to try new things, to learn as much from the successes as from the failures.  If an idea fails, your community manager should be able to determine why and where it failed (this can run the gamut from the thesis, the execution, the perceived reception, the measurement and anywhere in between).  Give experiments time to run their course, and then allow your community manager the space to build from the lessons learned.

9. Allocate resources.

Everyone, from the farmer to the accountant, needs resources to do their job successfully.  If your community manager is spending time on customer support for your product, don’t cut them off at the knees by not providing developer backup for bugs and bug fixes (especially if they express concern over the tide of angry customer complaints).  The community manager role may be one that is harder to map out in the company structure, but don’t orphan them, or leave them to fend for themselves – you are on a team.  Set them up for success.

If you follow these pointers, great job!  You have set your community manager up for success by giving helpful information, alongside the necessary tools and breathing room, to wrangle a strategy that works with your community, and one that the company can fully support.  Everybody wins!

Reprinted by permission.

Photo cred: John O’Nolan via Compfight

About the author: Karen Schoellkopf

Karen wrangles all things social, both in person and online.  She runs events and all things community at Harvest, including citywide WalkaboutNYC events.  She’s a super fan (and creator) of arts and crafts alike, and is continuing her goal of walking 5 miles a day.

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