Exploring the Community Manager Role For Business

May 25, 2010

2:47 pm

The idea of managing a community online and off has been around since the earliest days of AOL and Compuserve. Recently, the official role of “community manager” has become more prevalent as social media has taken rise giving consumers a louder voice. Due to this shift, connecting a business with its community has become a higher priority. We recently got a chance to talk with one of our favorite Community Managers, Justin Thorp from D.C. area startup ClearSpring and AddThis. Justin has been recognized in the industry for his community management efforts so we were excited to ask him a few questions about the industry and more specifically the Community Manager role as we look to better understand and define its role in a business.

1. How would you explain what you do to someone who has never heard of the “Community Manager” role before?
My job is to be a primary face of the company to our customer base and the community at large. I work with our existing customer base to make sure that their needs are being met and that they’re up on the latest things that we’re doing. Additionally, I talk with the community at large to help to identify opportunities where we could step in and add value with our product.

2. How did you get started as community manager for Clearspring?
Prior to Clearspring, I worked as a government contractor full time at the Library of Congress. I was exploring new ways that we could tap into online word of mouth to help get distribution of the Library’s content. One of our developers showed me Clearspring.

When I find a product that solves real problems, I get excited and tell my friends about it. This happened with Clearspring. Even though I was just a user of the product, I was putting myself in the position of being an evangelist for the company. This didn’t go un-noticed by Clearspring.

Months later, my job situation changed and I was open to exploring new opportunities. I got an e-mail from the recruiter at Clearspring. I came to talk to the team and I was hooked.

3. What advice would you give someone who was thinking of adding the position to their organization?
First, a Community Manager is the face for your company to a whole lot of your user base. It’s a job that’s way bigger than hiring some really green college sophomore who’s going to setup and monitor your Facebook page. Take hiring this position seriously. Don’t settle.

Second, when looking for a Community Manager, look within your own user base. Who’s your most passionate customer? A Community Manager needs to be able to communicate for the company but more importantly empathize with the needs of the customer.

4. Who are some other Community Managers that you respect for the job they are doing?
Oh so many great people in this space…
Flickr’s former Community Manager Heather Champ was one of the major pioneers in the whole idea of community management. She did this stuff when no one else was thinking about it, 2005.

Thoora’s Head of Magic Saul Colt, formerly of FreshBooks, is someone who I’ve personally gotten to know and who’s greatly influenced me in this area. He did a talk once called “How to Make Love To Your Customers” that articulated a lot of the unformed thoughts that I had about community management.

Others pioneers/heroes of mine are folks like Nikki Scoggins at Vans Shoes, Zappos’ Community Architect Thomas Knoll, MapQuest’s Technical Evangelist Josh Babetski, High Road Communications’ Rayanne Langdon, Graphicly’s CEO Micah Baldwin and a bunch of others.

5. What is the most challenging part of your role as a Community Manager?
First, it takes a lot of work testing different processes to figure out how to scale your community efforts to the size of your customer base. You have to figure out how you’re going to give the same level of love to your customers when you have a million customers as you did when you had a thousand.

Second, no product is perfect. Your product is going to see someone kind of hiccup and you’re going to do have to communicate with your users, listen to their concerns, and hopefully re-gain whatever trust that you lost.

6. How can an organization measure the success of a Community Manager?
Ha, I think this is the most often asked question and probably the hardest to answer. People and relationships are at the core of community management. People and relationships are two things that by their nature are hard to wrap your hands around and define and thus measure.

On one hand, if your product is continuing to get new users at a good pace, you can correlate that this is because you’re being well represented out in the trenches in the community but it’s hard to show a direct relationship between those efforts and the results that come from it.

Have a question or insight about the community manager role? Leave a comment and we can send you a TECH cocktail sticker for your time.

Photo Attribution: Photo of Justin Thorp by technotheory.

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Mark Bebawy (@markbebawy) is a Washington, D.C. metro native with a passion for all things web, social media, and startup related. Mark has an extensive background in technology, having worked in the field running his own IT consulting company that catered to small business.

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