The Mention Blog

A Field Guide to Community Management: Lessons from the Pros

Alex Manthei is Mention’s Community Manager. When he’s not posting silly stuff in our “GIFs Only” Slack room, he tweets at @xoalexo and edits the online literary magazine twowordsfor.com.

Community management is one of the hardest roles in a business to define, especially for startups. Part of the reason for this is the sheer number of ways we now have to communicate with people — and that people now have to communicate with us, and with our companies directly.

Miss that tweet that didn’t include your company’s @name? (30.72% of the tweets mentioning your company won’t include your Twitter handle.) Didn’t catch that one question about your brand on Jelly? Is Jelly even still a thing?

There’s no manual for community management (and this is just a start). We’re sort of figuring it out for ourselves as we go, and it can be daunting coming to the realization that this is a 24/7 role. Especially if you’re laying the groundwork and building a community from scratch.

So to follow up on our recent Field Guide to Content Marketing, we asked a few of our favorite community managers if they had any tools/tips/tricks or insights — things they wish they knew when they first got started.

Here’s what they had to say:

Alex Dao @ Vimeo

Senior Manager, Community Development

Text expanders are key! You don’t want to be overly repetitive, but as a Community Manager there are certain phrases that you’ll find yourself using over and over. You can save yourself a lot of time and effort by having those snippets saved, even if it’s just your email sign off (I use “Thanks for using Vimeo!” about 50 times a day).

I also don’t know what I’d do without TweetDeck. It’s the best Twitter tool I’ve found for managing multiple Twitter accounts.

Advocating for our community every day is so gratifying. Community Managers have unique insight into what their users need and want. It’s great to know that we have a voice in our company’s decisions and that other departments want to hear from our users.

Hands down the best thing about working on Vimeo’s Community team is being surrounded by so much creativity. Our members are ridiculously talented and a big perk of the job is that we get to watch the most inspiring, touching, funny, and weird videos every day. Beyond that, I’m in constant awe of my coworkers, who are incredible artists, filmmakers, photographers, writers, and musicians.

So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s asking your users for feedback or reaching out to people you look up to for advice, people are overwhelmingly willing to help. Just be clear about how they can help and make it as easy as possible for them to do it. Be personal, and be specific.

David Spinks @ CMX

Co-Founder & CEO

Know why you’re there. The hardest challenge for many first time CM’s is they get pulled in a lot of directions, take on a wide range of roles, and end up getting overwhelmed. Make sure you know why you’re there, what the company’s goals are, what the community goals are, and prioritize. Don’t be afraid to say no to something if it’s not in line with the priorities that you’ve set with your team.

The biggest mistakes I’ve made have been more on the personal side than the community management strategy side. I’ve taken on way too much workload, I’ve been unorganized, I’ve failed to stay healthy. It’s happened multiple times. The recovery sometimes was just stepping back, finding some headspace, and reflecting on my priorities. Other times, it was messier, getting fired or having to quit in order to reset myself.

On the community management strategy side, mistakes are okay. I make little mistakes everyday, by posting something that doesn’t resonate with the community, by miscommunicating with community members after I remove a post, by hosting an event that no one shows up for. These are good mistakes though, because it means we’re trying new things and learning from what works and what doesn’t.

Building community is all about making people feel special. If you can make them feel important, needed, like they belong and like they have influence, they’ll be highly engaged in your community. The meaningful connections made at each CMX Summit have been an amazing win for our community. We got there by taking a big risk, going all-in on what was originally just an idea, and focusing all our energy on curating the highest quality content on stage possible.

We’re not the first ones to try to build a community of community professionals. But the level of conversation and activity, and the quality of the members of the CMX community is something I’m really proud of. It’s also different because we’re not just building a community, we’re building an industry, a movement. There’s a huge sense of purpose behind what we’re doing, and it gets me amped every morning I wake up and get to work.

As for my favorite CM tool…dinners. Seriously. A small dinner is the best method I’ve found to create strong bonds amongst a group of likeminded people.

Ashley McGregor Dey @ Indiegogo

Social Media Manager

I love that our campaigners in the Indiegogo community support each other. I see a lot of campaigners tweet about other campaigns and share the love with their own communities.

Always check why a hashtag is trending before just jumping into the conversation! Also pause conversations if something major/newsworthy is happening. Irrelevant scheduled tweets look really bad if everyone is talking about something else that’s tragic, sensitive, timely and taking over all the news.

A couple times I thought I was tweeting on my personal account but it published to a work account. Luckily it wasn’t anything bad, just came off strange. I think it was something about standing in line for a bagel. Got a couple interesting responses and RTs.

Sarah Judd Welch @ Loyal

Founder, Head of Community Design + BD

Many CMs starting out tend to get stuck in the day-to-day execution. It’s always wise to take a strategic step back and understand why a community exists and its unique value-add for its members. From there, every tactic should be mapped to a strategy which should, in hand, be mapped towards a measurable business goal (not just a general community management goal).

We took at face-value what one of our clients told us about their community once; it turned out that they didn’t understand the culture of their community at all and our efforts were flat out rejected by the community. Lesson learned: Never skip stakeholder interviews. Make sure you understand what your community values and why.

Our community inspires us to keep up our external-facing efforts. We had an oyster shucking party last year that was a huge hit. Only a handful of people knew how to shuck oysters, so our guests had to learn from each other which lead to more conversations. Also, oyster shucking can be pretty messy, so we were all forced to be a little bit more human.

I’ve yet to find a single tool that does what I want it to do, so I’ve built a bunch of custom spreadsheet models in Excel for each client’s community needs.

Carrie Jones @ CMX

Editorial Director

Working with CloudPeeps has shown me the power in having really connected founders to building a community. People just love Kate and Shala. They’re so down to earth and care so much about the people they work with. The founders MUST care about the community at an early-stage startup like this.

My biggest learning experience has been to talk to the team you’ll be joining about what problem they are actually building a community to solve before getting started creating a new community or organizing an existing community. Talk to them honestly and cut the BS. In the past, I was afraid to really cut to the chase in this regard, feeling like I was being impolite. That was ridiculous.

Ask honest questions: Does the team understand what community is? Do they know what success looks like for their proposed community management programs? Do they think community and the problems it will solve are big enough to matter to their business?

Don’t be afraid to ask to talk to more people on the team: people in product, a few engineers, a few community members.

Here are just 3 of the community members that I worked with at Chegg, now highlighted on the Chegg Study homepage.

There is a certain level of faith in community building, always. To really do it right, you need to work with people who really believe and understand the power of what you do. It can be alluring when someone tells you that you’ll be leading the charge in building community and teaching them what needs to be done. It feels good to feel needed. But I guarantee you will regret taking on any role where you have to justify and educate others about your job all day. It’s not your job to educate your co-workers about what you do or play political games to get your voice heard. It’s your job to gather people together online and off.

A photo from one of the sfcmgr.com meetups I organize alongside Lucy Bartlett. We hosted the founders of GetSatisfaction at Adobe HQ in SF.

Jenn Pedde @ The Social Element

Lead Community Manager, Co-Founder of #CmgrChat

I accidentally fell into community management when it was basically the wild west of online community and social media tools a few years back. Having a background in event management, communications, and education has helped tremendously.

In the beginning I read every book I could get my hands on; Trust Agents by Chris Brogan, anything by Gary Vaynerchuck, and Unmarketing by Scott Stratten were the early favorites. Since then I’ve read books like The Referral Engine by John Jantsch, Buzzing Communities by Rich Millington, and The Art of Community by Jono Bacon.

I even use some of them as textbooks in my course on Community at Syracuse University (#CMGRclass). This is in addition to what we put on TheCommunityManager.com, and great industry sites like The Community Roundtable, Managing Communities, and CMX. There are elements of sales, marketing, public relations, and customer service in all that community is and does, but it is not any one of those things specifically.

The one piece of advice I’d give a budding community manager? Do your historical research.  What I mean by that is seek out those who have been building communities online and offline for the past 15-20 years. They’ll point you in the right direction every time. When Kelly Lux and I started the Community Manager chat (#cmgrchat) five years ago, we did it so we could meet others and learn from those in similar positions. It’s been a wild ride ever since as the industry continues to grow.

If you would like to see more of the books and resources that Jenn and other CMs suggest, check out this growing list on The Community Manager.  

Do you have any tips for people just getting started in community management? Or are you a beginner with a question that hasn’t been answered in this post? Leave them in the comments and we’ll find a pro to answer them for you!