When and where is a community manager needed?

Exploring the pathways and potentials in community management careers.

  • Community building

In a world where local and online communities are increasingly integral to business, culture, and recreational activities, the role of a community manager has grown in importance. These professionals are pivotal in fostering engagement, building relationships, and ensuring the smooth operation of communities across various environments. But what exactly defines the need for a community manager, and under which circumstances should an organization consider building a community? This article aims to answer these questions, providing insights into when and where a community manager is essential, and outlining the benefits and considerations of cultivating a community.

When it makes sense to build a community

It's important to recognize that a community only emerges where there is a genuine interest in a specific topic or idea. This intrinsic connection to something unites like-minded individuals and drives them to engage actively in the community's life without considering personal gain or time spent.

Building a community is advisable when:

  • The theme encourages social interaction among people: This can include employees within a company, visitors to a fitness club, tourist groups, or members of gaming guilds.
  • The market capacity allows for the unification of people around a particular theme, idea, or interest: If the topic is too niche and the audience too small, it may not always be possible to build a community.
  • The organization or leader has resources for long-term engagement with the community.

Let’s delve deeper into the resources aspect. For a community to thrive and develop, it needs a leader.

The role of a Leader in community management

Understanding how a leader emerges:

  • Self-initiated leadership: You might be the leader if you conceived, organized, and launched the community. Perhaps you've even attracted the initial members and established a core group.
  • Corporate-initiated leadership: In some cases, a company recognizes the need for a community and creates a position specifically for these tasks, hiring a professional community manager.
  • Developing internal leaders: Alternatively, someone may conceive the idea of a community and choose to cultivate a leader from among their colleagues or employees. This could either be a voluntary position or a part-time job.

It is crucial to note that in the second and third scenarios, the roles of the leader and the community manager can either be combined or divided among multiple individuals.

A leader can serve as the visionary and director, planning the community's strategic development, while the community manager acts as the executor. This arrangement is practical if you are in a management position and are passionate about the community idea but lack the free time to interact with community members personally. You might occasionally post updates, attend events, and oversee community projects, but not handle day-to-day operations.

If you started the community as its leader but later realized that you lack the time to manage it effectively, delegate this responsibility as soon as possible. Communities do not tolerate even short periods of "leaderlessness."

Likewise, the community doesn't like being taken care of in a raid, sporadic and random way when the time appears. This is particularly true if the community hasn’t yet reached a plateau of steady member activity.

What companies need a community manager

Community managers are highly sought after by various types of organizations, each with unique needs and goals for their communities. Here are the types of companies that commonly seek the expertise of community managers:

  • Large brands: These companies have vast and diverse audiences. They need community managers to help maintain brand loyalty and engagement across different segments of their consumer base.
  • Startups: For startups, building a supportive community can be crucial for their growth and survival. Community managers help in rallying user support, gaining valuable feedback, and increasing market penetration.
  • Game development studios: These studios often maintain ongoing interactions with their fan-based gaming communities. Community managers in these settings are vital for nurturing the fan base, organizing events, and maintaining excitement around game releases.
  • Organizations with corporate communities: These include businesses that need to develop and retain their workforce through internal community engagement, fostering a positive work environment and enhancing employee satisfaction.
  • Non-profit organizations: Non-profits work with a large number of volunteers and activists. Community managers in these organizations focus on volunteer engagement, coordination, and maintaining high levels of motivation among participants.
  • Small companies and agencies: These entities often require their employees to wear multiple hats, merging roles such as support, content, and community management, or they might work with outsourced specialists to manage their communities.

For novice community managers, it is quite normal to start in a small organization where one might handle support, content creation, and community management simultaneously. With experience, specialists typically narrow their focus and deepen their expertise in the aspects of the job they are most passionate about.

It's also common for community managers to eventually handle multiple communities at once. However, managing several projects can dilute the quality and personal touch of interactions. Moreover, if the projects are scalable, this could lead to professional burnout and disillusionment. Therefore, balancing workload and maintaining quality communication is crucial for sustaining long-term success in the field.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for community managers: setting and understanding

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are the primary analytical metrics used to measure whether we are moving toward a set goal or missing it. For a community manager, understanding and setting the right KPIs is crucial for demonstrating effectiveness and aligning with the community's and organization's objectives.

Setting KPIs

Initially, community managers, especially beginners, might not set their own KPIs; these are often determined by management. However, there are instances where a company may not fully understand the role of a community or the specific tasks of a community manager, leading to inappropriate or unrealistic KPIs. Therefore, it's beneficial for community managers to grasp at least the basics of measuring their work to set their KPIs effectively.

KPIs should primarily stem from the goals of why the community is being built.

A good goal is set using the SMART criteria — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Subsequently, KPIs should be based on current metrics, meaning the community's analytics over some time (at least three months of observation).

Types of Metrics:

  • Quantitative Metrics: These are measured in simple numbers and include the number of participants, community entry applications, number of posts by members, comments, likes, event attendance, etc.
  • Qualitative Metrics: These involve deeper and more complex aspects such as the depth of member interactions, their communication outside the community, the completeness of comments, and the sense of community among members.

For example, if only 5% of all company employees joined an internal corporate community during the last period, possibly due to a lack of promotion or dedicated management, and now there is a focus on content and activities for employees, a goal could be set: to have at least 30% of all company employees in the community within a year.

In this example, we can see that we rely on existing data to set a goal. If you don't have any, you can analyze other communities similar to yours in terms of topic and membership, and set KPIs based on their metrics.

Remember that a community is a living entity influenced by various internal and external circumstances. It's normal if progress towards goals is slower or faster than planned. KPIs should be reviewed and potentially updated every quarter or semi-annually to remain relevant.

Integration with overall goals and strategy

KPIs should not exist in isolation but must be an integral part of the community's goals and development strategy. If you are being incentivized based solely on the number of processed comments or the number of new community members, this could be a poor approach that does not adequately reflect the community manager's role or the health of the community.

Setting and understanding KPIs in community management requires a combination of strategic alignment with organizational goals, realistic target setting based on past data or comparative analysis, and regular updates to reflect changes within the community. This approach ensures that KPIs serve as a useful tool rather than a disconnected metric.

Grades, income, and growth opportunities for community managers

The grading system may differ not only from field to field but also from company to company. The career of a community manager encompasses various grades or levels, each associated with different responsibilities, income, and opportunities for professional growth. Understanding these can help aspiring or current community managers navigate their career paths more effectively.

  • A junior specialist (Junior) is an aspiring community manager with zero or little experience. Junior needs to be able to write texts competently, manage daily posts, respond to comments, and understand the principles of communication with people, as well as know how various social networks work. In some areas like the gaming industry, the requirements may be higher. Tasks and KPIs are set for him/her by more experienced colleagues or managers. Typically, entry-level community managers can expect to earn a starting salary that ranges from $30,000 to $50,000 annually in the United States. This range can vary significantly based on location and the specific industry. For instance, tech and finance sectors might offer higher starting salaries compared to non-profit sectors.
  • A mid-level specialist (Middle) has been working with communities for more than a year and understands how certain tasks are done, develops skills in communication, working with content, organizing events. Middle develops content strategies, analyzes engagement data, and coordinates with other departments (like marketing and customer service) to ensure a cohesive community strategy and understands the specifics of communities in the chosen field of activity. Complex problems are solved together with colleagues or experienced managers, but this is already a more independent specialist. Salary can vary from $50,000 to $75,000 annually. This level might also include benefits and bonuses based on community performance metrics and overall contributions to the company's objectives.
  • A senior community manager (Senior) can both formulate a problem or task and think of ways to solve it. He or she sets tasks for other people in the team, volunteers or subordinates, and can lead a department or even lead a direction. A Senior oversees multiple communities or large, diverse ones, sets strategic community goals, and mentors junior community managers. He or she is a communicator either with experience in the market he is working with or familiar with the community of that market or product. Income can range from $75,000 to over $100,000 annually. In top companies, especially in high-paying industries or in regions with high costs of living, salaries can go significantly higher.
  • A lead community manager (Lead) is adept at establishing direction, setting goals, defining tasks, reviewing performance metrics, and even translating the needs of the business or project into practical community management strategies. A Lead needs to be well-versed in marketing, management, PR, and customer support, possessing diverse skills and strong connections within the industry. While not always having direct reports (similar to previous grades), Leads are often capable of building a department from scratch. He or she usually oversees a team of community managers, ensuring that they are effective in their roles. This includes training new managers, providing ongoing mentorship, and helping resolve complex issues that arise within the community. Depending on the industry and company, incomes range from $90,000 to over $120,000 annually.
  • A Chief Community Officer (CCO) is typically an individual with experience in business or production. CCO possesses the ability not only to establish a direction for a large company from scratch but also to launch IT products, implement methodologies into business processes, and have market knowledge that includes personal acquaintances with key figures. He or she often has their own connections with journalists, evangelists, and decision-makers. Such individuals are extremely rare in the market, and they seldom change companies without significant reason. The base salary for a Chief Community Officer generally ranges from approximately $120,000 to over $200,000 annually. In larger companies or highly competitive industries (such as technology or finance), this salary can exceed $250,000. When including bonuses, profit-sharing, and stock options, the total compensation for a CCO can significantly increase. The total annual compensation can often range from $150,000 to $300,000 or more, depending on the company's performance, the CCO's contributions, and other variable factors.

Based on the different grades within community management, there are primarily two paths for career progression:

  • Horizontal Growth: This involves changing projects, work conditions, or office locations. Horizontal growth can also include a career shift where community managers might move into roles such as game design, while leads might transition into production roles.
  • Vertical Growth: This path ranges from novice to expert levels, leading up to roles such as department heads or even division leaders. Organizations often use a clear grading system with a transparent competency matrix at each level, typically ranging from three to nine levels up to and including the senior level.

The income figures provided above serve only as a general guideline. In reality, the salaries and responsibilities of community management professionals can vary greatly. Many community managers start their careers in internships, part-time positions, or managing social media accounts on a volunteer basis, sometimes compensated with in-game currency or merchandise.

However, it is important to value your work and seek out positions that offer fair compensation.

As the field of community management continues to evolve, opportunities for both financial and professional growth are expanding, making it a promising career choice for those passionate about building and nurturing community ties.

Published: May 10, 2024