Transitioning into managing an existing community is hard. However, there are some tricks of the trade to help make you a rockstar CM (community manager) in your transition into an existing community; minus the mohawk.
Greet your new community with enthusiasm
Get friendly fast! Introduce yourself to everyone and let them know that you’re joining the team. It’s ok to introduce yourself and confront any concerns with delightful enthusiasm, for example, say:
“Hey I’m Alex! I’m excited to join this community and look forward to working (with ‘other community manager’, or and/or building off of ‘other community managers’ work!).
I can't tell you how grateful I am to join such an active and engaged for all of you in this community.
You're all doing work that is selfless and inspiring, and I look forward to waking wake up everyday knowing that we're doing meaningful work. We will also help each other do what we do better.
You're all incredibly important members of this community and we're so glad you're here! We've got some super exciting things planned, and I can't wait to work with you all more and hear your awesome ideas.”
<<<**Insert funny GIF>>>>
(**this is required) ;)
Be enthusiastic while also mentioning that you are open to hearing their feedback and ideas; but make it general enough that you aren’t committing to anything while you are still new.
Always leave a paper trail
One of the hardest parts of going into an established community as a new manager is not knowing: current processes, tools, how things work, strategy, and existing relationships and dynamics -- which is perhaps the hardest. Get organized internally before you go external by learning these things and create an easy system to file your ‘paper’ trail.
You probably won’t be at your job for the rest of your life, and when you leave a new CM will likely take your place. By keeping a paper trail, you will make it easier for the new CM to slide into your shoes; and hopefully the CM before you left a paper trail that helped you get started. It’s also really important for your own organizational purposes - at least for me, as I have a terrible memory!
Another way to put this is to leave the park better than you found it, if you see trash on the ground pick it up to help keep it beautiful. Go the extra mile to document and write out what you’re working on and where you are in your projects. The amount of times that I’ve started a new job not knowing the relationship dynamics, scope of work, or even the basic logins and technology used is more than I can count. It’s frustrating to say the least and adds stress to a new position that can make you feel overwhelmed.
Leaving a paper trail will not only help you be more organized while managing the community, but it will also help the next person who fills your shoes. In short, it’ll save you time in the long run and it’s just good manners to those who follow in your footsteps. You also have something tangible you can look back on and appreciate all you’ve accomplished!
Understand the type of community you’re managing
Do research into what you’re getting into - hopefully you did this before the interview!? Try to understand the type of community, and the tone of voice. Answer the following questions before you start actively managing the community:
- What type of community is it?
- What’s the community objective?
- Who’s the target audience and key members of the community?
- What’s the tone, is it instructional? Collaborative? Or even a place for debating?
- What is the value of the community for it’s users?
- What is the value of the community for the company?
- Does the community play a big part in sales and advocacy? Or does it fill a support role?
- What are the most important features? Do these aid in filling the value needs of the users and the company?
Take time to get organized and understand initiatives and features, as well as prioritize your time and figure out how you can create value. You want to be able to show the value you bring to both the company and community members - this can be a hard thing to do as a new community manager. Listen to feedback from users and understand the community goals. It’s also good to jot down your ideas and prioritize them.
Make sure you also understand the voice and tone of the community. It’s better to be slightly safer than sorry, especially when you are new. You are eager to pull the trigger and post as much as you can as fast as your can; because you want to get your face out there... But, you need to take it slow, remember you crawl before you walk and walk before you run.
You don’t want to under or over-promise, as this will make you look ill prepared and inexperienced, or worse it will make your team appear disorganized and like you’re not working together. Make certain that anything, and everything, you post has been looked over and fact checked.
You don’t want to post inaccurate information as doing so will lose any credibility you may have gained. It’s much easier to lose the users trust than it is to gain in the first place, so if you are unsure of something then DON’T POST IT!
Starting out you won’t know the current relationship dynamics. It’s good to have an open, and caring approach so that you can learn these. Listen to user feedback and I’m sure you will get up to speed with all the known issues, both big and small.
Ideally, your team can give you a crash course in what the typical issues and concerns are; but this is something you will find out from working with the users anyway. Just tread lightly, and be smart about it.
Respond to any criticisms and questions in an open manner. Don’t commit to anything, but also be direct in saying that their concerns are top-of-mind and important and you will look into possible resolutions and get back to them. If you say you will get back to them, then make sure you do! It may help if you can give them a timeline, but even if you can’t, check in and let them know that you are still working on it. This ensures that they know you’re on it and you haven’t forgotten.
It’s easy as a new community manager to want to take on the world and fix all the problems. Remember that these problems are hard because there are dependencies, constraints and priorities that have to be considered. You need to keep this in mind before promising the world with rose-tinted glasses.
Bring your own style to your posts and interactions.
It’s important to stay true to yourself and bring your own style. Bring your unique voice to the way you interact with your members and write.
Even if you are representing a brand, and a company, add a little of your personality and flare. Maybe it’s as simple as using “ya’ll” instead of “you all” with an emoji. Be authentic though, and be consistent.
This is also important when confronting users when negative things occur. If you build trust first, they will see you more as a real person and it will be an easier conversation.
I’m a big fan of an “Introduce Yourself” thread. This gets the community talking, and building relationships. It also helps them learn more about the person you are behind the user icon.
Please, please, don’t have an avatar for your profile image - have a real picture of your face and use a real bio. Include something quirky about yourself, and make sure you include information that shows what makes you fit to be a CM.
Be the comunity manager that you wish to see in the community.
Here’s the twist! Be the community manager that you’d want when coming into a community as an user. In other words, (to kinda steal from Gandhi) be the community manager you wish to see.
Make things as simple and easy for your users, and other internal staff members, as possible. This will build your credibility while also increasing user activity and contributions! Make sure that new and existing users in the community know exactly what is expected of them, where to do what, and how to behave.
Be visible! Be helpful! Be responsive! Be curious!
You won’t know all the answers, so don’t pretend to. Take it as an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. Relish in gaining this new knowledge and have those conversations early and often.
Author Alexandra Bowen is a Community and Developer Relations Manager for OutSystemsDev. She has mostly worked as a Community Manager for Tech companies and startups. She has created Community and Social Media strategies from the ground up and has been a one person community team who wears tons of hats.