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When To Hire a Community Manager and Questions You Need to Consider

4 minute read

November 17, 2020

If you’re reading this article, you know that building a community takes time, effort, and investment. That’s why you want to hire someone to manage your community.

You’re not the only one. In 2020, organizations in every industry have jumped into online community building like never before. The issue is that many organizations are also struggling with pandemic-related change, uncertainty, fear, and resource constraints. 

Even with limited resources, however, it is crucial to hire the right people and invest appropriately. 

There is no such thing as a self-managing, thriving community. If people feel connected, trusting, and heard, there is someone expending enormous amounts of effort to ensure that’s the case. Someone must do the work. A community manager’s job is to: 

  • Ensure psychological safety inside the community

  • Keep the community focused on the end goal

  • Ensure the community actions align with stated values

  • Share stories

None of these things can be fast-tracked or automated - at least not with today’s technology. So where do you begin? Let’s address the most important considerations for answering this question. 

One of the most common questions I hear from teams investing in community for the first time is: does my community need a full-time community manager? The answer to this question depends on the answer to a different question: how much do you want your community to succeed? Successful communities demand much more attention than most organizations predict. 

However, it is up to your organization who is best suited to do this work, who wants to do this work, and how you delegate all of the work to make your community successful. You may have an employee who wants to step up into the role. If not, don’t let this become a “hot potato” situation, where it keeps getting passed around. That approach will infuse how people feel when they visit the community: frustrated, lost, and uncertain. 

Community Manager Survival Guide

Here are two primary considerations for when and how many people to hire: 

  1. In setting up a launch, you will likely need full-time help from several people to craft a strategy, research members, brainstorm content, and craft the content and programs. 

  2. Once launched, you not only need community guidelines but someone to enforce them. Depending on size and volume, one person may not be enough to enforce policies while ensuring psychological safety. 

When I explain what must go into building a community, organizational leaders often follow with a second question: Should we even start because of all of the time and work required? Sometimes the answer is no. If there is no apparent, compelling reason to bring people together, you have two options: 

  1. You can invest in researching new possibilities for gathering people or double-down on how you have gathered people to date. 

  2. You can invest energy and money elsewhere. 

If you feel desperate to immediately turn a profit and see a transactional return on your efforts, option two will be a better route for you. 

If you’re interested in long-term successful relationships with customers, stakeholders, or partners, I recommend option one. 

If you are concerned about a high upfront investment, start with a few pilot programs with clear project owners. If you have an existing team, have people from that team own each pilot and report on its outcomes. If you don’t have an existing team, hire a consultant or partner to help you experiment purposefully. Review the results of each experiment and decide whether or not to move forward. 

Another common question is: When should we hire a full-time community manager? Every organization, context, and goal differs from the others. What it takes to create a business-to-business community cannot simply be copy-pasted for customer communities. 

The following are questions to consider when thinking of appointing a full-time community manager: 

  • How much time are you spending now on your community?

  • What influence do you aspire to create?

  • What impacts are you creating now?

  • Will the value of a healthy community warrant the investment you're making? (Careful with this one; not all value is financial.) 

As you answer these questions, consider who would be best positioned to cross this distance with you. If there is a large gap between where you are today and where you would like to be in the next few months, it's time to bring on a full-time community manager or strategist. 

If you envision extensive results but do not invest appropriately in a community manager or strategist, you are unlikely to make much progress. Many organizations decide to hold off on hiring a community manager or strategist initially. A few months later, seeing they have barely made any progress, they decide to scrap community initiatives or finally make the invest in a full-time hire, who then has to spend the first few months of the job cleaning up the existing efforts. 

Another vital consideration: What is the opportunity cost of not hiring an experienced professional to lead your community efforts? Opportunity costs are the lost benefits that could have occurred when one option is chosen over another. When you decide to manage a community with only part-time, contract, or no help, you miss out on immediate potential innovation, focus, trust-building, positive experience, and advocacy. You may think you can wait to hire full-time help until you’ve reached one of these potential goals. The truth is, many times you cannot reach that goal until you make the investment in high-quality help. So it takes a little leap of faith, perhaps a faux pas concept in many business contexts. 

If you are comfortable leaving opportunities on the table, then do so and walk away. If you know you could do more if you had extra time and expert resources, it is likely time to hire a full-time community manager. 

When you’re ready to do so, there’s a guide for that. 

Benefits and Impacts of Online Communities

Community

Carrie Melissa Jones

Written by Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.

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