Essential Skills of a Community Manager

party Community manager is a role that more companies will adopt in the coming years. Jeremiah Owyang provide a huge list of companies who have such a champion already, and more recently gave businesses a scorecard for whether startups should have a community manager.


Here, I’ve talked about managing a community and what it takes. I’ve discussed what I want in a social media expert. I’ve even written about how we might do community management wrong. Here are some pieces of the puzzle that I think are vital to the role, and to its adoption for most businesses. Tell me what you think.

The Essential Skills of a Community Manager

The best community managers are like a good party host mixed with a fine restaurant host. I make a distinction because a party is more personal and a restaurant requires their host to think with a business mind. Community managers need both skillsets in equal space. A party host will connect people together, praise incoming guests appropriately, maintain conversations throughout the event, and see everyone safely off with a smile and a wave. A restaurant host must be certain the ambiance is just right, know that the kitchen is functioning appropriately, and help the rest of the staff pull off a flawless dining experience. The blend of the two mindsets suit a company’s community manager well.

Community managers must be experienced communicators. One thing a communicator needs to do well is LISTEN. Part of that involves building sites and community spaces such that people have a place to engage you directly, and part of that means using listening tools to understand what’s being said about you elsewhere. Upon hearing and understanding, a community manager should engage with their own authentic voice, not with a marketing message.

Community managers are ambassadors and advocates in one. This is complex, but a community manager’s first responsibility is to her employer, and yet, she must convey the voice of the people (customers and other stakeholders) such that the company fully understands the mood of the marketplace, the needs of the people, and the customer’s intentions. Further, the community manager must clearly understand the community’s position in the marketplace and communicate that in such a way that customers don’t feel they are being fed a line.


Community managers are bodyguards and protectors. Some communities find a bad apple in their midst. A solid community manager will understand the difference between a vocal critic and a curmudgeonly troll. Knowing when to remove someone politely and quickly from the party is an important matter. The rest of your guests will appreciate this. Just be sure that you know the difference.

Community managers must build actionable reports. It’s not good enough to send emails to your leadership saying, “We had 54 comments on that last blog post.” Metrics and reports appropriate to your organization are necessary to weigh the value of these efforts. Understanding the goals of your organization’s use of social media, and especially the relationship marketing expressed within having a community manager position in the first place are the key to understanding what to measure (I have several measurements I’ve communicated to companies over the last few months, each reasonably different).

Community managers cultivate internal teams for further support. As community managers are the face of the organization (or “a” face) to your online customers, being sure to promote internal champions, leaders, and other teammates becomes important. One reason is that you want your customers and stakeholders to realize the humanity within the company. Another reason is more for the company’s benefit: should the community manager leave the organization, some level of continuity might be salvaged.


Your Take

I’ve given you my ideas on what I find essential to a community manager role. I’m curious how you’d apply this to your needs, and/or if you can see what I might have missed. Your thoughts are valued.

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

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  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    Great post Chris, and AWESOME comments everyone.

    One point I would add is that Community Managers need to be comfortable becoming the face and voice of the company.

    This sounds like a given, but it’s so important. As a Community Manager, you want to make sure that you REALLY want to be the person customers call out by name. You want to make sure that you really are an advocate for your company, and deeply interested in its success and the success of its customers.

    Otherwise, you won’t fight for the things worth fighting for. You won’t go the extra mile to make sure one single customer feels like the most important person in the world. You won’t put in the time needed to nurture relationships, and you will have a very hard time delivering the value that you should be.

  • skyle

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the post. I love #1.

    Having worked in the restaurant business for years, it’s a great analogy and way to think about managing a community. It’s the ideal social business setting, serving up community with a fork and spoon.

    And when did we all stop listening? Listening is underrated. I feel as though everyone is waiting to speak, to be heard,…hmm
    I’ve been practicing just listening for a couple of months-actually paying attention to this. The result of which I hear many people wondering, why I am “just listening?”

    @Lee Kent good points on facilitating introductions to/in your community! A key point and seems forgotten at times, yes? Chris is very good at leading by example here, connecting others to each other brings them back to the community through you, your company, your community, etc.

  • skyle

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the post. I love #1.

    Having worked in the restaurant business for years, it’s a great analogy and way to think about managing a community. It’s the ideal social business setting, serving up community with a fork and spoon.

    And when did we all stop listening? Listening is underrated. I feel as though everyone is waiting to speak, to be heard,…hmm
    I’ve been practicing just listening for a couple of months-actually paying attention to this. The result of which I hear many people wondering, why I am “just listening?”

    @Lee Kent good points on facilitating introductions to/in your community! A key point and seems forgotten at times, yes? Chris is very good at leading by example here, connecting others to each other brings them back to the community through you, your company, your community, etc.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Neil- I stand corrected. I probably would try to turn him to the good side of the force, as you pointed out. : )

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Neil- I stand corrected. I probably would try to turn him to the good side of the force, as you pointed out. : )

  • http://www.urbanmelt.com Emil Wisch

    Question for CMs:

    I, personally, love brutal honesty and business people being themselves, uncensored.

    With your personal and work life coming so close together, where do YOU draw the line when it comes to honesty, humor/sarcasm, and the language you use?

    I believe it really depends on the many factors of the community/customers you ‘serve’. But, does anyone follow a general rule? I really just try to be myself without knowingly offending anyone.

    Would love to hear your thoughts,

    Emil
    @urbanmelt

  • http://www.urbanmelt.com Emil Wisch

    Question for CMs:

    I, personally, love brutal honesty and business people being themselves, uncensored.

    With your personal and work life coming so close together, where do YOU draw the line when it comes to honesty, humor/sarcasm, and the language you use?

    I believe it really depends on the many factors of the community/customers you ‘serve’. But, does anyone follow a general rule? I really just try to be myself without knowingly offending anyone.

    Would love to hear your thoughts,

    Emil
    @urbanmelt

  • http://BatchBlue.com Pamela O’Hara

    @Jessie – great point. And just to expand on my earlier point, I think it is also important that the company be comfortable having the community manager be the face and voice of the company. I am a business owner and there are times when our community managers (not their official titles – we are a small business, so we all wear many hats) are handling conversations a little differently than I would. I’m fine with that because they are very smart, enthusiastic and entertaining communicators who understand our larger mission. So I trust them to represent us well and I just stay out of the way (except when I get excited by a conversation and decide to jump in myself).

  • http://BatchBlue.com Pamela O’Hara

    @Jessie – great point. And just to expand on my earlier point, I think it is also important that the company be comfortable having the community manager be the face and voice of the company. I am a business owner and there are times when our community managers (not their official titles – we are a small business, so we all wear many hats) are handling conversations a little differently than I would. I’m fine with that because they are very smart, enthusiastic and entertaining communicators who understand our larger mission. So I trust them to represent us well and I just stay out of the way (except when I get excited by a conversation and decide to jump in myself).

  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    Exactly Pamela, thanks for finishing my comment for me. :-)

    I had started down that path, but my comment was already getting too long. Great, great points.

    I think the key is found in your comment about your own community managers – they understand the larger mission of the business. That needs to be communicated, and once you are comfortable with their understanding, you’ve got to let them be themselves. If you don’t, you can’t expect them to feel like they are really the voice/face of the company that they need to be comfortable being.

  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    Exactly Pamela, thanks for finishing my comment for me. :-)

    I had started down that path, but my comment was already getting too long. Great, great points.

    I think the key is found in your comment about your own community managers – they understand the larger mission of the business. That needs to be communicated, and once you are comfortable with their understanding, you’ve got to let them be themselves. If you don’t, you can’t expect them to feel like they are really the voice/face of the company that they need to be comfortable being.

  • http://www.threxy.com Samantha

    Jesse, Pamela — I’d add my $.02 here onto your thoughtful posts, that is the Community Mangers need to have a very clear vision and logistical understanding of what the company’s legal structures involve. What does the Privacy Policy say? What’s the TOS like?

    Secondly, I’d add that a true community manager can lead users to content and services that they want them to follow without being a poser.

  • http://www.threxy.com Samantha

    Jesse, Pamela — I’d add my $.02 here onto your thoughtful posts, that is the Community Mangers need to have a very clear vision and logistical understanding of what the company’s legal structures involve. What does the Privacy Policy say? What’s the TOS like?

    Secondly, I’d add that a true community manager can lead users to content and services that they want them to follow without being a poser.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Wow! This conversation is huge and all over the place. What I love the most is that you’re engaging each other. Keep up the amazing work. You rule. : )

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Wow! This conversation is huge and all over the place. What I love the most is that you’re engaging each other. Keep up the amazing work. You rule. : )

  • http://www.csc.com Mark Neff

    Nice post. Bottom line, community managers need to be able to act as bridges. Listen to their members to see what they need and then help them find it. Listen to what others outside their community need and then connect people in the community to the needs that exist outside the community. They need to have feet in both camps. They need to look outward and inward. Just serving their members will be great for the members but they won’t grow. Just serving the customers outside the community is great for business but the people will not see the value and they will show their loyalty with their feet and walk away. Keeping a healthy balance and being willing to ask for help to share the load as well as the wealth of being a community leader are keys to growing the community while delivering value. If the community is not delivering value to its members or its customers, then I am not sure what they are doing or how long they will hang on. Thanks for getting this discussion going. Obviously there is a lot of passionate individuals that have a lot to share and say about this important role and the people that do this kind of work. Keep up the great posts.

  • http://www.csc.com Mark Neff

    Nice post. Bottom line, community managers need to be able to act as bridges. Listen to their members to see what they need and then help them find it. Listen to what others outside their community need and then connect people in the community to the needs that exist outside the community. They need to have feet in both camps. They need to look outward and inward. Just serving their members will be great for the members but they won’t grow. Just serving the customers outside the community is great for business but the people will not see the value and they will show their loyalty with their feet and walk away. Keeping a healthy balance and being willing to ask for help to share the load as well as the wealth of being a community leader are keys to growing the community while delivering value. If the community is not delivering value to its members or its customers, then I am not sure what they are doing or how long they will hang on. Thanks for getting this discussion going. Obviously there is a lot of passionate individuals that have a lot to share and say about this important role and the people that do this kind of work. Keep up the great posts.

  • http://BatchBlue.com Pamela O’Hara

    @Jesse – glad to find a kindred Community Manager philosophy spirit :)

    @Samantha – you are so right. The way a company empowers a CM is twofold; give them access to the right information and give them the authority to represent it in the community. The CM must have access to the happenings in product development, customer service, marketing efforts, (as you point out) legal issues, etc. Without that they are just having the wrong (or at least uninformed) conversations.

  • http://BatchBlue.com Pamela O’Hara

    @Jesse – glad to find a kindred Community Manager philosophy spirit :)

    @Samantha – you are so right. The way a company empowers a CM is twofold; give them access to the right information and give them the authority to represent it in the community. The CM must have access to the happenings in product development, customer service, marketing efforts, (as you point out) legal issues, etc. Without that they are just having the wrong (or at least uninformed) conversations.

  • http://www.rubbergenius.co.uk Peer Lawther

    From my years as a community manager I found that it encompassed most of skills listed in Chris’s post, but one important issue not mentioned was being able to go to internal stakeholders and get them to act, for the good of the community. We CMs can talk the talk (perhaps very openly and honestly), but the company behind us also needs to walk the walk for it to be a success.

    Community Managers can listen, but a lot of the time they’re seen as conduits to the people that the community *really* want to reach – and if the company at large doesn’t react then the community isn’t working, usually despite the CM’s best efforts.

    Yes, personal experience taught me this, but if right person (whether it’s a director, a manager or heck, perhaps even a janitor in some situations) doesn’t understand the power of the community then no amount of listening, party-hosting and bridge-building from the CM will help.

    In other words, there has to be an institutional change of emphasis towards a more honest and open regime otherwise (rightly or wrongly) any efforts by CM are seen by the community as little more than lip service.

    Great article though!

  • http://www.rubbergenius.co.uk Peer Lawther

    From my years as a community manager I found that it encompassed most of skills listed in Chris’s post, but one important issue not mentioned was being able to go to internal stakeholders and get them to act, for the good of the community. We CMs can talk the talk (perhaps very openly and honestly), but the company behind us also needs to walk the walk for it to be a success.

    Community Managers can listen, but a lot of the time they’re seen as conduits to the people that the community *really* want to reach – and if the company at large doesn’t react then the community isn’t working, usually despite the CM’s best efforts.

    Yes, personal experience taught me this, but if right person (whether it’s a director, a manager or heck, perhaps even a janitor in some situations) doesn’t understand the power of the community then no amount of listening, party-hosting and bridge-building from the CM will help.

    In other words, there has to be an institutional change of emphasis towards a more honest and open regime otherwise (rightly or wrongly) any efforts by CM are seen by the community as little more than lip service.

    Great article though!

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  • http://www.mediabadger.com Webconomist

    Great list for building Best Practices for building a Social Media practice.

    I would only add;

    An advocate for the brand, with an understanding of brand values, systems and the brand one is representing.

  • http://www.mediabadger.com Webconomist

    Great list for building Best Practices for building a Social Media practice.

    I would only add;

    An advocate for the brand, with an understanding of brand values, systems and the brand one is representing.

  • http://blog.angelaconnor.com AngelaConnor

    I think you’re dead on in your assessment. As community managers, we have to genuinely care about the community and have an unwavering commitment to make it grow. An amazing amount of patience and high tolerance for drama are both handy attributes as well. Really, it’s not a job that ends when you walk out of the office or leave your computer. You have to have ideas and find ways to execute them quickly. And I would also add that you have to take risks. Try something new every day until you find the right fit. Then, start looking for the next.

  • http://onlinecommunitystrategist.wordpress.com Angela Connor

    I think you’re dead on in your assessment. As community managers, we have to genuinely care about the community and have an unwavering commitment to make it grow. An amazing amount of patience and high tolerance for drama are both handy attributes as well. Really, it’s not a job that ends when you walk out of the office or leave your computer. You have to have ideas and find ways to execute them quickly. And I would also add that you have to take risks. Try something new every day until you find the right fit. Then, start looking for the next.

  • http://getinternetmarketingstrategies.com/2008/07/have-a-great-business-idea-you-can-get-10k/ Have a Great Business Idea? Yo

    Great info, thanks!

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    Great info, thanks!

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  • http://spiral-scratch.blogspot.com/ Liz

    Actually, this position almost sounds like an ombudsman, a position that many newspapers use to have as a liaison between readers and the publisher. I attended a university where I had a conflict with a departmental decision and I spoke with a campus ombudsman who told me my rights and options as a student but also filled me in on the position of the university who, of course, was his employer. But he also acted as an advocate for student and staff who had grievances.

    I think a community manager also has a difficult role, straddling two worlds: lean too much towards the business owner and there is the danger of being a corporate shill…take up the users’ cause and one becomes a consumer advocate. The job sounds like it takes a great deal of finesse to avoid alienating either side of the “conversation.”

  • Liz

    Actually, this position almost sounds like an ombudsman, a position that many newspapers use to have as a liaison between readers and the publisher. I attended a university where I had a conflict with a departmental decision and I spoke with a campus ombudsman who told me my rights and options as a student but also filled me in on the position of the university who, of course, was his employer. But he also acted as an advocate for student and staff who had grievances.

    I think a community manager also has a difficult role, straddling two worlds: lean too much towards the business owner and there is the danger of being a corporate shill…take up the users’ cause and one becomes a consumer advocate. The job sounds like it takes a great deal of finesse to avoid alienating either side of the “conversation.”

  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    @Pamela – Same here :-) !
    @Peer – Excellent points! It’s absolutely critical to have the company behind your efforts. The best community managers will also be change agents within their organization.

    “In other words, there has to be an institutional change of emphasis towards a more honest and open regime otherwise (rightly or wrongly) any efforts by CM are seen by the community as little more than lip service.” – Beautifully stated!

  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    @Pamela – Same here :-) !
    @Peer – Excellent points! It’s absolutely critical to have the company behind your efforts. The best community managers will also be change agents within their organization.

    “In other words, there has to be an institutional change of emphasis towards a more honest and open regime otherwise (rightly or wrongly) any efforts by CM are seen by the community as little more than lip service.” – Beautifully stated!

  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    @Samantha – Great point as well.

  • http://www.metricz.com Jesse Kliza

    @Samantha – Great point as well.

  • http://blog.angelaconnor.com AngelaConnor

    @ Liz. I wonder though, if an ombudsman type would make it as a community manager. You’ve got the age-old newspaper culture at play there, which is counterintuitive to the needs of those on the web. I’m not saying that they couldn’t fill our shoes, but there is a difference in skill-set in my opinion. There is an arrogance in that industry that has led to its demise. I was charged with integration as a multimedia editor at a newspaper, and it was a tough sell most days. There were people who “got it” and editors who were completely on board and then there was the rest. I bet that being immersed in that culture could have major effects and could take some serious deprogramming.

  • http://onlinecommunitystrategist.wordpress.com Angela Connor

    @ Liz. I wonder though, if an ombudsman type would make it as a community manager. You’ve got the age-old newspaper culture at play there, which is counterintuitive to the needs of those on the web. I’m not saying that they couldn’t fill our shoes, but there is a difference in skill-set in my opinion. There is an arrogance in that industry that has led to its demise. I was charged with integration as a multimedia editor at a newspaper, and it was a tough sell most days. There were people who “got it” and editors who were completely on board and then there was the rest. I bet that being immersed in that culture could have major effects and could take some serious deprogramming.

  • Paul Acosta

    Great post Chris. I’m also passionate about this great analogy by Heather Champ, Community Manager at Flickr that I found at Connie’s blog:

    “Being a Community Manager is like being a pinata. People beat you with sticks and you still need to give them candy”.

    Thanks again for your point of view. Can’t wait to hear what my friends have to say when they see your post.

  • Paul Acosta

    Great post Chris. I’m also passionate about this great analogy by Heather Champ, Community Manager at Flickr that I found at Connie’s blog:

    “Being a Community Manager is like being a pinata. People beat you with sticks and you still need to give them candy”.

    Thanks again for your point of view. Can’t wait to hear what my friends have to say when they see your post.

  • http://www.themurr.com/ David Murray

    Customer service!

    Having a strong customer service background can pay off huge. The skills you can learn in the customer service trenches – listening, solving problems, deligating and connecting – all come into play as a Community Manager.

  • http://www.tuitionu.com/trueeducation/ DaveMurr

    Customer service!

    Having a strong customer service background can pay off huge. The skills you can learn in the customer service trenches – listening, solving problems, deligating and connecting – all come into play as a Community Manager.

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  • http://www.gtdagenda.com DanGTD

    One of the most important jobs of the CM is to connect the right internal people with customers and let them work it out.

  • http://www.gtdagenda.com DanGTD

    One of the most important jobs of the CM is to connect the right internal people with customers and let them work it out.

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  • rodica

    Someone once said that the best quality to have in a community manage is “situational awareness”. The term comes from the military, but it’s referring to understanding the characteristics of the situation and being able to predict outcomes of your actions/other people’s actions into the future.

  • rodica

    Someone once said that the best quality to have in a community manage is “situational awareness”. The term comes from the military, but it’s referring to understanding the characteristics of the situation and being able to predict outcomes of your actions/other people’s actions into the future.