Should Your Startup Hire A Community Manager?

By February 29, 2012

community manager

The internet never sleeps. In the global economy, users are expecting help with your products 24 hours a day. Sure, this sounds like a lot of work. It is. But you don’t have to clone yourself in order to take of users and take care of business. What you need is a community manager.

My first entry into tech startups was as a community manager. As the third hire and the only non-developer, I was the first line of defense in customer support, PR, social media, and brand evangelism. Basically, I was the “everything else” person. Somehow, I didn’t go insane. It takes a special kind of person to be the digital face of your startup while you work behind the scenes on your next app update. Here are a few tips about how to hire and measure the performance of someone who comes aboard your team as a community manager:

What community managers do:

You should have a solid idea of what you want your community manager to do before you start to field resumes. Here are some tasks that you should include in your job description:

User Support: I recommend setting up Desk from Salesforce (formerly Assistly) as your helpdesk. It has deep social media integration, so your community manager can easily field support tickets via email, Facebook, Twitter, and phone messages all in one interface.

Content Creation and Distribution: Have your community manager be the primary content producer for your social accounts. They can also coordinate blog posts and build social media buzz around product launches.

PR / Outreach: Hiring a PR firm is a waste of money for startups. Instead, your community manager should reach out to bloggers in your vertical to get them to write about your startup.

Special Events: Planning events for bloggers, hackers, and users should definitely be a primary responsibility for your community manager, depending on your startup vertical. Hackathons to promote the use of your API, or a cocktail party thrown for your most active users should be planned and executed by your community manager.

Evangelist: Your community manager is the friendly face of your company. They should represent you at conferences, meet with users in person, and attend regular social media meetups. Your community manager might not look like they are working when they are schmoozing with other tech folks in the coffeeshop, but chatting people up about your company is their job. While you are knee deep in code locked in your dungeon office, your community manager is out acquiring new users.

Common myths about community managers:

The official title of community manager is only a few years old. Along with a vague job comes a lot of minimizing generalizations.

Community management is easy: Acting as a filter for all of the communication about your startup is not easy. A community manager has to appease you, appease users, craft the image of the brand, research and implement best practices, and put on a good show at events. On days when your app update crashes and every iPhone user demands a refund via every communication channel all at once, being a community manager is not easy.

Community management is all fun, all the time: Ok, this one is mostly true. If you are a good community manager, it is fun. You have to love people to do this job. It’s not fun when users turn you into the punching bag for the company. Once I had a convicted felon write a blog post with long transcript of every interaction we had about a social media giveaway. Then he had all of his friends call me out on social media for a week. That was not fun. But mostly, it is fun.

Community managers have a non-technical job: Community managers have to have technical skills. They must know about the mobile operating systems and app updates, content management systems, and social media analytics tools. Most importantly, community managers need to be the communication bridge between the developers and the users. This means that they have to know technical terms and know how to translate them into language that nontechnical people can understand.

Community managers are administrative assistants: Community managers are helpful people by nature, and they shouldn’t be used as the administrative assistant. They should only field questions and filter information from users, the media, and potential users. Don’t use the community manager to schedule your appointments, or to do research for you. They have enough on their plates.

Community management is a dead end job: Community managers develop skills that can help them become talented UX developers, product managers, content strategists, and chief marketing officers.

How to know if you are ready to hire a community manager:

If you are ignoring user comments, putting off development to answer technical user support questions, or posting less than once a day on your social profiles, you need a community manager. If you don’t have the money to hire one fulltime, find a contractor. Just 10 hours a week can help you take your startup to the next level.

Critical skills and qualities of a community manager:

Skills: Clear written and verbal communication, understanding of social media tools, research skills, and knowledge of your vertical.

Qualities: Empathic, demonstrates good judgement, has an easy going attitude, can work independently, loves people, and is passionate about your startup.

How to judge the performance of your new community manager:

Don’t make your community manager prove their ROI! As Gary Vaynerchuk famously said, “What’s the ROI of your mother?!” Good community management is hard to measure, because quality conversations can’t be quantified. There are a few ways that you can get a feel for how your new community manager doing besides looking at vanity metrics like number of Twitter followers:

Nicereply: Nicereply lets customers rate every response that they get from your company on a scale of 1 – 10.

Weekly Total Reach on Facebook: Facebook Insights shows you how many people your posts are reaching. This is a good indicator of brand engagement.

Twitter @replies: Your brand has to be conversational. If your community manager is pumping out content and tweeting with users, they are doing a great job.

Speed of reply: Your community manager should try to get back to all user requests within 24 hours.

Community management is a great position for someone who is passionate about people and startups. A community manager should be one of your key early hires if you want to nurture a great reputation as a brand. It will payoff if you find the right person to take your brand to the next level.

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