What is a Community Manager? It Depends.

Last night I moderated an interesting panel of community managers working with a wide variety of institutions — one governmental, one nonprofit, and one for-profit. A friend of mine who heard about the event asked me what is a community manager.

I have my own ideas about what community management means, from more than 15 years managing online communities. To me a community manager is the person responsible for maintaining the health, stability and growth of a particular community. But I realize that my own experience doesn’t capture the wide variety of roles a community manager might play.

Here are some listings for community manager positions that I’ve come across recently.

An advertisement for a community manager at a local property company:

Accountable for: operating the property budget with the primary objective of increasing the Net Operating Income (NOI) by meeting or exceeding budget for revenue and expense independently; maintaining the physical asset; providing a quality living environment for residents; and establishing a positive and productive working relationship with the staff.

A community manager position with a carpool matching service:

The Community Team is responsible for building a community of carpoolers that want to make their commute a meaningful part of their day. We build our community each and every time someone gets into a car, and invest in helping our carpoolers feel comfortable and make lasting connections. From hosting carpooler events to collaborating on product, we take a systematic approach to make our community a special place for as many carpoolers as possible.

A community manager position for an online payment service:

We’re looking for an experienced, energetic, and entrepreneurial Community Manager to lead a wide range of relationship and communication initiatives to ultimately promote and share the value, benefits and potential of our service.¬†You will plan and attend industry events to increase brand awareness and grow our customer base in partnership with our Sales team. Finally, you will manage all social media channels and will occasionally contribute to content marketing initiatives.

Just looking at these, I can identify lots of disparate job responsibilities:

  • budget management
  • physical property management
  • staff management
  • event production
  • brand promotion
  • social media communications
  • customer service

Other responsibilities might include:

  • new member¬†onboarding
  • dues / membership fee collection
  • dispute and conflict resolution
  • managing trolls, spammers and other anti-social elements

I think one area of confusion is what constitutes a community. I would argue that the collection of people who use a particular product do not make up a community. Brands and marketers would like their consumers to consider themselves a part of the “Apple community” or the “Uber community” but that doesn’t mean that a real community exists.

So what makes a community a community? There are lots of theories out there, but generally these characteristics can be found in most communities:

  • a shared history
  • shared norms, practices and customs
  • a common goal or purpose
  • a defined membership
  • a sense of permanence

All of these factors are often present in a church, a knitting circle, a gathering of cosplayers, or a non-profit activist group.

All of these factors can exist at different levels for different groups of people. A college physics class probably would not constitute a community, but an after-school birding club might.

One factor that is telling is whether or not your membership in that community is connected to your core identity. I consider myself a lindy hop dancer, and the group of people who lindy hop regularly I would call a community. I love to bake pies, but I’m not a part of the pie-baking community. It’s not a part of my core identity.

For many brands and products, that core identification is what they strive for, since it increases brand loyalty, consistent sources of revenue over time, and free marketing. But just saying it, doesn’t make it so.

It’s great that there is such a wide variety of roles and responsibilities that are associated with community management. But it does mean that when you meet someone who calls themselves a “community manager” there is a lot to unpack before you know exactly what they do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *