Let's talk about community teams and operations. This is more of a what the fuck, your community has more than 100k members, and you have one other person on your team? Pardon my French, but if your jaw isn’t dropping at this statement, then either you are desensitized or part of the problem.
The aim of this article is to clarify that leading a community is more than just being on Slack/Discord/Teams/Circle/Reddit or whatever your platform is and chatting with people. That view on community leadership is an utter degradation of community pro’s work. It puts community managers on par with busybodies who hang out of windows and sit in corner cafes, starting conversations with every passerby.
For the rest of the text, I'll be using the terms community builder, community leader, and community manager interchangeably. There are slight nuances between these terms, but the crux is someone who is in charge of and involved in creating a successful community. A community pro (pro for a master in their work, not professional. There shouldn’t be the need to clarify that community builders are professionals).
The jobs of a community builder
Just some of the tasks a community builder is doing. Take a deep breath and read them out loud
- Creating an online community space, including a list of channels, their description, and matching emojis
- Establishing member roles and rules for when a member can join specific channels
- Organizing events, both IRL and online
- Talking with department and company leaders to make sure community activities remain aligned with the business strategy
- Documenting the purpose and goal of the community
- Developing a knowledge base for members
- Connecting members
- Answering questions
- Moderating posts
- Creating content
- Mediating between fighting members
- Banning members who violate the rules
- Creating campaigns, ambassadors program, and courses
- Get input about the product, roadmap, etc. from across your organization
- Measuring impact and reporting it to internal stakeholders
- Creating programs or experiences for community members
- Selecting a stack of community tools: one for async communication, another for sync communication, something for virtual events, and something else for IRL events. A tool for creating reports for higher-ups. A tool for internal documentation. Another tool for communicating with community members. An app to effortless send merch to top members. Something for paid and free membership. A way to collect and sort feedback. A ticketing tool to help members ask for support. And, for sure, another 2 or 3 tools I forgot about. Oh yes, social media scheduling and CRM.
The culprit behind this exploding list of tasks? Community people sit everywhere. Community is the business. And we see this reality slowly being represented in the organizational chart: While the most common department community report to, is still marketing (30%), increasingly the community team reports to it's own department (aptly named “community”). Of course, there are levels above it, and community still doesn’t have a seat at the table. Community pros: Have a look at HR and ask them what it took for the position of CHRO, Chief Human Resource Officer, to be commonplace.
Funnily, the third most frequently cited department community is part of is a bucket term of “other”. It’s not even customer support or success. It's a colorful collection of other departments that don't fit the standard terms (or someone didn't clean the survey data properly...).
My point? Community builders aren't just doing one thing. Their work isn't solely about "Hanging around in Slack and chatting with community members". It's a growing list of tasks that touch different departments.
Community pros: Do you knoow who your stakeholders and champions are?
To excel in their job, community builders need buy-in and support from across the organization. They need to understand the needs and KPIs from a flurry of other departments, and evaluate which of those they can best serve. Community builders need to stay aware of the business strategy and align their actions to it. They need leaders who know that taking care of a community is more than just getting more members. It’s a ton of little things that compound over time.
Your key stakeholders are people whose jobs will be easier if there is a successful community. In a way, they depend on you to be successful. Chat with them, understand their challenges, and discover ways you can support them in their work. By doing so, you'll earn another community champion, someone in another department who will be rooting for you.
For example, the Descript community's purpose is to help people create videos. Members get value from the community through technical help (how can I add colorful subtitles) and non-technical help (does this thumbnail for my video look good). For technical help, the community team either connects with customer support/success or with product/engineering, depending on the question.
For non-technical questions the community, a growing number of creators is the best and quickest source of support. Who should be the key community stakeholder in the Descript community? Is it marketing, given that active community members are more likely to purchase a paid subscription? Is it product, as the community is a treasure trove of product feedback and eager participants for user research? Is it customer support, as community members answer each other questions, reducing the workload for the support department?
Beyond key stakeholders, discover community champion. They might not be dependent on a successful community to do their job, but they "get" the community and will speak in your favor. Think beyond the organizational chart and formal power structures and develop a sense of who has soft power. An example of soft power are assistants or secretaries. They control the agenda of decision-makers by scheduling meetings.
How big should your community team be?
The easy answer is: Big enough so that your team isn't overwhelmed and can have a positive impact on your business. If you are a overwhelmed community builder, make your case that you can't do the job of 3 people. Of course you can, but it has a price in terms of speed and impact. There are negative externalities to saving costs.
To be a bit more concrete:
- Is your community global? Do you have active members across all time zones? Then ensure that you have a person who can serve those time zones.
- Does your community serve different countries? For example, you have a large portion in North America and another significant portion in LATAM. It's more or less the same time zone, but you, again, need at least two people: One who can focus on the English-speaking group and the other who serves the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking groups.
Other aspects to consider to increase your community team:
- On how many platforms is your community active?
- How many different customers are you serving (tech vs non-tech)?
- Are you online vs offline or both?