Marshall Kirkpatrick has a great post today on ReadWriteWeb: Do Startup Companies Need Community Managers? He does an amazing job of getting input from a wide variety of people for stories like this one about community. He solicited our feedback via a simple Twitter post:
Thinking of writing a story about whether startups need community managers. Thoughts? Email them to email@example.com to share them
The response was pretty amazing with viewpoints that were all across the board. Here was my contribution to Marshall’s question: Do Startup Companies Need Community Managers?
It depends on the startup. For startups where community is a critical element of the product or service (Twitter, open source product, etc.), I think that a community manager should be an early hire. Having someone in place and responsible for managing the community helps make sure that the company is responding to the needs of the community. Without a community manager, the frantic pace of the startup environment can mean that the community gets neglected simply because no single person is tasked with being responsible for it. This neglect could result in failure for the startup if the community is critical.
In many startups, the community manager can wear another hat, too. I worked at one startup where I was the Director of Community and Partner Programs, since partners were a big part of the community. Other logical combinations include some marketing roles, social media (blogging / podcasting), developer relations (for developer communities) or website development depending on the skills of the person in the role.
I think that each startup needs to decide exactly how critical the community is to their particular business and use that information to decide when to hire a community manager.
It was really interesting to see all of the different conflicting viewpoints throughout the article. As someone who has been working with communities for a quite a while now, I’ve learned that every community is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all method to community management. This is why community management is so hard for people to grok. There are no hard and fast rules; things change constantly; and everything depends on the situation. Whenever I give presentations or training about online communities, during the Q&A portion I inevitably find myself repeating variations of the following theme: “It depends”. Each community is different, and what is right for one community may be wrong for another.
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