Tag Archives: community manager

Gail Ann Williams on Community from Love@First Website

I’m spending the morning at iSite’s Love@First Website Conference here in Portland.

I was impressed with Gail Ann Williams’ presentation about building online community. She was an early participant at The WELL and is currently the Director of Communities at Salon.com.

Here are my raw notes from Gail’s presentation. In other words these are my notes about her words (not my words), so hopefully, I managed to get most of it right with only a few typos.

What do we mean by community anyway?

  • Interactions and relationships: people who know each other very closely and are in your network along with the people who are loosely connected to each other. These connections are the most powerful part of community.
  • Complexity: people are members of multiple overlapping communities.
  • Continuity over time (which used to mean geographic proximity): our sense of place comes from the continuity and culture that is built over time. As the community evolves, they really become stakeholders in the community and feel like they own the community as much as the company and the developers own it.

What are your goals?

Always go back to the goals of the community. What are you trying to do and what do you want to accomplish? Salon found that allowing comments on articles started to build another community for Salon outside of the forums. These new members were interested in a community around the writers, but weren’t interested in the forums and were really a separate community that couldn’t be integrated with the other communities at Salon.

Set expectations

Being clear, upfront, and honest with your users, especially when you are making a big change, can help community members understand the reasons behind the change. They will also be more likely to support the change if they understand the reasons and have some time to vent about it.

Understand newcomer dynamics

Welcome newcomers in a friendly way, but don’t be overbearing and creepy about it. Existing community members tend to develop an insider / outsider mentality, which makes it very difficult for new people to engage in an enjoyable way. Community managers and other members need to be available to remind existing users that they were once new and that new people can become valuable members of the community and eventually become friends.

Spammers, Trolls, etc.

It really takes a lot of time to manage these annoying people. You can put some things in place to reduce spam and trolls (email verification, real names, etc.), but ultimately, real people need to jump in and moderate. Employees can clean it up, especially if you can get users to report the issues. Even when people don’t use it very often, the report abuse button might act as a deterrent to potential spammers who know that it will get reported quickly. Spam becomes a bigger issue on low volume sites, since the spam is more visible. Trolls are an interesting issue. They can be just trolls, but sometimes it can be a result of deeper personal / mental issues.

Collecting info at registration

Amazon has a good model. You can leave reviews with minimal information, but you can also be validated to get the real name designation. In general, ask for the information that you need to function as a community along with some information about why the information is needed. Add just enough of a barrier to reduce the spam, but not so much that people won’t want to join.

I only captured a few of the best points during the presentation, but it was great to hear from someone who has been continually participating and managing communities since the very early days of the Internet.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Community Management in Startup Companies

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 marshall@readwriteweb.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.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Hiring a Community Manager

Hiring a community manager can be tricky for companies, especially ones filling this position for the first time. Last week, someone told me they wanted to hire a community manager and asked me if I could put together a few resources to help get them started. I thought it would be more useful if I turned my email to him into a blog post so others could benefit from it.

The community manager job itself can be a bit vague, like most leadership positions. The role changes from hour to hour depending on what happens in the community, and the person you hire will play a big part in shaping how your company engages with the outside world. It is important to start by carefully defining your goals for the community along with what you want the new community manager to accomplish.

I’ve written a few blog posts on the topic of community managers including information on what community managers do, the skills required to manage communities, and the various roles that fall under the broad umbrella of community manager:

Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester) and Jake McKee (Community Consultant) also have quite a bit of info about community manager roles & hiring:

The community research being done by ForumOne can also be a very valuable resource for anyone involved in communities. There are also a number of Facebook groups focused on community management, but this one seems to be the most active.

There are also a couple of job boards that focus on hiring community managers and related jobs, the Community Guy job board and the Web Strategy board. These should give you a feel for job descriptions, and they might also be good places to post your job description.

The big question is “how much should I expect to pay this person?” In my experience, salary ranges for community managers vary widely. I’ve seen numbers ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 a year. Community managers for technical communities (developers, etc.) make more than end user, social communities. Salary also changes significantly depending on whether the role is really more low-end, tactical moderation or something more strategic, like building a new community or revitalizing a troubled community site. Job experience, location and how well known the person is can also make a big difference in the salary range.

For more information, you can read blog posts from some great community bloggers. Mukund Mohan has a good list on his Best Engaging Communities site.

I would be curious if any of you have other tips? If so, please drop them here in the comments!

Episode 4: The Role of Community Managers

This episode contains the last of four recordings made during a recent discussion I led at the December Portland Web Innovators meeting. In this podcast, I talk about the community manager role and the skills required to manage online communities.


I am planning to switch to an interview format (via skype), so if you are doing something really cool with your online community, please let me know! I am open to suggestions for potential interviews.

You can also subscribe to the Fast Wonder Community Podcast via iTunes.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts: