Follow-up: Hiring a community manager

Earlier this week as part of the Ask the Community Guy feature, I attempted to answer the question “How do you hire a community manager?“. The level of response to this, both publicly and privately, continues to surprise me. Clearly people are looking for smart community people, and hopefully we look back on 2008 as the year community management because “standard”.

There were several great comments in the original post and I wanted to highlight a few things from there. Dave starts us off with this gem:

“The personality she presents online was in-line with the personality of our company. The personality/chemistry mix being paramount, we figure her natural personality is the intrinsic un-trainable aspect and the rest is trainable items she can learn. “

A strong personality match to both the community culture and the company cultures. This is a person that has to float easily between both worlds. Depending on the candidate and depending on the industry, you can often get away with bringing someone up to speed on the product once they’re hired, but as Dave points out, you can’t train personality.

Rebecca points out issues involved with bringing in someone from within the existing community:

“I’d be very cautious about hiring from within the Community. My experience is that a great volunteer/active Community member is not alway happy getting paid for their interest and passion, skill set or not. However, I have hired fabulous people from within a Community and it’s worked out quite well. But over the years, those folks have been the exception and not the norm.”

It’s absolutely true that great community members and community leaders don’t necessarily transition well to a full-time gig. It’s one thing to do something for fun, it’s quite another to be doing that fun thing 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. Fun can get old real quick. Turning a hobby into a job can also change the interest level that made that community member look like a good candidate in the first place. I will say, however, that finding a great candidate with an eye for business, and experience in the existing community can be a huge win. (Hell, that’s how I got started … I was plucked from the adult LEGO community) But like Rebecca’s saying, tread lightly and don’t spend excessive time trying to make it work.

Before you actually start to engage an existing community member to potentially hire them, be sure to consider the impact on the larger community. Are you creating community drama by selecting one person vs. another? Are you poaching an important community leader who’s change of position could lead to a decline in community activity?

Rebecca also talks about the time needed for someone to develop into a successful community manager:

“People management skills can’t be hurried and are rarely intuitive or innate. They come with time on the job (more than 6 months, and usually more than 2 years, imo).”

This is a crucial, foundational concept in community development – it doesn’t happen overnight. It tends not to start with “big programs”, but instead small bits of communication and interaction that lead, over time, to something bigger. Companies tend to get scared with you start talking about timelines that extend beyond the current fiscal year, but that’s what it takes more often than not. That doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t start seeing an impact, it just means that if your company is going to start down this path, prepare for a long haul. As my dad always used to tell me: “If you’re going to do it, do it right even if it takes more time.”

Mike touches on splitting the job, and non-traditional workers:

“What we’ve found is that there is a HUGE untapped market in people who have left the workforce for one reason or another and want to return. We usually pair up teams from multiple groups (former stay at home moms with early retired folks) to job share. The idea that you need a single person isn’t always the best way to approach the market. Job sharing is a very effective way to meet your community needs while also meeting your community’s needs.”

I think this suggest has some value with the right flavor of “community manager” position. If you’re looking for someone to help facilitate and/or moderate a specific community platform, then certainly division of labor with people who are absolutely qualified but likely cheaper is a very smart way to go. (eModeration does this type of work wonderfully)

If, however, you’re looking for a Business Strategist/Community Manager type, I’d strongly disagree that this role could be divided up amongst two part-timers. (I don’t think that’s what Mike was going for, just extrapolating) There needs to be a full-time driver to the community efforts to help listen, connect inside the organization and provide some level of ongoing “warmth”, so to speak.

That said, there’s a metric ton to be said about having more than one voice and more than one face to the community…. this helps avoid burnout, divide up work in a 24/7/365 type job, and ensures you pass The Bus Test. Just make sure that there’s a coach for that team. Too many quarterbacks on the field…. or something like that.